This is the fifth in a series of articles on the dignity and vocation of women, published in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem. Read Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, and Part IV here.
The twenty fifth anniversary of the Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of women (Mulieris Dignitatem) is upon us. The apostolic letter was given in Rome on August at St. Peter’s on August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the year 1988, the tenth of the reign of the soon-to-be St. Pope John Paul II — and what a document it remains!
I have been asked to write a few words on the letter to see if anything has changed vis-à-vis Catholic women in the Church’s teaching on women and their role as a result of the past 25 years and as a result of the document. I will only attempt to speak about the United States, even though I have traveled to a good number of at least nominally Catholic countries since the apostolic letter was published.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the teaching of Blessed John Paul’s letter.
We are told in Genesis 1:27 that God created man in His own image—and that He created them male and female. As Pope John Paul II put it, “This passage indicates that men and women are essentially equal from the standpoint of their humanity, they both reflect the likeness of God.” However, sin entered the world (no finger pointing at who is to be blamed!) and destroyed the unity that man and woman generated in the state of original justice; it also damaged the relationship of man and woman as a community of persons.
Do you have fights or, to put it more decorously, polite disagreements with your spouse? Well, that is why. What God intended the marital relationship to be when He created us—a loving, mutually supportive and mutually appreciative unity of complementary strengths and needs—has, since the Fall, the tendency to degenerate into a relationship of competition, criticism, and depreciation, with spouses tempted to keep count of slights, mistakes, or failures. As a result, spouses often judge the other partner from an emotional and spiritual distance rather than by seeking a mutually supportive union that allows them to pursue their own good and the good of their family and society. While there is plenty of scope in marriage for fallen attitudes and behaviors by both husband and wife, one aspect of the disunity resulting from Original Sin is an urge to use the other person to satisfy us rather than respecting his or her privileged status as a beloved child of God. Historically, one common characteristic of gravely disordered marital unions was a disrespecting domination of the wife by the husband. As Pope John Paul said (now we get down to business), “An authentic marital union requires the husband and wife to be treated as equal subjects in accordance with their status as spiritual persons. The disorder caused by sin must be overcome so that women are not treated as objects of “domination” and “male possession.”
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This truth has certainly been acknowledged in theory, but not in practice, in the United States. The Catholic Church in the U.S. has followed both the perennial teachings of the Church through the ages and the insights of Pope John Paul in this apostolic letter and his revolutionary talks early in his pontificate on the Theology of the Body. These teachings are available for all men and women to read and apply in the U.S., Catholic or not, and our new and “different” pontiff Pope Francis endorses them with vigor, regardless of how he may be misquoted or distorted by the press abroad.
What is the bad news for all women—whether or not they acknowledge it?
Consider the fruits of the current relationship between the sexes in an era supposedly devoted to equality and the untrammeled pursuit of happiness: 1. legal abortions, killing innocent babies; 2. legal unnatural birth control (often in actuality not contraceptive but abortifacient); 3. legal divorce and remarriage; 4. the United States as the pornography capital of the world, with women seen solely as sexual objects; 5. increasingly fewer mothers who can afford to stay home with their children; 6. a birthrate that is the lowest in our history; 7. legalized so-called gay marriage; 8. ongoing enormous incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.
The good news? All of the above practices are unnatural—so judged by the natural law inscribed on human hearts and by the teaching of the Church. If the Roman Empire could fall over time under the influence of the early Christians, so can our country—and at faster rate due to good use of technology. God is with us, as is the Blessed Mother Mary, who is all-powerful in petitions to her Son. And let’s not forget Blessed Pope John Paul the Great himself. If (in cooperation with Our Lady of Fatima) he was key in destroying the Evil Empire of Communism, then we can be sure of his help in our own Crusade, also so close to his heart.
The Culture Wars are ours to win, and in the process we will surely earn a high place in heaven near Christ our King.