Tag Archives: Bl. Pope John Paul II

Women’s roles change, not inherent worth and dignity

September 24, 2013

1 Comment

For many women changing roles means changing outfits. But the feminine genius about who women are as well as what they do. Photo/Steve A Johnson. Licensed under Creative Commons.

If changing clothes is part of changing roles, I think women wear a lot of hats—and outfits–in a day. From mom-in-sweats to workplace wear to work out to soccer match casual.  I’m not a mom but I’m used to changing clothes often for different roles in life.

Beyond the roles women find themselves in, there is much to be said about their inherent importance and dignity.

In the much publicized interview released last week in America magazine, Pope Francis again brought up the issue of women’s role in the Church and called for a new theology of women.

The pope said that deep questions need to be answered. But he distinguished between women’s importance as persons and their roles when he talked about the Blessed Mother:

Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.

He echoed Bl. Pope John Paul II’s 25-year-old apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem in which Bl. John Paul writes that women represent a particular value because they’re human persons and at the same time, that they’re particular persons because of their femininity. This he calls the “feminine genius”, notwithstanding capabilities, accomplishments—or roles:

“…The Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for “perfect” women and for “weak” women…for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love…”

As strong and beautiful as the feminine genius is, it reaches its fullness together with the masculine genius, as the two are complementary, John Paul II writes.

 …together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal “homeland” of all people and is transformed sometimes into a “valley of tears”; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity according to daily necessities and according to that definitive destiny which the human family has in God himself, in the bosom of the ineffable Trinity.

Whatever women are doing, they offer their being to help the Church and the world, according to Deborah Savage, theology and philosophy professor at St. Paul Seminary who spoke recently in St. Paul on Mulieris Dignitatem at an event sponsored by the Siena Symposium, an interdisciplinary faculty group at the University of St. Thomas dedicated to rebuilding families and culture through scholarship and insights of the Catholic faith.

Are we, you and I, at the center of the salvific work that could be and should be taking place in our homes, our workplaces, our culture? Are we reflections of the supernatural reality that is the full expression of the feminine genius?

Even in this era of androgyny, not all outfits fit everyone, and some roles are suited for feminine or masculine genius. But there are many roles and the Church needs women’s unique gifts for this salvific work. According to Pope Francis:

 “The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. …We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

Continue reading...

God is found where these three elements meet

October 26, 2012

2 Comments

Only in beauty is truth good, and goodness true. Photo/Temari 09 Licensed under Creative Commons

Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

If this were the title of an HBO miniseries I’m not sure it would be a hit. I wonder if many people would watch more than one episode of a show without crime, sex, lying or death.

Unfortunately, living in this Culture of Death we’re not attuned to fully recognize and appreciate truth, goodness and beauty, which are among the chief attributes of God. In fact, God can be found where these three qualities meet.

Called “God’s three great prophets in the human soul” by philosopher  Peter Kreeft, truth, goodness and beauty go way back in history to Judaism, Christian and Greek philosophy and pagan myth-makers. Dr. Kreeft writes:

 Beauty is known by the imagination; goodness, by conscience; and truth, by reason (in the large, ancient sense of wisdom, not just cleverness; understanding, not just calculation; reason, not just reasoning).

Closer to God

The more we seek truth, goodness and beauty in the Lord, the godlier we become. All that’s true, beautiful and good will grow if it is conformed to God, Pope Leo XIII wrote.

The three attributes have a lot to do with each other, as the Catechism points out:

 The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself. (CCC2500)

According to speaker and author Christopher West, beauty can lead us to goodness and truth:

 As Pope Benedict XVI says, when we allow beauty to pierce our hearts, it awakens in us our deepest desires, our desire for the Infinite.  Beauty has the ability to seize our hearts and transform us from within.

That’s what West had in mind when he and others began developing Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing, a performance revealing–through the beauty of art–truth and goodness about human sexuality as found in Bl. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Revealing Theology of the Body through Beauty

West, indie-folk band Mike Mangione and the Union and sand artist David Leiberg are bringing Fill These Hearts in spoken word, music and art to the University of St. Thomas’s O’Shaunessy Education Center auditorium in St. Paul, Minn., this Saturday night, Oct. 27.

