Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?
Traditional Rajasthani women from India
HOOKSET, NH (Catholic Online) - On a visit to the United States, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta spoke of the glutted bellies and emaciated hearts of the people in this country: "In the Third World, there is often a famine of the stomach due to the lack of food, but the people are rich in love. They share what little they have with one another. In developed nations like yours (America) there is an abundance of food. But there is often a famine of the heart due to a lack of love. The victims of this famine of love are the new poor. And who are these poor people? They are the people sitting next to you."
Blessed Pope John Paul II gave the reason why it is no small matter whether a woman loves and is loved: "A woman cannot live without love. She remains a being incomprehensible to herself. Her life is senseless if love is not revealed to her, if she does not encounter love, if she does not experience it and make it her own, if she does not participate intimately in it."
Most sane people agree that, in human existence, there is an integral connection between the innate desire to love and the personal need to be loved. Pope Benedict XVI said this: "Love, then, seems to be both a state of being and of becoming. In fact, love poems and love songs continue to attest always to the inner urge of the human heart for a love that lasts, longing for an everlasting love, a hunger for eternal love. Love is . . . a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed, inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and, thus, towards authentic self-discovery."
To pursue the truth of genuine love, in order to live as fulfilled human beings, women living in modern culture, in the words of Saint Paul, will have to "acquire a fresh, way of thinking" (Ep 4:23). Why?
Women need to discover or rediscover the truth of what it means to love, and what it means to be loved as a person. Women must know with certainty what it means to be a WHO.
How will women learn to be a WHO? They must get a correct understanding of who they are as human beings before they attempt to find and live a life of genuine love as a female being. Thus, they must face the reality of what it means to be a person who is truly free. Pope Benedict XVI gives the reason:
At a deeper level, the real alienation, unfreedom, and imprisonment of a woman consists in her want of truth. If she does not have truth, if she does not know who she is, why she is here, and what the reality of the world consists in, she is only stumbling around in the dark.
"Life and love! What are they for? What do they lead to? These questions do not go away. They repeat themselves "more and more insistently. Then, they demand replies. Like drops of ink always falling on one place, they run into one blot" (Leo Tolstoy).
For example, shall the body have its sensory desires, and the will have its desires for goods, and the heart not desire? Does the human heart, the inmost being of a woman, not have its desires? If the female heart is made to love, shall it not desire a beloved so she is loved in return? These kinds of questions demand truthful answers.
"So I lived. But, later something very strange began to happen to me. At first, I experienced moments of perplexity and arrest of life. Although I did not know what to do or how to live, I felt lost and became dejected. But, this passed. I went on living as before. Then, these moments of perplexity began to occur more often and more often, and always in the same form. They were always expressed by the same questions: 'What's it for?' 'What does it lead to?'" (Leo Tolstoy)
Let no woman ignore the truth. The human heart, indeed, has its own desires. Every person is drawn by desire - not by necessity. People move to a beloved because it is their desire to love. They are moved, not by compulsion, but by the desire for personal fulfillment as lovers.
Saint Augustine put it this way: "Show me a woman who loves. She knows what I mean. Show me one who is filled with longing, one who is hungry, one who is a pilgrim and suffering from thirst in the desert of this world, eager for the fountain in the homeland of eternity. Show me someone like that, she knows what I mean. But, if I speak to someone without feeling, she does not understand what I am talking about."
A basic question, then, must be raised by every woman about her actual being: "Who am I?"
John D. Meehan has been involved in the lay apostolate of the Catholic Church since the close of the Second Vatican Council. He resides in New Hampshire with his lovely wife Elizabeth.
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