“‘Go to Holy Communion, go to the holy Table, and I shall give you my dear little Jesus, then you will no longer be alone, you will be happier than the happiest of mothers.’” (Jeanne La Néele, cousin of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux).
In 1995 Pope Saint John Paul II declared the year “Year of the Woman”. No, it was not a satire or mockery of women by a man who was single, celibate and a priest, it was instead a focus on the vocation of womanhood and what is meant by femininity.
I have recently come across the Pope’s encyclical on women, presented on 29 June 1995, and I found it a revolutionary and extraordinary affair. You see, where I expected to see traditional patriarchal condescension, I saw instead a beautiful meditation on the importance of the role of women and the solemnity of the role of women in the Church.
Most importantly – to my modern feminine mind – was the Saint’s affirmation that though men and women are different, we are both made in the image and likeness of God and as a result we are both equal in dignity – different, but equal. And this, soothed something in my soul just as I was getting started with the text.
“‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’ (Gen 2:18). The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided but mutual. Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the ‘human’ as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.”
And this is what struck me very forcefully about femininity – this idea that women are HELPERS…
I often joke that women’s liberation should really be called “men’s liberation” because prior to women’s liberation, we women had to work in the home, and after it, we work in the home AND ALSO outside of it, which liberates men from the responsibilities of being the family’s primary-provider!
And yet – all jokes aside – there is something very true in the message of this Pope. You see, effectively, he elevates the role of women – ALL WOMEN – to that of MOTHERHOOD!
Now, this is not to say that women who have no biological or adopted children cannot fulfil their feminine vocation. After all, while some women are childless by choice, others are childless for reasons beyond their control and desperately long for children of their own… In fact, Jeanne La Néele (who was Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s cousin) wrote a heartbreaking letter to the Saint about this very thing, “I will tell you, dear little Thérèse, that God has given me the grace of resignation; at the beginning of my marriage, I was acting like the Israelites in the desert, I was complaining... Now I am resigning myself. I shall not tell you that I do not feel a pang of sorrow when seeing a little child in its mother's arms, but I am no longer tempted to complain, and I seem to hear the Blessed Virgin say to me: ‘Go to Holy Communion, go to the holy Table, and I shall give you my dear little Jesus, then you will no longer be alone, you will be happier than the happiest of mothers.’”
Rather, what this means is that women are called to nurture and help, and in this way, we are called to MOTHERHOOD – physical, emotional and spiritual motherhood.
Perhaps, this is why we women so often feel so drained and “used-up” at the end of the day – for helping is hard work.
But this gives me hope. And it gives me peace. This validates my vocation for me. For I have felt the call to motherhood all my life, and I see it as God’s work in me calling me to love and help many souls… Even if I am just a mere woman!
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.