The idea for the event, which is more theater than lecture, came out of Pope John Paul’s Letter to Artists and a desire to make Theology of the Body themes “contemplatively present in color, shape, and sound.” It is produced by the Cor Project, a team dedicated to sharing TOB.

Art can open us to beauty, which can “seize our hearts and transform us from within,” West said. “That’s our hope for this event in a nutshell, to lead people along the way of beauty.”

Beauty, truth and goodness are essentially Love in its full cosmic and personal meaning–which is the Glory of God, according to theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.  Only in beauty is truth good, and goodness true, he writes.

If you’re looking for something true, good and beautiful this Saturday night, HBO probably isn’t your best bet—there’s a boxing match on. But you’ll find in the unique sensory experience of  Fill These Hearts, the Lord in His truth, goodness and beauty.

Continue reading...

Church points to impact marriage redesign would have on children, society

August 14, 2012

4 Comments

Each family is a cell that is as vital to society as a cell phone is to communication. Photo/d:space Licensed under Creative Commons

Have you ever wondered why phones are called “cell” phones? If you already know this, you’re ahead of me: “Cell” doesn’t refer to a component in the phone but the fact that service providers divide up a city or region into geographic areas called cells which are equipped with a tower and radio equipment. Because of this structure, users within a cell can communicate with those in other cells.

Each cell plays a critical role in ensuring communication for the entire city or region. In a similar way, the Church teaches that each family is a cell vital to the function of society. According to the Catechism:

The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society. (CCC:2207)

Marriage is a private matter between a couple but the Church teaches that the broader society has an interest in the institution because it’s where children are most often conceived and raised. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 recognizes the family’s special role: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Caring for Children

Supporting marriage is a way of protecting children even though more emphasis is often placed on marriage’s legal and economic considerations. Congress, government administrative bureaus and agencies define the word ‘marriage’ as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

The Church doesn’t disagree with this definition but she views marriage and family also through a sacramental lens, focusing more on the welfare of children and their parents, who are the future of society. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states:

By reason of the vocation and social responsibilities of the person, the good of the children and of the parents contributes to the good of civil society; the vitality and stability of society require that children come into the world within a family and that the family be firmly based on marriage. The tradition of the Church and anthropological reflection recognize in marriage and in its indissoluble unity the only setting worthy of truly responsible procreation.

Unfortunately, many marriages today do dissolve without unity but that’s not a reason to re-engineer the institution. According to Pope Benedict XVI, “marriage and family are rooted in the inmost nucleus of the truth about man and his destiny.”

He continues,

Today, the need to avoid confusing marriage with other types of unions based on weak love is especially urgent. It is only the rock of total, irrevocable love between a man and a woman that can serve as the foundation on which to build a society that will become a home for all mankind.

Consequences for Society

If government redefines marriage ignoring the particular roles of husband and wife—and mother and father—children won’t get the guidance they need as they grow to sexual maturity, the U.S. Bishops wrote in their pastoral letter, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan. Without this protection the State would effectively deprive children of the right to both a mother and a father.

In addition, they write, expanding the definition of marriage beyond that of one man and one woman would make the pattern of spousal and familial love and the generation of new life only of relative importance rather than fundamental to the existence and wellbeing of society as a whole.

Church leaders have foreseen some consequences of fundamentally changing marriage and family but ultimately some believe it would take a generation or more to know the full effects. Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote about the possibility of “a destructive ‘anti-civilization.”

Promoting stability in marriage and the virtuous life it entails, will ensure “the happiness and well-being of the nation is safely guarded; what the families and individuals are, so also is the State, for a body is determined by its parts,” wrote Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Casti Connubii.

Those parts, or cells, are superior to other communities, wrote philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand in his book, Marriage: Mystery of Faithful Love.

