Recently, we witnessed three huge events at our nation’s capital. I watched each from afar, but with great interest, looking for the spiritual takeaways.
I was encouraged by the elements of faith I observed in at least two of the events.
At the presidential inauguration, pastoral prayers and oaths made firm with hands on Bibles reminded that even a civic leadership cannot exist without God’s hand. And at the March for Life, a wide wave of religious symbols and sentiments brought hope.
Though it no doubt existed there, too, the faith element wasn’t as evident at the Women’s March on Washington. I was also unclear about the message, which seemed disjointed, despite understanding the great need to gather and express one’s thoughts and concerns right now.
As I observed, I also found the event marked with confusion over the true gift of womanhood.
Philosopher and Holocaust victim Edith Stein said it beautifully when she proclaimed about women: “The nation doesn’t simply need what we have. It needs what we are.”
But what and who are we really?
Jesus’ mother, Mary, provides a model. In many ways, she is the ultimate feminist.
Growing up in my Catholic home, our family didn’t focus on Mary, but I did sense her beautiful mystery and subsequently was drawn to her.
This curiosity increased after my viewing, around age 10, of the film, “Song of Bernadette,” the story of a Marian apparition witnessed by a humble peasant girl in Lourdes, France, in the mid-1800s.
Like Bernadette, I began seeking Mary’s solace. As a teenager, her spiritual motherhood soothed in troubled times. During my college years, her maternal force brought comfort and wisdom when my own mother was far away. And in my own mothering, Mary’s been a worthy guide.
Mary is the ideal woman, meek enough to accept a life of surrender and grace, yet powerful enough to be queen of heaven.
There’s so much here to learn, but images flashing through the internet during the Women’s March seemed to miss the sublimity of our feminine nature.
One woman stood before the crowd with a microphone, wearing a shirt with “abortion” splashed throughout in bold, black letters. It saddens me that this has become such a resounding word in the feminist movement of today.
Despite other important issues, the undeniable underpinnings of abortion-rights disturb, especially as more post-abortive women lament the spiritual and emotional bondage, not “reproductive freedom,” that has come from their “choice.”
After a day filled with social-media postings of knitted pink hats depicting female sexual anatomy, reprieve finally came to me in a friend’s Facebook update, which presented another perspective of feminism.
This image showed Pope John Paul II kneeling before a statue of Mary with the caption: “The most powerful woman on the earth didn’t clamor for attention or position; she received God’s highest favor because she was in communion with Him.”
Underneath were words from “Redemptoris Mater,” a document exploring the relationship between femininity and Mary, “mother of the redeemer.”
In it, John Paul II reveals that the figure of Mary of Nazareth “sheds light on womanhood” by the fact that “God, in the sublime event of the Incarnation of his son,” entrusted himself to “the free and active ministry of a woman.”
By looking to Mary, he said, women can find “the secret of living their femininity with dignity” and “achieving their true advancement.”
“In the light of Mary,” he continued, “the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiment of which the human heart is capable.”
I find here something we desperately need and have either forgotten or never known.
John Paul II then highlights gifts women can find within through Mary’s example, such as “the self-offering totality of love, the strength capable of bearing the greatest sorrows, limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work,” and “the ability to combine penetrating human intuition with words of support and encouragement.”
Meditate on those, and a reality higher than anything expressed at the women-led protest begins to emerge.
Our worth as women goes so much deeper than our “reproductive rights,” transcending to our value as beloved daughters of God. Though equal to men in dignity, women, when claiming our “feminine genius,” as John Paul II called it, are uniquely life-giving.
At our best, we are also relational experts, adept at building up and encouraging others and leading one another — and the world — to life.
Mary, as bearer of our Lord, models true femininity and offers herself as mother of all. Though softer in her presentation than, say, Gloria Steinem or, ironically, Madonna, she is certainly not lacking in true power, which emerges not through the shaking of fists, but by pointing the world to her merciful son.
With all this in mind, I offer the following, not as condemnation but consideration.
True feminism does not distort our gifts, it amplifies them and brings them to fruition.
True feminism harbors life in the womb and nurtures life outside of it.
True feminism bears up the hurting and voiceless souls of the world and enfolds them in love.