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This makes me think… about women as guardians of life

The maternal mission is also the basis of a particular responsibility. The mother is appointed guardian of life. It is her task to accept it with care, encouraging the human being’s first dialogue with the world, which is carried out precisely in the symbiosis with the mother’s body. It is here that history of every human being begins… with an exclusive and unmistakable plan of life.

-Blessed John Paul II, Angelus message, July 16, 1995-

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I write about this theme in Chapter 8 of Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious. 

We need ‘apostles of the theology of women’ — and so it goes…

We need ‘apostles of the theology of women’ — and so it goes…

Pope Francis has got people talking and thinking about women, their dignity, their vocation, and how the Church fits into all of that. (I’ve already penned my thoughts on this subject in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, and the same content is found reprinted at my column at Patheos.)

rebeccaOver at the Catholic News AgencyRebecca Ryskind Teti, in the lead-in to writing a review of my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, she powerfully reads the cultural barometer where women are concerned and how they are demeaned by society, and even by themselves. She also astutely nails the problem that motivated me to write my book in the first place:  the Church has a great message on the dignity and vocation of women, but its marketing of that message stinks. Or to quote Teti’s erudite eloquence: “…what the Church already knows about the full, free, joyful flourishing of women has yet to break out into the culture at large. It’s still a mostly-hidden treasure, enjoyed by those who have discovered it in rarified Church circles.”

Take this in…

Two utterly unrelated stories have me thinking about what Pope Francis means when he says the Church must “go out.”

The first comes from Francis himself, who recently told reporters that the Church “need[s] to develop a profound theology of womanhood.” That jarred me a little initially. Bl. Pope John Paul II’s 1988 encyclical on the role of women, together with his Letter to Women, changed my life and the way I think about what it means to be a woman. Does the Pope mean to suggest Bl. John Paul’s work was not profound?

Hardly. In the same press conference Francis spoke enthusiastically about Bl. John Paul’s pontificate and why he will soon canonize his holy predecessor. But he did complain that the intra-church discussions we tend to have about women can be sterile. When Church-y people – those of us who in one way or another make our livings or dedicate our volunteer time in service to the Church—talk about the role of women, we tend to debate what women are “allowed” to do. Within the walls of the Church, should they be altar servers, lectors, Eucharistic ministers? (Priesthood, Pope Francis said, is a definitively closed question.) Outside the Church, should women work or should they be mothers?

We all invoke Church documents to defend our answers to these questions, but Francis seems to shake his head and say those questions are a bit pragmatic – they don’t get to the essence. “The role of women in the Church must not be limited to being mothers, workers, a limited role… No!  It is something else!” He indicated he did not have time to explain fully what this “something else” might be, but he gave two hints: he invoked an episode in history where the women of Paraguay took stock of a country in post-war shambles and made the conscious decision to save their nation and culture. And he reminded us that Mary is the most important (non-divine) person in the Church and women are “more important than bishops and priests.” It’s less important what women specifically do, those examples suggest, then who they are – and what happens in a culture because of who they are.

Two weeks prior to the Pope’s making these remarks, the New York Times ran one of its perennial stories about sex on campus. The headline triumphed, “She can play that game too,” but the story of co-eds deliberately getting drunk because they dislike their sex partners and can’t hook-up sober is anything but liberating. If a man forced a woman into nightly sex, we’d call it sex-slavery. What is it called when a woman forces it on herself?

There have always been promiscuous women and telling their titillating stories under the guise of journalism is hardly new. What’s novel in the story is the reason given for this self-punishing behavior. In my day, a woman might sleep around in search of love – not a wise plan, but at least understandable; these students sleep around to avoid entangling relationships because they are too busy for them.

Here we begin to see Pope Francis’ point. A woman so alienated from herself that she gets drunk to be able to have a human connection which is deliberately rendered neither human nor connected is not touched even slightly by parish tiffs over who serves at the altar or internecine battles over individual child-rearing decisions.

We need a better theology of woman in the sense that what the Church already knows about the full, free, joyful flourishing of women has yet to break out into the culture at large. It’s still a mostly-hidden treasure, enjoyed by those who have discovered it in rarified Church circles. We need apostles of the theology of women.