We cannot dwell any further on this important question beyond seeing the rank that marriage holds among communities and understanding that it represents in itself something far superior to all others, and that in itself it would glorify God as an image of the relationship of Christ and His Church even if no other communities existed.

Continuing to Share God’s Plan

Given how vital the cell of marriage and the family is to all of civilization, the Church will continue to share God’s plan for the holy institutions as they are attacked from many sides, wrote Pope John Paul in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio:

 At a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the people of God.

 

Continue reading...

Why fruitfulness is an essential mark of marriage

July 17, 2012

4 Comments

Whether you consider them fruit or vegetables, tomatoes are evidence of nature’s fruitfulness. Photo/Andrew Fogg (ndrwfgg on Flickr.com) Licensed under Creative Commons

Gardening becomes more fun in midsummer when the first produce appears. I like spotting the tiny cucumbers and watermelons, and watching the tomatoes turn red.

As important as fruitfulness is to the natural world, the Church teaches that it also is one of the two meanings of the conjugal act in marriage. According to the Catechism:

 The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.  (CCC 2363)

This idea of fruitfulness in marriage raises some interesting questions: What does the Church say is the essence of fruitfulness and how is it part of marriage? How do the body and soul interact when married couples have sex? Can a couple’s union still be fruitful when they’re not able to conceive a child?

Just as the vines in my garden produce fruit and vegetables,  the body can make present one tangible aspect of the fruitfulness of love–a new human being.  Bl. Pope John Paul II writes about how fruitfulness is part of the essence of the person in the Theology of the Body. The body can add a new dimension to the fruitfulness of spousal love,  in a way that the soul alone can’t.

Through their bodies, God allows married couples to participate in His creative action and possibly become parents.   The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes puts it this way: “…wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’”

The Trinity as model of fruitfulness

God didn’t tell Adam and Eve to do anything that the Persons of the Trinity weren’t also doing—though not in same way. Love, consisting of both union and fruitfulness, is the basis of Trinitarian life and also of our being, Pope John Paul writes. Union and fruitfulness are also necessary aspects of spousal love.

Couples reach the peak of both unity and fruitfulness during sex, which is the heart of spousal love, according to Maria Fedoryka, associate professor of philosophy at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla.  During the conjugal act the body and the soul intersect and communicate in a special way, she writes in her article, “The Family in the Theology of the Body.”  (2012. Manuscript submitted for publication.)  They expand each other’s capacity and each acquires a new dimension. The spirit gains something new because of its connection to the body, she writes.

Love is about superabundance. Because fruitfulness is at the core of love, the spousal union creatively overflows beyond itself—or else it’s not love. A couple’s love becomes a physical reality when they conceive a child.

Obviously, love doesn’t take this path with every conjugal act. Pope John Paul writes in Donum Vitae,  “Nevertheless marriage does not confer upon the spouses the right to have a child, but only the right to perform those natural acts which are per se ordered to procreation.”

Marital act is fruitful even if couple is infertile

In the “noble and worthy” marital act by which life is transmitted, Pope Paul VI states in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, that an infertile couple always remains ordained toward expressing and consolidating their union. When couples can’t conceive or are not seeking to achieve pregnancy for a legitimate reason, they can express the fruitfulness of their conjugal act by serving others.

“In fact,” writes John Paul II, “every act of true love towards a human being bears witness to and perfects the spiritual fecundity of the family, since it is an act of obedience to the deep inner dynamism of love as self-giving to others.”

Clearly, to love means to be fruitful, but fruitfulness in marriage holds the potential for the most profound collaboration with God in the creation of new human life.

Continue reading...

Why men and women’s differences matter in marriage

June 27, 2012

1 Comment

When Mark Twain wanted to highlight differences between the sexes, he filled in the creation story with the perspectives of the first man and first woman in his Diary of Adam and Eve:

Adam: The new creature says its name is Eve. That is all right, I have no objections. Says it is to call it by, when I want it to come. I said it was superfluous, then. The word evidently raised me in its respect; and indeed it is a large, good word and will bear repetition. It says it is not an It, it is She. This is probably doubtful; yet it is all one to me; what she is were nothing to me if she would but go by herself and not talk.

