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Prayer & Spirituality

In these months celebrating both the canonization of Pope St. John Paul II and our Blessed Mother; it is good to look at how Pope Francis is reaping the fruits of one of Pope St. John Paul II’s greatest contributions to the Church. This contribution is the emphasis on the Marian dimension of the Church particularly through what he called the “feminine genius.”

John Paul emphasized Mary as a model for us or as St. Louis Marie de Montfort would say, “The mold of God” in which we fulfill our humanity. This mold of Mary emphasizes the “Feminine Genius” and this is what Pope Francis is building upon to revolutionize the Church. He points us to five aspects:

  1. The Church is first bride and mother
  2. The Church as Mother keeps her children not only knowing the rules, but abiding by them
  3. The Church as Bride keeps her spouse grounded and connected; thus keeps the family together
  4. The Church loves with a mother’s love
  5. The Church as Bride/Mother is a helpmate, not replacement

Let us look at each of these briefly.

First, Pope Francis asks us to remember that the Church is first bride and mother.  He said this in numerous addresses and homilies. The Holy Father echoed Vatican II saying, “The Church is our mother in faith, in supernatural life.”

Why does the Holy Father remind us that motherhood must take precedence in the life of the Church? It is because of its nature. A mother receives the love of the Father, lets it dwell and grow inside of her, and then bears the fruit of that love to the world. This is the mission of the Church, to bear the Good News of the Father’s love to the world. In order to do that however, we must first be still and receive that love. This is the key to doing great things for God. Pope Francis tells us this by showing we must be like Mary and first “let it be done unto [us] according to [His] word” (Luke 1:38). Otherwise, that word “will not bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:17-20).

This brings us to the second aspect of Pope Francis’ Feminine Genius: orthodoxy should lead to orthopraxis; right faith/belief should lead to right living. Pope Francis is emphatic about this since a head without a heart is only a “big head” or a prideful person. He puts it beautifully in a homily he gave in October 2013 when he said when, “we accept the faith and then do not live it, we are Christians only in memory.” It is as St. Paul tells us, “even if I have faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1Corinthians 13:2). Jesus also emphasized this, “Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mark 3:34-35). A mother makes sure that her children not only know the rules, but live by them. This is what the Pope wants the Church to do for all of us.

The third aspect Pope Francis’ speaks of in the Marian dimension is keeping her spouse well grounded and connected to the family. Now of course, the Church does not need to ground Christ the Head since He is perfect. However, she does remind Christ the body, those who act in Persona Christi and speak in the name of Christ, i.e. the clergy and laity alike, that “all of have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He did this in a major way through his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

In this exhortation, Pope Francis challenged not only the clergy, but all who have leadership roles within the church to be not chief administrators or rulers, but chief servants or holy fathers. Like a loving spouse, he knocks us down only so we can be built back up. This is important because if we are not grounded every now and again, we become disconnected to our family. And if we become disconnected to our family, we become unable to relate to them and then we lose our ability to guide our children because they think of us parents simply as enforcers of rules, not someone who loves them and has their best interests in mind.

The Holy Father picked up on the fact that this is happening too often in the Church and so challenged the parent figures within to be “shepherds with the smell of their sheep.”  He reminds us to serve as he says, “It is an ugly thing when one sees a Christian who does not want to lower himself, who does not want to serve, a Christian who parades around everywhere. It’s terrible, no? That person isn’t a Christian: he is a pagan! The Christian serves (and) lowers himself.”  The mother reminds the family that they are not above one another, but serve one another and grow as one family. Pope Francis wants to remind the Church to do the same.

Being able to relate to one another as family brings us to the fourth aspect of Pope Francis’ Feminine Genius, to love with a mother’s love; to love unconditionally. A mother knows that her kids mess up and mess up quite often, but she loves them anyway. Pope Francis encourages us to do the same because this is how God loves us. He loves the sinner, but hates the sin.  In this, he echoes the words of Pope John Paul II; we “are not the sum total of our faults and failings, but the beloved of God.” Pope Francis tells us that this unconditional love is the thing that the Church must extend to the sinner because sin isolates, but God wants people, especially sinners, to know they are never alone.

He says, “We must make it so that our brothers and sisters never feel alone. Our presence in solidarity to their side expresses not only with words but with the eloquence of gestures that God is close to all.” Jesus also says this with his three parables of mercy in Luke 15: the parable of the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son.