You can read the whole thing here. And if you’d like to hear Rebecca Ryskind Teti speak for herself on womanhood, you may enjoy my Among Women interview with her from earlier this year. I know I did, and I hope Rebecca might keep writing about the subject in the days ahead. For more Q and A as to why I’m writing on this subject, go here. 

Motherhood: On raising saints for heaven — an excerpt from “Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious.”

Happy Mother’s Day!

From my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious:

The maternal mission is also the basis of a particular responsibility. The mother is appointed guardian of life. It is her task to accept it with care, encouraging the human being’s first dialogue with the world, which is carried out precisely in the symbiosis with the mother’s body. It is here that the history of every human being begins . . . with an exclusive and unmistakable plan of life.

-John Paul II, Angelus Message, July 16, 1995, 2-

Understanding my mission as a guardian of life grew in my esteem when I fully understood it as a gift of my maternity on two levels. First, maternity is a universal gift imparted to women with the innate dignity and beauty of their creation. Women are not burdened with child bearing as much as they are gifted with child bearing. Second, it is also a unique gift when sperm and ova meet and a particular human zygote implants into a mother’s womb. The depth of that unique gift immediately comes to the fore whenever I talk to a woman burdened by infertility, or one who laments childlessness due to other reasons. These women, too, possess the gift of maternity, being predisposed to its potentiality in their creation, yet a myriad of circumstances may thwart the biological reality of having a child of their own.

Nothing in my professional resume could have ever prepared me for becoming a mother, except maybe the long hours I sometimes worked. But from the very beginning I had the sense that I was on a mission. Physical mothering is not limited to the prenatal months and the birth and breastfeeding experience. Raising children requires the hands-on work of a mother’s love and physical engagement. It also extends to all the future feeding, raising, and educating of the child. Physical motherhood requires vision and verve, patience and prayer, and a commitment to putting another’s needs ahead of one’s own on a regular, on-going basis until the little ones begin to do more for themselves over time.

Every mother of a family is a physical mother. While some family circumstances may not have led to a mother’s birthing of her children, she is still ordered to motherhood in her blessed design. Mothering is a physical assignment, a tangible and bodacious vocation that honors God and the dignity of the human persons in her care.

Motherhood from the outside might look messy and busy and challenging and complicated, but living it from the inside out brings many rewards––not always immediate, but in the long term through the blessing of Baptism and ongoing life with God. The paradox of parenting that I’ve found is that it is intensely joyous as it breaks your heart, while it completely saves your heart by breaking it open wider still, challenging you to love even more. “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends(1 Cor 13:7–8).

We’ve already touched on the blessing of Baptism. When we bring our children to the church for baptism, we bring them to Christ. We bring them to receive the grace to initiate a relationship with Christ, and through him, with the Blessed Trinity. Witnessing our children’s Baptism reminds us that parenting is not all about just maintaining their physical needs but seeing to their spiritual needs as well. This means we will have to help our children grow in communion with Christ and with one another.

This is a bodacious mission: to raise saints for heaven. Physical motherhood affords the privilege of training true disciples and future saints. In the best of circumstances, Christian mothers, in partnership with fathers, make their home a holy place, or as Vatican II taught, a domestic church.

Finally, Christian spouses . . . in Matrimony . . . signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and His Church. . . .

They have their own special gift among the people of God. From . . . wedlock . . . comes the family, in which new citizens . . . are born, who . . . in baptism are made children of God, thus perpetuating the people of God. . . . The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should . . . be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them.

Lumen Gentium, 11-

One thought about the raising of saints: it helps if that is a desire of your own heart to be a saint. Recall your own Baptism, your heavenly destiny. When you accept the blessing of your own Baptism, you’ll find that the raising of the children you have now, or may have in the future, will call you forward and higher in your own faith, and remind you of your own need for grace. As you love and serve more and more, you’ll yearn to provide a better example for them. If your children are already raised when you come into a deeper relationship with Christ, you can become a champion of prayer and a spiritual mother for your adult children and your children’s children.

We can’t give what we don’t have. So the onus is on us as parents to grow in holiness and to foster and integrate a way of life that reflects the values of our faith. For myself, once my responsibilities included raising children, I read more deeply about the teachings of the Church, or at least as much as I was reading the parenting books, and filling the gaps in my knowledge for both.

