May the Mother of the Church be an Inspiration for the Discovery of a New Feminine Identity

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Address to Women Religious, Turin, September 4 1988.

Dearest Sisters,

I am happy to meet you on the occasion of these celebrations in honour of St. John Bosco on the centenary of his death. Your very presence here, in the town of Valdocco, is itself an eloquent discourse!

In the variety of your charisms and vocations you are a splendid image of the Church, enriched by the Spirit of the Lord with so many gifts and ministries to serve humanity evangelically.

"The Church expresses to you her gratitude for your consecration and for your profession of the evangelical counsels, which are a particular testimony of love".

Indeed, throughout the centuries, this testimony is uninterrupted, and it has grown ever more luminous.

Don Bosco, that man who was gifted with a keen sense of spiritual discernment, was deeply aware of it; he always valued the contribution of women, and in particular that of consecrated women, in the building up of a more human and more Christian society. It was no accident that, from the very beginning of his work as an educator he was joined by his mother Margherita, and he later involved an ever growing number of women from every social class in his intense apostolate. He founded a women's congregation, accepting the original and creative contribution of those women, especially that of St. Maria Domenica Mazzarello.

2. Don Bosco, disciple of Christ, gave witness throughout his life to the primacy of the interior life. He marvellously combined this primacy with intense activity for others, a generous and joyous service, both tireless and radical, which allowed his communion with the Lord to shine through.

Religious life always maintains this primacy, and you, dear Sisters, can offer a precious contribution along these lines, in seeking and offering a new feminine identity with your being, which in turn shines forth in your work.

"With your being", because by the profession of the evangelical counsels, all too often presented solely as renunciation, you positively and happily bear witness wherein lies the absolute of the human person and you give the lie to the idolatry of society of possessions, of the empirical and the contingent.

By your profession of the evangelical counsels you prophetically anticipate the future good, that is, you indicate the origin, the meaning and the definitive goal of human destiny.

From the viewpoint of this eschatological horizon you have much to say, particularly to the women of today, as a response to the emerging situations of the present socio-cultural context.

A love that does not disappoint

3. The first response concerns the many and complex questions about the meaning of religious life today, from the secularized society which without reference to the transcendent, can no longer value the richness of a life lived within the walls of a convent, does not understand the renunciation of the joy of one's own family for a deeper and broader motherhood, the choice of a love that does not disappoint, the meaning of femininity that is authentic in virginity seen as a way to a loftier realization.

In this society in which there is "an invading theoretical and pragmatic materialism which closes the horizons of the spirit and of the transcendent ... you are called to sustain the civilization of love and of life, to be the soul of the Christian leaven, the guides within the horizons of the faith .... In the Church you incarnate the task of Mary Most Holy. You have an irreplaceable role, especially in the areas that typically correspond to your charisms and your sensitivities" (Discourse in Florence, 18 October 1985, L’Osservatore Romano, English language edition, 17 November 1986, p. 4).

In the contemporary world you are called to show forth with crystal clarity invisible values that are real and can be lived by all.

You have inherited a rich tradition: frequently in the past, in particular from consecrated women, has come a prophetic proposal of a new feminine identity, which met entreaties and appeals of the surrounding world.

Turin and this diocese have always been a fertile source of generous and creative women from all social classes. They served and still serve with evangelical spirit those who are in need, as well as those who are sometimes forgotten and despised.

The response, then, comes from you, from your being, from your profession of the evangelical counsels, from your apostolic activity. "The world needs the authentic 'contradiction' provided by religious consecration as an unceasing stimulus of salvific renewal" (Redemptionis Donum, 14). Experience also teaches that no movement of the religious life has any value if it is not simultaneously a movement towards the interior. towards the depth of being, where Christ has his dwelling.

4. In the course of history so many ideological proposals which regard progress and personal fulfillment as sexual licence, elimination of: moral laws, emancipation from religion, have not been verified. The identity crisis of persons and institutions is a sad sign of this and is a pressing cry for help. Christian Revelation offers the salvific response that is born of the truth about humanity, from an anthropology that is linked to the divine.

Indeed, in proclaiming the truth about the human person, it makes its specific contribution in confirming the perfect equality of man and woman as the image of God and his interlocutors. Man and woman, in, that they are the image of God, make visible in the universe the unity of God who lives not in solitude but in communion: the One and Triune God. In establishing the Kingdom of God Jesus goes back to this original communion so that a there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).

Particularly in regard to woman Jesus showed himself as Liberator and Saviour. He frees her from the desire for possession and the dominion of man (Mt 5:28), overturns the mentality of the age which also affects his disciples, a mentality that i seeks to perpetuate overbearing relationships (cf. Mt 19:3-10). He declares her exempt from legal impurity precisely by his behaviour. He refuses to identify her role with biological motherhood and reveals her dignity in the faith in a new type of relationship. He proposes her as the model of faith and love. It is by means of the woman whose sins had been pardoned that he announces the specific nature of the Gospel message: love without limits (cf. Lk 7:47,50); he points out the generous gift of the widow who, in offering her mite for the Temple, was giving all that she had (cf. Lk 21:14). On the lips of a woman John places one of the most beautiful professions of faith (cf. Jn 11 :27).

