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A Woman's Perspective on New Vatican Document (Part 2)

9/7/2004 - 5:00 AM PST

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Mary Shivanandan on Feminine and Masculine Gifts

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 07, 2004 (Zenit) - Feminine values can only flourish when masculine values also are honored.

So says Mary Shivanandan, a professor of theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America and author of “Crossing the Threshhold of Love: A New Vision of Marriage in the Light of John Paul II’s Anthropology” (CUA PRESS), as she analyzed the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith's "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the collaboration of Men and Women in the Catholic Church and in the World."

Shivanandan explained to US how active collaboration between the sexes, which the document advocates, means upholding the gifts of both men and women in the family and in society.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.

Q: What is the importance of feminine values in the life of society?

Shivanandan: I would prefer to change the question to "What is the importance of masculine and feminine values in the life of society, since men are included in the title of the Letter?"

If man and woman are by nature oriented to each other, then feminine values in society can only flourish in a society that truly honors masculine values.

In his reflections on Ephesians 5:21-33, John Paul II, like other commentators, highlights the husband's role as initiator. The submission the wife is called to give is a response to his love. When the woman takes aggressive initiative, the man takes on a passive role or withdraws.

From all accounts this has become a major problem in our society. Without the right kind of masculine leadership -- sometimes called servant leadership -- feminine values cannot flourish.

Christ, of course, is the model for servant leadership. The recent document gives a hint of this in talking about Christ's power as "neither one of domination nor of power as understood by the world."

Ephesians 5:21-33 is a key text for discovering the role of the bridegroom/husband. In "Letter to Families," John Paul II calls the passage a "compendium or summa in some sense, of the teaching about God and man that was brought to fulfillment in Christ."

C.L. Rossetti has summarized the key points: the existence of a given order as Christ/husband as initiator and Church/woman as active receiver; total reciprocity and mutual submission; the kenotic character of the self-emptying of the male's leadship; the equality and unity of the two which is not harmed by a distinction of roles; and the woman/spouse as representative of all humanity in relation to God.

These are the principles that the document points out must guide all collaboration between men and women in the family and society. The document takes a great step forward in highlighting the need for "active collaboration." And that collaboration means bringing the gifts of both men and women to society.

Q: What is required in "active collaboration"?

Shivanandan: In his philosophical work "The Acting Person," Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, spells out what is required in mutual cooperation.

Participation is the word he uses to describe the mode of collaboration. True participation takes place when the subject, in acting together with others for a common good, fulfills himself in the action. In working together for the good of the family and society, both the man and the woman will succeed if in doing so they fulfill themselves in the action.

The document has spelled out ways in which women, both married and single, can fulfill themselves by participating in the work of society.

The woman's maternal role, linked to her orientation to relationship, needs to be honored so that she can choose to stay home to care for her children. The woman's presence in the home provides an atmosphere that nurtures culture and that in itself is a major contribution to society.

As a place where work is performed freely out of love, the home provides a counterfoil to our commercial culture in which everything has a price tag. The home is a place, too, where the uniqueness of each person is valued and spiritual values are fostered as it is a "domestic church."

Alternately, the document exhorts that "an appropriate work-schedule" needs to be made available so that the woman who wishes or needs to contribute specific talents to society can do so without undue stress to herself and the family.

There have been great advances in providing flexible work schedules. The development of the Internet and telecommunications enable more and more women, as well as men, to work from home and make their own hours.

Changing careers has become more usual, and opportunities to return to school have ...

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