The ways we parent, in words and deeds, should come from the relationship that we enjoy with Christ. To that end, the basics of conscience formation that we talked about earlier come into play in the lives of our children. So, think of it this way: the better you strengthen your relationship with God and with your spouse, the better you will strengthen the relationships with your children, and the deeper you will form their conscience in knowing God and the law of love.

The above text is taken from Chapter 8, in Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious.

An “office Mom’s” maternal gift brings compassion, nurture, mentoring, and dignity to the workplace

In my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious,  one area of focus is the maternal gift that women bring to the world  based on their feminine nature. This maternal nature is part of God’s design of womanhood, as Blessed John Paul II taught, in that the human person is entrusted to women in a special way because of this gift of maternity.

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 – and this in a particular way determines their vocation…

A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting… (John Paul II, Mulieris Dignatatem, 30)

Often, women help to humanize the situations they are in; they are all about “relationships”and how well people mesh together. This is one of the strengths of women, and when exercised in friendly and respectful ways, women become a life-giving resource in our society, especially in the workplace. In this recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, we see this demonstrated, as writer Katherine Rosman asks the question: “Who’s Your Office Mom?”

The office mom is shorthand for a figure in many offices: the colleague who remembers everyone’s birthdays and brings in cupcakes. She has Advil and tissues in her desk drawer. She knows your significant other is all wrong for you—and will say so.

She is often an office manager but can be a senior executive, too. Just as people talk about their “office spouse,” a colleague they spend time with and confide in, the office mom is asserting herself as the matriarch of the office family. This is especially true for more companies as they ditch private offices in favor of open-space desks where senior staff members sit among the junior and every personal phone call is overheard.

The office mom is almost always a woman and often slightly older than other colleagues. She might actually be a mother, but not necessarily. A relationship with her is complex like all family relationships tend to be: A younger employee might want to please her professionally, even as she grits her teeth listening to her personal advice.

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 1.41.43 PMHow an office mom might operate? I think it is as individual as a woman herself. Someone might offer to celebrate birthdays and such, but then, another might change the office culture just by being thoughtful, as in this case where a woman serves her co-workers when she sees needs and intentionally  sets out to fill them:

In an economy where companies can grow quickly without the infrastructure of human resources, an office mom is about more than birthday cakes. Pamela Mendoza is the executive assistant and office manager at Udemy, a Silicon Valley online education company. At 38, she is one of the oldest in the office. When new people move to town to join the company, she offers advice on finding apartments and restaurants. She shares her feelings about the importance of a work-life balance. Recently, she ordered a dining room table for the center of the office to encourage people to step away from their computers for long enough to eat lunch. “It’s not the job, it’s my personality,” Ms. Mendoza says.

For Eliza Davidson, a 23-year-old recent college graduate, Ms. Mendoza’s support has been a comfort. Ms. Davidson says: “Pamela has been a great guide for the more quote-unquote ‘adult things’ I need to care about, like health care and taxes.”

Some office moms say they take on the role without thinking—they are moms at home and don’t know how to switch it off. Others become office moms because nurturing younger colleagues gives them an outlet for maternal energy.

The rest of the WSJ article is here.

The mission of women in the world at large is to nurture and care for it… that includes the people in her sphere of influence.

For more on this subject of women and work, especially, faith-filled women at work, you might be interested in this recent Among Women podcast with Mary Wallace, author of the blog The Working Catholic Mom. 

These words made me think… about the formula for writing my book*…

These words made me think… about the formula for writing my book*…

May the Blessed Virgin help men and women in our time

clearly understand God’s plan for femininity.

Called to the highest vocation of divine motherhood,

Our Lady is the exemplary woman. . . .

 

May Mary obtain for women throughout the world

an enlightened and active awareness

of their dignity, gifts, and mission.

 – John Paul II –

Angelus Message – June 18, 1995

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The Vatican website does not offer the complete 1995 Angelus text in English, but it can be found at this blog, or in this book.

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*These words from Blessed John Paul II, gave me the organizing principle for my new book — on the dignity, gifts, and mission of women — with great zeal for its Marian dimensions. The book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is on sale today at Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. Ask for it at your local Catholic bookseller or order it from Ave Maria Press.