Dignify and Deploy 27: Restoring Woman’s Dignity
‘He suffused me without difficulty,
burst my shame and the thoughts I’d suppressed…
As if He had touched a rhythm in my temples
and suddenly carried a great exhaustion in me.’
-Karol Wojtyla on the Samaritan woman
St. John Paul II lived a delight and reverence for woman that could be called papal feminism. He understood woman from a biblical anthropology that starts with Eve, reaches perfection in Mary, and blossoms in the Church, Jesus’ Bride. Surrounded by men, he idealized women and preferred them.
He wrote an encyclical ‘On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman’ in 1988: for me, the best and most concise thing I’ve read on Scripture and the feminine genius. Boy, do we need this now, in a day when the most empowered feminists can’t answer: ‘Who is woman?’
John Paul’s high view of woman is founded on how he understands dignity: humanity in union with its Creator. ‘Mary, the woman of the Bible, is the most complete expression of this dignity and vocation’ (‘On the Dignity of Woman, 5). In other words, Mary is the human who most profoundly received the Father and brought forth the Son; she wins the union contest! For John Paul, Mary embodies human dignity and is its highest expression, the exemplar for all persons.
That has special meaning for women, both those disempowered by the sin of Eve and those supercharged with defiance, serving justice her way against the misogyny that springs from the ‘man ruling over her’ (Gen. 3:16). For modern woman, St. John Paul ll highlights the feminine richness of Mary: the attuned one, endowed with meaning to enter another’s life and enrich it, a receiver made to welcome love and endure suffering, the mother who brings forth a harvest many times over. He envisions Mary as the champion for all women to bring forth Christ and so rediscover true dignity. John Paul alludes to the psychological, spiritual, and physical genius to which women can be reconciled, as well as the authority Jesus grants her to prevail over a host of indignities like male promiscuity and irresponsibility.
John Paul decries the sexual revolution as devaluing women and empowering men’s worst impulses (Witness to Hope, p. 767). Enough! Woman leads the way to holiness. ‘In the hierarchy of holiness, it is precisely the woman –Mary of Nazareth—who is the figure of the Church’ (On the Dignity of Woman, 27). Accordingly, John Paul views feminine responsiveness as the threshold through which all persons must pass in order to comprehend St. Peter and his priestly lineage. It is Mary’s Church before Peter’s (Witness to Hope, p. 853).
Wow. Those words converted me. When I read John Paul’s take on women, Jesus’ justice in the face of misogyny, and Mary as the prototype of Church, I took a huge stride toward becoming Catholic. Every visit to Church is now this man’s saving encounter with the love of Father, through the Son, revealed in Mother Church. Hail the true feminine, conduit of Jesus for all persons!
“Thank You Jesus for the feminine genius. Thank You for John Paul’s articulate leadership in rediscovering the gift of woman in friendship, family, and Christian formation. Without woman, we wither; welcoming her, we thrive. Come Holy Spirit, liberate what is true and beautiful from what debases us. May we not settle but aspire to the dignity of our sexual humanity. May we grow into ‘mature expressions of the gift’ by helping others do the same. Deployed to dignify, we ‘harness the John force.’”