The women followed Jesus spontaneously and they became heralds of the messianic announcement (cf. Jn 4:28,30; Mt 28:14).

Among all of them a singular and unique place belongs to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who synthesizes the Israel of God through her unreserved "yes", her charity without limits, through her maternity in relationship to the disciples of Jesus for all times.

The Church overcomes all dialectical argument

5. The Church, fruit of Christ's salvific work and the place in which he continues to save every person, is presented as overcoming all dialectical argument when she is understood in her profound constitutive mystery. Indeed, she was described by the Council as "a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind. She is also an instrument for the achievement of such union and unity" (Lumen Gentium, 1).

Let you, dearest Sisters, be witnesses to this Church, to this mystery in life and word, as was Blessed Anna Michelotto, who was a tireless promoter of the Gospel message here in Turin, in every social class, but most of all among the poor and the infirm.

Like her, you also give your precious testimony announcing the primacy of the Absolute, of the One and Triune God who makes us his interlocutors, showing that for the believer communion with the Transcendent, also expressed in the solitude of prayer, cannot be an escape or withdrawal from the company of one's brothers and sisters. As in Mary and in the Church, so also in you, the women of today should be able to see a down-to-earth and unique life, lived not individualistically in a self-centred way, but in solidarity with the whole of human history and all of creation.

This is the message which you can proclaim today in the Church and in society. The message is a timely one, an urgent one, and is meant to emphasize that the solution of problems must be sought in a wider and therefore more human framework of values, which gives the primacy to the person as the subject of communion, overcoming claims, the absolutization of roles, the opposition of rights, all expressions which are still a sign of sin and not of freedom.

The Gospel marks the road of liberation that is beyond the expectation of our human capabilities: Jesus proposes a new type of relationships that are not under the hegemony of sin, of "hardness of heart", but in God's merciful and paternal lordship which celebrates the victory of charity without limits. Thus is born a new bond of relationship, not founded on flesh and blood, but on faith, which is expressed in fruitful and profound communion, which transcends biological and earthly dimensions.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus and of the Church, is the prototype of it; your consecration is a prophecy of it extended in time.

6. Now, here is a task for you: be signs of this new type of relations, of this new bond of relationship, not in an abstract manner, but in the concrete fabric of your existence, as a progressive rediscovery of the way of being disciples of Jesus in every moment and condition of life.

May the Spirit of the Lord, and Mary's motherly protection guide you in this marvellous adventure to bring about the civilization of love and of life. With your Gospel witness you should be like leaven on this human and Christian journey.

Thus your being becomes a mission, and it could not be otherwise, because this is the structure of the believer according to the Gospel.

Your coming here to the sanctuary of Mary Help of Christians, in memory of Don Bosco, is an invitation to reflect profoundly on your reality in order courageously to draw from it effective results.

In the letter addressed to the Rector Major of the Salesian Society I treated some of these results which are an appeal especially to you, called to fulfil many apostolic works: the Church "in this period so close to the year 2000, ... feels invited by her Lord to look upon (youth) with a special love and hope, and to consider their education as one of her primary pastoral responsibilities" (Iuvenum Patris,1).

I would therefore like to call your attention to your responsibility particularly for the young generations, according to your particular charism, in the educational task.

Your prophecy, your evangelical life, the expression of the new bond of relationship, is most of all an announcement for them who are the future of society and of the Church.

Today still, or rather more than yesterday, you can and should let the beauty of a life spent entirely for the Lord in service of one's brothers and sisters shine before youth.

7. With your chastity you announce to young people the beauty of love in the human heart made faithful by the Gospel; you announce the future resurrection and eternal life. that life in union with God, that love which contains in itself and completely pervades all the other loves of the human heart, that liberation brought by Jesus for all (cf. Redemptionis Donum, 11).

In her Magnificat, which has become the Canticle of the Church and of humanity which yearns for salvation, Mary has proclaimed this human and feminine liberation: she "is the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe" (Redemptoris Mater, 37).

May she, who in her own life gave us an "example of that maternal love by which all should be fittingly animated who cooperate in the apostolic mission of the Church on behalf of the rebirth of humanity" (Lumen Gentium, 65), teach you, and guide you in the Gospel of motherhood typical of your vocation.

"She continues through the centuries to be a maternal presence as is shown by Christ's words ..."Woman, behold your Son"; "Behold your Mother" (cf. Jn 16:26 f) (Redemptoris Mater, 24).

"Never take your gaze off Mary; listen to her when she says: 'Do what Jesus tells you' (Jn 2:5). Pray to her too with daily solicitude, that the Lord may continue to raise up generous souls who can say 'yes' to his vocational call.

"To her I entrust you, and with you the whole world of youth, that being attracted, animated and guided by her, they may be able to attain through the mediation of your educative work the stature of 'new men' for a new world: the world of Christ, Master and Lord" (Iuvenum Patris, 20).

To her I entrust you that the New Woman, Mother of the Church and of the New Humanity, may be the inspiration in your discovery of a new feminine identity in the Gospel perspective.

By her powerful intercession may she make fruitful all of your initiatives and assist you with her maternal protection.

With this wish I bless you with all my heart.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
17 October 1988, p. 3

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