The last aspect of Pope Francis’ Feminine Genius is the Church as bride, mother, and helpmate. Pope Francis reminds us that woman originally was not made to be in competition with man, but “as a helpmate” (Genesis 2:18). This is important because this is the context in which he makes his comments about “women having a bigger role in the church.” He wants women to know that they do have an important and irreplaceable role in the Church and that role will grow. At the same time however, that role is not to be clergy as women are helpmates, not replacements. Man and woman, clergy and laity are meant to work together to spread God’s word and build the kingdom of God.

In conclusion, we see that Saint John Paul II’s emphasis on the Marian dimension and Feminine Genius is bearing great fruit through the Papacy of Francis. We see that the Holy Spirit truly is “Genius” by appointing a Pope that is helping the Church “to get in touch with her feminine side.” In doing so, not only is He laying down a springboard for the New Evangelization, but also a firm foundation to build upon for years to come.

Mary, Mother of the Church and Bride of Christ, pray for us

St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

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13 Comments

  1. Elizabeth-270942 May 2, 2014

    Great post

  2. Liz-609023 May 2, 2014

    Feminists? I actually don’t know what to say. It’s too shocking. Write something like this when women TRULY HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS in the Church. We’re nowhere near there.

    • Bernard-2709 May 2, 2014

      Liz.Equal rights?LIke what? Female Priests?

    • Liz. Thanks for your comment and for being a woman. You are truly a great gift to the world. In your opinion, what would equal rights entail?
      As you think about that, here is some food for thought. It is important that equality does not necessarily mean the same. Case and point, both mothers and fathers are both important roles in the family and equal in dignity, but these roles are different and together they compliment each other beautifully. As St. Paul tells us in 1Corinthians, “if the whole body were an eye where would the hearing be, ?If the whole body were hearing where would the smell be? But as it, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended…If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1Cor. 12:17-26). We, as the Church honor women and as men should share in doing so. Woman has a beautiful vocation and as Pope Saint John Paul II said, “The vocation of every man is the dignity of every woman” This is a right that should be equally upheld by everyone. Again, thank you for your post and God bless.

  3. Carrie-529869 May 3, 2014

    Women have the most beautiful place of prominence as the crown of creation in the church. They are “highest” in a certain sense in the ability to be so much like God in taking part of creating other human beings in such a close way.

    People often mistakenly think that the pope is at the top of a hierarchy triangle with bishops under him, then priests, then lay men and women being oppressed at the bottom. Not so… Flip it upside down. The pope is at the bottom in service to the church, carrying the weight of the world’s souls on his shoulders, with bishops above him, then lay people with women at the top as the crown of creation. When men become priests, they “lower” themselves in humility by emptying themselves— to assert women should be priests is dragging them down lower than their dignity allows.

  4. Michael-410923 May 3, 2014

    Agreed with Carrie. There are many roles and vocations for everyone in the Church. I have seen nuns do a lot of teaching, for example. Nuns have done excellent work in healthcare as well.

  5. Peter-484745 May 3, 2014

    Ummmmmmmmm, no.

    Women are NOT at the top of the Church. Of course there is inequality in their positions in the Church, because there is inequality between men and women by NATURE. Yes, women have a role in the Church, of course. But it always secondary to that of men, both in religious and lay life. There will never be feminist equality in Christ’s true church.

    Carrie, you said, “To assert women should be priests is dragging them down lower than their dignity allows”

    Are you out of your mind?! You’re saying that being Christ’s ordained representative on earth, daily reenacting his Passion on Calvary, and with the power to bind or forgive sins, is BELOW the “dignity” of women?

    • Dominic L. May 7, 2014

      Peter . . you taken Carrie’s story to literary . digest first whats been said.

      Women are not secondary to a mans role in the Church . . Its about salvation not status of self esteem .. Dignity for females is to be a true women before God as a Mother or Sister in its true dignity God first made her to be . . That role Mary fulfilled being the second Eve . . there is nothing secondary about that.

  6. Carrie-529869 May 3, 2014

    Peter, first, please refrain from such phrases as “out of your mind”. I will gladly have a polite and rational discussion about this with you, but will not respond to undignified and condescending remarks like that.

    Men and women are equal in dignity, and complementary, but not the same.

