Throughout history the Church has championed the education of all boys and girls, offered positions of unprecedented authority and responsibility to women around the world, and reminded us constantly that the pre-eminent example of every virtue, aside from Our Lord and Redeemer, is a woman. In fact, without her cooperation, there would be no Lord and Redeemer! Now as we reflect on our own lives and the opportunities that this society offers to each of us, how do we determine what is authentically Catholic and what is specifically feminine? What actually sets us apart?
A womans place is...where? In the home? Or as a catchy bumper sticker would have it: In the House and in the Senate? Our generations catch phrase could easily be Do your own thing! and within certain parameters, the Catholic Church would whole-heartedly agree. While many believe that the Church has impressed on its laywomen that they should be barefoot and pregnant whenever possible, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Throughout history the Church has championed the education of all boys and girls, offered positions of unprecedented authority and responsibility to women around the world, and reminded us constantly that the pre-eminent example of every virtue, aside from Our Lord and Redeemer, is a woman. In fact, without her cooperation, there would be no Lord and Redeemer!
Now as we reflect on our own lives and the opportunities that this society offers to each of us, how do we determine what is authentically Catholic and what is specifically feminine? What actually sets us apart?
The criterion is not a dress code, nor a certain number of children, nor whether she stays home or works outside of the home. It is not whether she goes to daily Mass or marches in pro-life rallies. There are only three things we need in order to live as authentic daughters of the Church: we must be obedient to the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church; we must be open to life according to our state in life; and finally, we must be close to the Blessed Mother. It is that simple, for remember, God is simplicity itself.
Obedience to the Magisterium, which is the teaching authority of the Church, means respecting the Word of God as handed down and interpreted through the ages and accepting the Sacred Traditions of the Church. This requires the grace of docility, for not all is immediately understood or acceptable. One can make an act of faith and then pray for the gift to be open to the Truths of the Church, especially if a particular area of doctrine seems unclear or difficult. You may never fully penetrate every mystery, but if you pray sincerely for the ability to accept on faith those things which you find particularly hard to accept, God will hear and answer your prayer.
Openness to life can take on a variety of forms. It seems most evident to women that accepting new life in the womb is the clearest way of being open. In marriages this involves open communication between husband and wife and prayerful consideration of their circumstances. Instruction in Natural Family Planning is easily available and allows marriages to live Gospel values and cherish the God-given capacity to share in the co-creation of new souls.
For other women, openness to life could take the form of foster children, adoption, welcoming neighborhood children into the home, cheerfully accepting the challenges posed by aging relatives, giving support to a pregnant mother or friend in need, or visiting a nearby nursing home. We have heard the phrase from conception until natural death. Human life is spread along this spectrum and the heart of a woman open to life will be sensitive to the needs of all persons. She will work and pray for the good of all.
Emulation of the Blessed Mother would also be an intrinsic dimension of an authentic daughter of the Church. She would see in Our Lady the first fruit of Gods plan of redemption and a perfect example of each human virtue. Through meditation on the Gospel texts referring to Mary and on the mysteries of the Rosary, she would see the delicacy and feminine genius of this beautiful woman.
It is entirely understandable that, given the rushed and technical world in which we live, there seems to be a gap between the life of our Lady in Palestine two thousand years ago and present-day society. This means that devotion to the Blessed Mother, if not presently part of ones life, will take some work. Everything worthwhile does. She is already very close, she loves her children with a mothers heart, and it is only left for us to respond to her affections.
Again, an act of faith is a good place to start. Even with a cold, distant, ambivalent heart, express the desire to establish a relationship with her and she will take the necessary steps. Find a booklet on the Rosary and commit to one decade a day. Five minutes is not too much to ask in the beginning. Remember her in little aspirations throughout the day and say goodnight to her as you would your own mother. Grant her the courtesies you would give to any member of your family and let the graces she has to offer bring you closer to her Son.
Thus with these three criteria in mind, we have the essentials necessary for an authentic Catholic to live in any generation. But what sets the woman apart from the man? Isnt he also obedient to the Magisterium, one who respects life, and a faithful child of Mary? Yes, he is. There must be something more.
THE ESSENCE OF THE WOMAN'S VOCATION
The difference that sets women apart is that she imitates the Church, the Bride of Christ. As peculiar as this might seem at first glance, let us consider what the Church does. In supernatural ways, the Church welcomes new members, she cleanses them in the waters of baptism, she feeds them at the Eucharistic feast, and she reconciles them in the confessional. She heals them with her anointing balm and finally lays each to rest in the hope of rising again. Throughout she consoles, sustains, and most importantly teaches each member in order that he might find his dignity and the meaning of his life.
WHAT COULD BE MORE FEMININE?
In a natural sense, this is where a woman finds her dignity and meaning. It is not a strict formula or a straight-jacket. On the contrary, she takes these elements, combines them with her talents and her circumstances in life, and forges a path unique and charged with beauty. With these elements as guides, she will ponder her vocation and discover what God wishes her to do that is squarely in the folds of the Mystical Body of Christ, and yet unrepeatable and life-giving to all who are touched by her influence.
We live in an incarnational world. This means that God deigned to visit us by sending His Son and that His presence in the family of Nazareth, in the world, transformed all families and all of the world. A cup of water in His Name becomes a channel of immeasurable grace and the acceptance of suffering in union with His suffering is a path to heaven. We cannot ignore the little things as insignificant, nor can we rely on the accolades of the secular world as a criterion for eternal good.
Buy a copy of the Catechism and open it. Invite Our Lady into your daily life as a companion and model. Attend to the littlest of details with affection and live your life as a model of the Church. With love and docility, ask Christ to mold your heart into the heart of a bride, a Bride fit for His service and then take on the world in your own feminine way for the glory of His Name and the salvation of souls!
Kineke, Genevieve S. The Lost Essence of Femininity. Canticle vol. 1 Equality or Androgeny.
Reprinted by permission of Canticle Magazine: The Voice of Today's Catholic Woman.
Genevieve Kineke a director of the Alliance of Catholic Women, Genevieve is the indispensable editor of Canticle Magazine. Genevieve, her husband, and four children (soon to be five!) live in East Warwick, Rhode Island.Copyright © 2000 Canticle
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