Reflect upon the manner in which God the Father protects His beloved daughter. Only when Adam implores the Lord for a suitable partner does God send forth woman as a gift for man and for all of creation.
In his Letter to Women—or what ought to be called his Love Letter to Women—Pope John Paul II opens with gratitude, thanking God for the gift of women. In addition, he thanks women for being mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. He thanks women who work, women who are consecrated, and every woman who exists merely for being a woman.
After offering his thanksgiving, the pope addresses those historical and cultural obstacles which have prevented and continue to hinder the flourishing of women, an unfortunate reality which “has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.” He apologizes to women who have been unacknowledged, misrepresented, marginalized, penalized, discriminated against, reduced to servitude, and sexually exploited. To reverse such brutal attacks on womanhood, Pope John Paul II writes: “I am convinced that the secret of making speedy progress in achieving full respect for women and their identity involves more than simply the condemnation of discrimination and injustices, necessary though this may be. Such respect must first and foremost be won through an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women's life and beginning with a universal recognition of the dignity of women.” The Church, thus, proclaims a universal recognition of the dignity of women. The Holy Father, further, explains that “The Church desires for her part to contribute to upholding the dignity, role and rights of women … by speaking directly to the heart and mind of every woman.”
The dignity of woman traces back to the very creation of man and woman. Man and woman are dignified, not because we esteem ourselves, but because God elevates us—His beloved—when we cooperate with His grace. Man and woman are dignified because God has formed us in His image. Pope John Paul II writes, “The Book of Genesis speaks of creation in summary fashion, in language which is poetic and symbolic, yet profoundly true: ‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27). The creative act of God takes place according to a precise plan. First of all, we are told that the human being is created ‘in the image and likeness of God’ (cf. Gen 1:26). This expression immediately makes clear what is distinct about the human being with regard to the rest of creation.”
Following from the recognition that God fashioned both man and woman in His image, Pope John Paul II notes the complementarity of the sexes. While both are made in God’s image, man and woman are not created the same. On the contrary, man and woman are created to fill different needs. “[F]rom the very beginning, man has been created ‘male and female’ (Gen 1:27). Scripture itself provides the interpretation of this fact: even though man is surrounded by the innumerable creatures of the created world, he realizes that he is alone (cf. Gen 2:20). God intervenes in order to help him escape from this situation of solitude: ‘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.
“When the Book of Genesis speaks of ‘help’, it is not referring merely to acting, but also to being. Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’ that the ‘human’ finds full realization.
“After creating man male and female, God says to both: ‘Fill the earth and subdue it’ (Gen 1:28). Not only does he give them the power to procreate as a means of perpetuating the human species throughout time, he also gives them the earth, charging them with the responsible use of its resources. As a rational and free being, man is called to transform the face of the earth. In this task, which is essentially that of culture, man and woman alike share equal responsibility from the start. In their fruitful relationship as husband and wife, in their common task of exercising dominion over the earth, woman and man are marked neither by a static and undifferentiated equality nor by an irreconcilable and inexorably conflictual difference. Their most natural relationship, which corresponds to the plan of God, is the ‘unity of the two’, a relational ‘uni-duality’, which enables each to experience their interpersonal and reciprocal relationship as a gift which enriches and which confers responsibility.”
Referring to woman’s gift which enriches, John Paul II says that women possess the “Feminine Genius.” He notes that “women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenceless. In this work they exhibit a kind of affective, cultural and spiritual motherhood which has inestimable value for the development of individuals and the future of society.” Woman’s understanding of the Feminine Genius, then, must come from her willingness to serve since “man … cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self” (Gaudium et Spes, 24). The Blessed Mother is woman’s model of service and the epitome of the Feminine Genius. “Putting herself at God's service, she also put herself at the service of others: a service of love.”
Pieta by Jason Jenicke
Following Mary’s example “In this vast domain of service, the Church's two-thousand-year history … has truly experienced the ‘genius of woman’; from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history. I think of the great line of woman martyrs, saints and famous mystics. In a particular way I think of Saint Catherine of Siena and of Saint Teresa of Avila, whom Pope Paul VI of happy memory granted the title of Doctors of the Church. And how can we overlook the many women, inspired by faith, who were responsible for initiatives of extraordinary social importance, especially in serving the poorest of the poor? The life of the Church in the Third Millennium will certainly not be lacking in new and surprising manifestations of ‘the feminine genius’.
“Necessary emphasis should be placed on the ‘genius of women’, not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives … [W]omen acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them.” In this way, ordinary women reveal the gift of their womanhood every day when they give of themselves.
Pope John Paul II concludes his letter, saying, “womanhood is part of the essential heritage of mankind and of the Church herself. May Mary, Queen of Love, watch over women and their mission in service of humanity, of peace, of the spread of God's Kingdom!”
To read John Paull II’s full Letter to Women, visit https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/1995/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_29061995_women.html
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