History might well remember John Paul as the pope of human love. His most profound contribution to the development of Catholic doctrine, the theology of the body, is an extensive meditation on the beauty of enfleshed loving communion, rooted in the male/female difference. As wonderful as the theology of the body is, it must be confessed that the collection of audience talks devoted directly to the topic is a doorstop of a book. We know from teaching it how important it is to dive into it in a classroom setting. Thankfully, in “Mulieris dignitatem,” Pope John Paul has provided a masterful precis of the theology of the body, presented through the lens of Mary.
He argues for the wisdom and the goodness of sexual difference, in an age in which the fashionable opinion is androgyny (the refusal to recognize the male/female difference as having intrinsic meaning). But doesn’t androgyny undermine the first condition for a robust and authentic feminism: the recognition that being female has intrinsic dignity and worth?
And so Pope John Paul helps us think things through from the beginning. And there are two fundamental coordinates. First, if we want to see the truth about female dignity, we have to recognize the dignity of every person as such: every single member of the human species images God. But because God is Trinity, we do so as male and female (Gen 1:26-28), as a “unity of the two” in one spirit of love. Without difference, there cannot be union. And this leads to the second basic coordinate: the difference between male and female cannot be understood apart from the primacy of love: to love is what being alive is all about.
Marriage is the nexus of these two coordinates, as St. Paul discusses in Ephesians 5:21-33. Here’s the punch line when it comes to sexual difference: “The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return” (Mulieris, no. 29). Every man is to be a spiritual bridegroom (and father), and every woman is to be a spiritual bride (and mother). Without woman, love could not enter human history. Woman is the necessary and equal (but uniquely gifted) partner of man in the development of civilization. And without the marital love of man and woman, there would be no new life. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit wish to pour undying and invincible love into flesh and to bring that flesh into eternal life. (The consummation of that wish is what the last two mysteries of the Rosary are all about, what we celebrate in these days: the Assumption and Coronation of Our Lady)
At the center of human history, at the heart of humanity, is Mary, who lives out self-giving love with profound perfection. But this central position of hers is possible only because she is first the beneficiary of God’s generosity.
-Drs. David and Angela Franks, PhD Theology, “A Woman’s Heart Receives the Future” –