Pope Francis, Day One -“Among Women”-style: The gifts of Mary, womanhood, and the new evangelization

Last night, when he first met us from the balcony of St Peter’s, the new “Peter” — Pope Francis — told us his plan for today. Job One would be to bring this pontificate to Mary, the Mother of God, the woman who brings us all to Jesus. This kind of holy bow is a profound “yes” to being open and receptive to the Holy Spirit. Then the Holy Father would get down to the rest of the tasks that his schedule would demand.

Why does this matter?

Mary was the one God the Father entrusted to receive and bear God the Son. She brought Jesus into the world. By the power of the Holy Spirit, she was the first one to make Jesus present in the world, in the flesh. The Good Pontiff humbly seeks her out as he courageously begins his very high profile mission of bringing Jesus to the world.

Here’s a video of his travels to St Mary Major Basilica…not only does he pray earnestly to Mary for his papacy, but on the way out to go back to the Vatican, the new Pope pauses to bless a pregnant woman.

What a beautiful demonstration of God’s love and blessing for the gift of woman, her maternity, and the new life within in! How many pregnant women today might understand the gift of their maternity through such a public blessing? I can only hope many.

One of the reasons I’ve written my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, is to draw attention to the reverence and awe that the Church has for the gift of womanhood — and to introduce the basic ideas of a woman’s dignity, gifts, and mission that the Church has proclaimed to people like us, the women in the pew. As I’ve recently explained in an article for the Washington Post that is currently at my column at Patheos, despite the negativity that our society often describes of women being enslaved by her maternal gift, rather, a woman herself is blessed by God by the gift of her created being — and being made feminine!

Tragically, humanity has habitually lost sight of the true gifts we are to one another, and the treasure of maternity was rarely appreciated as the blessing it is, until Jesus, the Savior of all, was born of a woman.

In and through Mary, the world heard once more: Woman, you are a gift!

Blessed John Paul II was especially eager to teach that women, by the beauty of their physiology and God-given design, are particularly well-disposed to seeing, comprehending, and loving human persons. This is our “feminine genius.” This particular strength of woman bears repeating and rediscovery as we survey the political rhetoric of the day that tends degrades maternity…

The late pontiff’s major treatise on women, “Mulieris Dignatatem,” exults in the dignity and beauty of femininity. The gift of maternity, he wrote is a strength, not a weakness.

The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way—precisely by reason of their femininity. . . .

A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting . . . always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them “strong” and strengthens their vocation. (Mulieris Dignatatem, par 30)  

There’s no mistaking biology. Womanly bodies are wonderfully made, and purposefully created with an empty space of a womb carried under her heart.

A woman’s womb, her uterus, signals that she is made for something and someone more than herself. This reality touches a woman at her very core—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The womb’s raison d’être illuminates this gift that welcomes and receives the life of a child, sheltering and nurturing it, until finally, a woman gives birth. We even use the expression—giving birth—denoting the gift that it is. The maternal gift ought to be honored and celebrated.

(Read the rest here.)

What’s more, a woman is further dignified by Mary’s maternity, by her bringing forth the Christ to humanity. Mary is “blessed among women”, as we pray in the Hail Mary Prayer; she is “the feminine genius” par excellence. The gift of maternity is magnified in Mary, and the gift of maternity in all women is elevated because of the amazing gift of who Mary is to Christ and to his Church. She brings us to Jesus, while she teaches us that we women, indeed, have a mission to help make disciples in our world through physical and spiritual motherhood.

I was edified to read a wonderful post this morning over at Ignitum Today by Miriam Fightlin Brower that gives more voice to this. Like me, she notes there is something sadly missing from feminist ideology if it discounts the fullness of the womanly gift of maternity. Her article is titled “Liberated from the Women’s Movement.”

Modern feminism is a peculiar ideology. It professes to offer us, as women, all the choices in the world, to determine our own paths and not be hindered by the shackles of patriarchy. Yet, with all the exhortation for choice and empowerment for women, there is one choice that is like Kryptonite to these feminists–the choice of women to celebrate and honor their own nature.

When unwrapping this philosophy, it is impossible to escape the irony. The true enemy of the 1960s and 70s era Women’s Movement is not patriarchy, but none other then Mother Nature herself.

Embedded deep within Modern feminist ideology is a fundamental flaw.

This brand of feminism views equality through the singular lens of sameness–completely unwilling to acknowledge our female biology and psychological and spiritual make-up. Instead of truly celebrating our diversity and uniqueness, it succeeds only in advocating an “equality” which extracts and then promptly discards everything that is most distinctly and most powerfully female.

You really start to wonder: Is this brand of feminism advocating for our advancement or our demise?

The Bible says “by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16). Yet, in a very real way we know modern feminism because it refuses to produce any fruits. Our fertility is deemed a hindrance simply because it doesn’t look like or act like a man’s. In their quest to advance the cause of women, they have somehow managed to make male fertility the gold standard thereby deeming women’s fertility defective; our biology becomes something we are encouraged to mutilate instead of embrace. It has truly become the fulfillment of Bl. John Paul II’s warning in Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) when he wrote, “There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not “reach fulfillment”, but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness.”

Unless women allow themselves to be defined by this rigid and confining notion of what it means to be a free and equal woman, completely ignore their biology and pretend to be less than they are, they will not find a seat at the table of modern feminism. It has indeed become the embodiment of that stifling patriarchy it fought so hard to overcome.

Authentic Catholic feminism recognizes the beauty of our distinct nature and celebrates women in their entirety. It rejoices in the awesome power of creation that women have been given rather than apologizing for it. It acknowledges the nurturing aspects of our femininity, the importance that we place on relationships, and our centralness in the world family. We are truly raised up, mind, body and spirit as something beautiful and meaningful to behold.

(Read the whole post.)

As we witness the birth of a new papacy, we are reminded that this becomes a time to renew a deeper call to a new evangelization in our world. With it comes a responsibility to promote human dignity. Such a task must include a new brand of feminism, a new wave of feminism that is paired with the Christian message and a proper anthropology — an understanding of the dignity of women and men in their blessed design. It must be bathed in justice, as it is immersed in an ocean of charity that sees human persons as the invaluable and unique gifts that they are.

A Pope who entrusts himself first to Mary is showing us the path to a holiness that is both consoling as it is courageous. Both Benedict XVI and John Paul II entrusted the new millennium to Mary, calling her the Star of the New Evangelization. Francis knows this.

Likewise, a woman who entrusts herself to Jesus through Mary has found a path to understanding the exquisite dignity she has a person, especially as a feminine person. Women, in a very particular way, hold the fate of humanity, in their hands.

A woman aware of her blessed dignity and her beautiful gifts will naturally become a bodacious evangelist — hers is a most excellent mission to bring the life of Christ into the world, like Mary did.



Image credit: from RomeReports.com

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