Who is Man? Who is Woman? Are they interchangeable, having no essential difference?
Does it matter if a child has a mother and a father, as opposed to two mothers or two fathers? Does Bruce equal Cait and Cait equal Bruce in such a way that “man” and “woman” are meaningless terms?
How we answer these questions will have a profound impact on society and families.
The Genius of Woman
The Catholic Church teaches, along with the Bible, that man and woman are not identical but complementary. The Church calls us to celebrate our differences and discover the genius of the complementarity of man and woman.
The invitation to better understand our roles as man and woman is a crucial concern of our times. We must understand the full value behind our natures, in order to pass on to our sons and daughters the beauty of each person and their unique call to live life according to their unique nature.
As a woman, and a wife and mother, I yearn to understand more deeply the fullness of the feminine nature to which God has called me. The Church in Her wisdom provides us with many examples of holy women, and guides us with teachings to highlight our importance and responsibility in strengthening our families and our world.
Pope John Paul II wrote extensively on the genius of woman, and I would like to focus here on a few specific virtues which he applies particularly to the heart of women.
Into the Heart of the Family & Society
In his Letter to Women, John Paul II thanks women for four specific virtues, writing: “Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.”
These words should be inspiring to all women of the world – young or old, married or unmarried, secular or traditional. For the pope is telling us, plain and simple, that we are responsible for bringing sensitivity, intuitiveness, generosity and fidelity into our homes and into our culture.
If we are not ready to embrace this calling, what will happen to these gifts? We must be convinced in our hearts that the feminine nature is uniquely capable of sharing these qualities in a way in which men are not equipped to do so.
This is not pompous to say, because we are recognizing here a God-given gift – not something that we have earned – and are humbly seeking ways in which we can embrace more fully the great responsibility which we have been given.
As a wife, mother, daughter, sister or friend, how can we more deeply experience and exemplify these virtues?
A woman is sensitive. Our greatest virtues can also become distorted into our greatest vices. If our sensitivity is a gift to those around us, we must remember that it is a gift when exercised with prudence (as all virtues are), and that it must be directed to its proper end, namely, to be at the service of others.
When our sensitivity is placed at the service of others, we develop into women who are capable of great love, and are attuned to the needs of all persons placed in our lives. We must be sensitive in a good way – not just needy – so that we are able to feel with and for another human being.
We sense their needs and feelings, and go out of our way to comfort and strengthen them.
Sensitivity is closely related to intuitiveness. God has given us a unique capacity to “see” into the hearts and souls of those we love. We often can sense what a child or a spouse needs, but we must conquer our pride and selfishness in order to place their requirements oftentimes above our own.
When we love, we are given special insight into the souls of those in our care, and we are called to pay close attention to the intuitive observations we make – for they are often God’s invitations for us to better serve our neighbor.
We are generous. Every woman knows the joy which fills our heart when we make another person happy. We love to give of ourselves, and we appreciate being noticed and commended for our generosity.
While this affirmation is both natural and necessary, let us perhaps respond to Christ’s invitation to serve with a deeper, and more hidden generosity, so that our reward will be great in heaven.
After all, it is part of our nature to love with great generosity, and it is through committed service that we will discover deep joy and fulfillment as a woman.
We are faithful. What a beautiful concept, and so often misconstrued – that a woman is faithful. This term leads me to think of Our Blessed Mother, the counter-cultural woman, and the most faithful woman in history. I am inspired to strive for faithfulness in the little details of my daily life, so that I will be faithful in following Our Lord to the cross, as Mary was.
The women at the cross can perhaps serve as our models of the “faithful women”, for they were there, in the midst of great pain and sorrow, to be with the one that they loved.
Can we love to the end as Mary did? Are we there, and do we stay, with those we love in their crosses?
Do we practice faithfulness to God in the midst of fear and sorrow? May we be ever moved to love those around us faithfully, despite their faults and failings, and thereby love God present in our midst.
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