MARY SHEDS LIGHT ON ROLE OF WOMEN
Pope John Paul II
God's saving plan which is revealed in creation attributes equal dignity and worth to women, but it also affirms the uniqueness of the gift of femininity.
At the General Audience of 6 December 1995, the Holy Father continued his catechesis on the Virgin Mary, calling particular attention to her as the model for woman's role in the contemporary world. His address was the eighth in the series on the Blessed Virgin.
1. As I have already explained in the preceding catechesis, the role entrusted to Mary by the divine plan of salvation sheds light on the vocation of woman in the life of the Church and society by defining its difference in relation to man. The model represented by Mary dearly shows what is specific to the feminine personality.
In recent times some trends in the feminist movement, in order to advance women's emancipation, have sought to make her like man in every way. However, the divine intention manifested in creation, though desiring woman to be man's equal in dignity and worth, at the same time clearly affirms her diversity and specific features. Woman's identity cannot consist in being a copy of man, since she is endowed with her own qualities and prerogatives, which give her a particular uniqueness that is always to be fostered and encouraged.
These prerogatives and particular features of the feminine personality attained their full development in Mary. The fullness of divine grace actually fostered in her all the natural abilities typical of woman.
'Let it be done to me according to your word'
Mary's role in the work of salvation is totally dependent on Christ's. It is a unique function, required by the fulfilment of the mystery of the Incarnation: Mary's motherhood was necessary to give the world its Saviour, the true Son of God, but also perfectly man.
The importance of woman's co-operation in the coming of Christ is emphasized by the initiative of God, who, through the angel, communicates his plan of salvation to the Virgin of Nazareth so that she can consciously and freely co-operate by giving her own generous consent.
Here the loftiest model of woman's collaboration in the Redemption of man every man is fulfilled, this model represents the transcendent reference point for every affirmation of woman's role and function in history.
2. In carrying out this sublime form of co-operation, Mary also shows the style in which woman must concretely express her mission.
With regard to the angel's message, the Virgin makes no proud demands nor does she seek to satisfy personal ambitions. Luke presents her to us as wanting only to offer her humble service with total and trusting acceptance of the divine plan of salvation. This is the meaning of her response: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).
It is not a question of a purely passive acceptance, since her consent is given only after she has expressed the difficulty that arose from her intent to remain a virgin, inspired by her will to belong more completely to the Lord.
Having received the angel's response, Mary immediately expresses her readiness, maintaining an attitude of humble service. It is the humble, valuable service that so many women, following Mary's example, have offered and continue to offer in the Church for the growth of Christ's kingdom.
3. The figure of Mary reminds women today of the value of motherhood. In the contemporary world the appropriate and balanced importance is not always given to this value. In some cases, the need for women to work in order to provide for the needs of their family and an erroneous concept of freedom, which sees child-care as a hindrance to woman's autonomy and opportunities, have obscured the significance of motherhood for the development of the feminine personality. On the contrary, in other cases the biological aspect of childbirth becomes so important as to overshadow the other significant opportunities woman has for expressing her innate vocation to being a mother.
In Mary we have been given to understand the true meaning of motherhood, which attains its loftiest dimension in the divine plan of salvation. For her, being a mother not only endows her feminine personality, directed towards the gift of life, with its full development, but also represents an answer of faith to woman's own vocation, which assumes its truest value only in the light of God's covenant (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, n. 19).
4. In looking attentively at Mary, we also discover in her the model of virginity lived for the kingdom.
The Virgin par excellence, in her heart she grew in her desire to live in this state in order to achieve an ever deeper intimacy with God.
For women called to virginal chastity, Mary reveals the lofty meaning of so special a vocation and thus draws attention to the spiritual fruitfulness which it produces in the divine plan: a higher order of motherhood, a motherhood according to the Spirit (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, n. 21).
Women sow the seeds of the civilization of love
Mary's maternal heart, open to all human misfortune, also reminds women that the development of the feminine personality calls for a commitment to charity. More sensitive to the values of the heart, woman shows a high capacity for personal self-giving.
To all in our age who offer selfish models for affirming the feminine personality, the luminous and holy figure of the Lord's Mother shows how only by self-giving and self-forgetfulness towards others is it possible to attain authentic fulfillment of the divine plan for one's own life.
Mary's presence therefore encourages sentiments of mercy and solidarity in women for situations of human distress and arouses a desire to alleviate the pain of those who suffer: the poor, the sick and all in need of help.
In virtue of her special bond with Mary, woman has often in the course of history represented God's closeness to the expectations of goodness and tenderness of a humanity wounded by hatred and sin, by sowing in the world seeds of a civilization that can respond to violence with love.