    And please read what I wrote again about it– the priest “empties” himself. It’s a “lowering” of oneself. I ask you to read the imagery of the triangle without defensiveness, to see it as a beautiful sign of love as God became man, and lowered himself “TAKING THE FORM OF A SLAVE”.

    The “secondary” role in the church is that men are the ones who can become priests, yes– but that’s not “Secondary” in dignity. In fact, its IN SERVICE to the lay people. Priests become SERVANTS. It’s a beautiful faith of paradox. The way a man holds the door open for a women is “lifting her up” higher than himself in service.

    And I would say that women as the model for the church, the bride of Christ, imaging Mary, and being able to take part in molding other human beings in such a close personal way–physically in the womb, is on par with the becoming persona Christi.

  7. If I understand correctly, the point being made by the author is that Pope Francis is enforcing St. John Paul II’s teachings regarding the importance of revitalizing the “feminine genius” of the Church, in the five ways described. Hence, he concludes, he is laying down “a foundation” for the future, in which the dignity of women will be fully comprehended.

    So far, so good. Actually I think it was a very interesting explanation. The problem is that the author titles this article “St John Paul II and Pope Francis are true feminists”, and there -I believe- he is missing the whole point. Motherhood and tenderness are feminine values recognized even in ancient, polytheist religions. Those recognitions are not in dispute. There other recognitions that are lacking. As St JP II explains in the very letter quoted by the author, serious issues are sexual violence, lack of social, political and economic rights, unequal pay for equal work, inequality of spouses with regard to family rights, etc. Just to name a few.

    And sadly, I see too many Catholics (both men and women) indifferent to these issues. I even see a few approving certain minor injusticies in modern, democratic States.

    THAT is the problem. Our commitment -as seekers of Justice- to ensuring the rights of women, Not saying we are tender, and loving, and self-giving (so are men when they want to, for that matter).

    I do believe Francis is commited to these issues. I’ve seen him for years here in Argentina, especially fighting fiercely against human trafficking. That’s what makes him a feminist in the eyes of the world.

    One last thing. When people who do not understand our religion see that women are not called for ministerial priesthood, and thus, to the Hierarchy of the Church; they do not stop to think about what it means to be a priest, they just are concerned with the structure. So I think the answer should be exactly like both Carrie gave. Whether we make good nuns or mothers is besides the point.

  8. Liv-782138 May 4, 2014

    Carrie, I hope you write a book some day. And when you do, let me know because I would like to read it. Your words are healing to many women, and I hope you write more in order to help women understand their role in the church better. I believe your writings could bring many women who turned away from the church back.

  9. Bernard-2709 May 4, 2014

    Homilies given by Fr. Ripperger in Kansas City: Women and the Natural Order
    http://www.sensustraditionis.org/multimedia.html

  10. Catherine-996317 July 18, 2014

    Discussion is good! I love to see this.

    Our Church is not static. It is a living, breathing extension of our Lord. Those who’ve celebrated as many birthdays as I have, have seen this.

    It used to be the only women allowed near the altar were the Holy Dusters. In 5th grade, I wanted to be an acolyte. I asked our pastor; he said he couldn’t make that decision and recommended I write the Archbishop. I did. He wrote back and said he couldn’t make that change, and that I should write the Pope. I did. He didn’t write back. :) But I didn’t give up. When I was 16 the rules changed and I served, though a bit old for the position, eternally grateful for the chance to be at our Lord’s table.

    Now women lector, distribute the Holy Eucharist, not only serve on but lead parish councils-and much, much more.

    Can we do more? I believe yes. But if more change is to come, it will only come with involvement, prayer-and discussion.

    Please, please don’t lecture that it’s not our place, whatever the request is. Instead, listen. Listen to our response to our call to serve. And help us find ways to make that happen. That doesn’t necessarily mean elect us Pope! But instead, listen and work by our side. We’ll listen to you and work by your side. It’s what Christ called us to do. Specifically. Intentionally. As the Word of God.

    So this respectful discourse is one wonderful way we can introduce new ideas and thoughts, encourage better understandings, and as a community, discern where the Spirit wants to lead us.

    Remember-the Spirit is leading us to be together. The Father has prepared many rooms for us-not little cottages with lots of privacy. Heaven is us living with God-together. Christ said the Kingdom is here. Let’s live it!

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