 Eve: This morning I told him my name, hoping it would interest him. But he did not care for it. It is strange. If he should tell me his name, I would care. I think it would be pleasanter in my ears than any other sound. He talks very little. Perhaps it is because he is not bright, and is sensitive about it and wishes to conceal it. It is such a pity that he should feel so, for brightness is nothing; it is in the heart that the values lie.

Twain’s account of the first married couple’s relationship comes out of his own study of human nature and because that nature is common to all of us, it’s not hard to imagine Adam and Eve having these thoughts. As he delves into the age-old topic of gender difference, Twain makes a good case for it being more than biological.

Besides anatomically, how exactly are men and women are different? Are those differences complementary? What does the Church say about how differences and complementarity affect a marital relationship? And in an age when divorce is common, can we believe in any kind of complementarity between men and women?

Complementary? How?

According to Bl. Pope John Paul II, a person’s gender is not an “attribute” but part of their essence.  As distinct as men and women are, they complement each other—not only biologically but individually, personally and spiritually, he writes in a Holy See position paper for the 1995 UN Conference on Women.

Dietrich von Hildebrand, a 20th century Catholic philosopher who influenced Pope John Paul, agreed that differences between men and women are not merely biological but are also metaphysical. They are two equal and complementary types of the spiritual person of the human species—two different expressions of human nature–with specific personality features, he writes in Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy.

Generally speaking, women have a unity of personality because their heart, intellect and temperament are more interwoven than those of men, according to von Hildebrand. Their inner and exterior lives come together in a “unity of style embracing the soul as well as the exterior demeanor.”

Men, he writes, have a specific capability to free themselves intellectually from the emotional sphere. They have their own particular creativity, and place somewhat greater importance on objective accomplishments.

These are characteristics common to many people, though not necessarily in the same proportion.

As different as men and women are, their complementarity runs just as deep, Pope John Paul writes in The Theology of the Body. Man and woman are two “reciprocally completing ways of ‘being a body’ and at the same time being human.” They are “two complementary dimensions of self-knowledge and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body.”

This difference and complementarity is most evident in Our Lady and Christ, von Hildebrand writes in Marriage: Mystery of Faithful Love.

“Raising our glance to the Blessed Virgin, we see that she, who of all creatures is most like to Christ, could not possibly be imagined as anything but a woman, and that she, Queen of all Saints, is womanly in the highest and most sublime sense of the word.”

Is complementarity important in marriage?

The Catechism says it is:

Physical, moral and spiritual difference, and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.  (CCC2333)

Men and women are spiritually oriented toward, and created for each other, von Hildebrand writes. They have a mission for each other—to enrich each other and to give one another the positive influence of the opposite sex, he writes. This influence of their complementary natures reveals a tension—and spiritual fruitfulness.

Von Hildebrand continues, “because of their complementary difference, a much closer communion and more ultimate love is possible between them than between persons of the same sex.”

The complementarity is reciprocal, von Hildebrand writes.  Marital love, which involves each giving completely to the other and mysteriously grasping the other’s full personality despite obstacles, “can exist only between two types of the spiritual person, the male and the female, as only between them can this complementary character be found.”

From Gen. 2:23, where Adam realizes who Eve is, John Paul II concludes in the Theology of the Body that femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity and masculinity confirms itself through femininity. Each conjugal union of husband and wife is a new discovery of that masculinity and femininity, he writes.

Unfortunately, some couples see more difference than complementarity in their relationships but knowing how marriage can work when husband and wife recognize who they are in Christ, gives hope for more holy marriages in the future.

In the Spirit of Christ, writes Pope John Paul, men and women can find themselves by discovering the entire meaning of their masculinity and femininity and by being disposed to make a “sincere gift of self,” whether or not they’re called to marriage.

In his “ghostwriting” of Adam and Eve’s diary, Mark Twain makes Adam seem a little reticent but Gen. 2:23 records his amazement upon discovering the “helper” God has given him:

This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman …

 

Continue reading...