Repost from January 2014
I came across this quote from Pope Francis yesterday, and it caused me to reflect on the gift of women in my own life:
The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. We talk about whether they can do this or that: Can they be altar boys? Can they be lectors? But we don’t have a deep theology of women in the Church
Thanks especially to the witness and influence of my wife and my daughters, I have discovered what John Paul II in his 1988 Apostolic Letter, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, called ingenii muliebris, the “feminine genius.” That genius, the Pope argues, manifests itself in a great many ways. Cross-culturally, the personal characteristics revered as uniquely feminine are quite diverse. However, the Pope says, there are some universally recognizable and distinctively feminine markers inscribed in the soul and body of each woman. Of these, he argues, the woman’s most precious gift is found in her tender solicitude for the personal dimensions of human life. A women is uniquely suited to cradle human life in her womb, in her arms and in her heart. She possesses a natural instinct to look down with tender compassion on the human face and to be a guardian of fragility. “The human person,” John Paul says, “has been entrusted by God to women in a particular way.”
Let me offer four particular examples of this genius from my own small world.
1. Whenever guests come to our home, my wife has an all-consuming passion to make our home beautiful, warm and welcoming. Flowers in the guest bedroom, fresh towels and scented candles in the guest bathroom, candles and flowers on the dining room table, with libations and hors d’oeuvres in plenteous supply. St. Edith Stein, in her essay, “The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to Nature and Grace,” describes Patti perfectly in this regard: “The natural feminine concern for the flourishing of the people surrounding her involves the creation of an ambiance of order and beauty conducive to their well-being.”
2. Every weekday morning as I pull out of our driveway on my way to drop the boys off at school and head to work, my youngest daughter stands outside to wave goodbye. She is faithful to this practice, whatever the weather. Recently, on a very rainy morning, she stood at the end of the driveway with an umbrella and waived. As I drove down the road I looked back in the mirror. That sight killed me. I had to pull over for a moment to regroup. My boys thought something was wrong with me. That night when I asked her why she stood out in the rain, she said: “Because I don’t want you to feel sad that you’re leaving home.” Do you parents understand the physical heartache such sincerity causes? Her tender love draws out of me a better man. In that mirror is the instrument of my redemption. Every time I watch her wave to me in that rear view mirror she tears fatherhood out of me.
3. A man I know in Iowa was telling me with great pride about his eleven year old daughter’s many academic and sports achievements. In particular, he shared with me a story he said illustrated for him a fundamental difference between his daughter and his sons.
For two years, she was the only girl to receive the highest academic achievement award in her grade. But this year she had to share the award with another girl. When I asked her if it was hard for her to not be top dog this year, she said: “No, it’s okay, but I’m excited that [she and her victorious friend] get to get out of class first period tomorrow and have donuts together!” She was more excited to share donuts with her friend! She wants to win, but in the end it’s about relationships to her.
4. A priest I know has dedicated most of his priestly ministry to serving Catholics who live in economically depressed rural areas. He shared a powerful story.
I was called on one day to give last rites to a man who was dying of mouth cancer. His wife called me. He was a younger man, in his late 40s. He and his wife had two children — a son in his late teens and a daughter in her mid teens. When I arrived at the farm house, the son was outside tinkering with a truck engine. I asked him, “Is your dad inside?” He said, “Yup.” I continued, “Do you want to come in while I anoint your father and pray with him?” He wouldn’t look at me, but said rather flatly, “Nope.” He continued tinkering with the truck, so I went inside.
The father was on a cot, in real pain. His daughter was quietly crying in the corner of the room. His wife stood over her husband. She called him “Papa.” She had a strong and quiet look on her face. She said to me, “Thanks for coming, Father.” She turned to her husband, held his hand, and said with remarkable tenderness, “Father’s here to bless you, Papa.” Then she disappeared from the room.
I took my oils out, knelt next to his bed and began to pray. He was groaning in pain. Suddenly the door opened and the wife walked in with her son, dragging him by the arm. She pulled him next to his father and said, “Now you say goodbye to your Papa! Tell him you love him!” The boy began to sob and, on his knees next to his dad, he threw himself across his dad’s chest and said through heaving sighs that he loved him. As his mom peeled him off, he said, “Goodbye, Papa.” The room was filled with an air of solemnity. I thought, even the angels must have stopped singing in heaven. The boy and his mom walked him out of the room and she closed the door.
I could never have done that. Only she could have. A mother’s love is fierce. Only she could cut through his iron exterior, his anger and fear and break open his heart toward his father. As I anointed the man after they had left the room, I felt that I was offering a Sacrament after having witnessed a sacrament. The sacrament of married love, of a child’s love, of a mother’s love that can soften even the hardest man.
So brothers, today renew your gratitude for the women in your life. Let them humanize you, call forth from you chivalry, nobility and greatness. Thank you, ladies, for the gift of your unique witness to the primacy of selfless love, tender compassion and the personal dimensions of life. Thank you for being the face in which every newborn first discovers the truth that, in the words of Pope Benedict, “each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”
Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic. Our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance, because they are human! — and because “the greatest of these is love” — Pope John Paul II
If Dostoevsky is right in saying “beauty will save the world,” it will come above all through your beauty, my sisters, just as our salvation first came through the Virgin Mother, whom we call tota pulchra, all-beautiful.