by Helen Hull Hitchcock
The Year of Faith is aimed toward one goal: “to contribute to a renewed conversion to the Lord Jesus and to the rediscovery of faith, so that the members of the church will be credible and joy-filled witnesses to the Risen Lord in the world of today capable of leading those many people who are seeking it to the ‘door of faith.’”
So stated the “Note with pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith” from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued in January. “This ‘door’ opens wide man’s gaze to Jesus Christ, present among us “always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20), it said.
Pope Benedict, announcing the Year of Faith in Porta Fidei (Door of Faith), wrote: “Through His love, Jesus Christ attracts to Himself the people of every generation: in every age He convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today too, there is a need for stronger ecclesial commitment to new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith.” The pope stressed that “in rediscovering His love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigor that can never fade away. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.”
The Year of Faith, as we know, began on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Both the Council and the Catechism intended to strengthen the faith of Catholics; both also gave us the basic tools for proclaiming the truth of Christ to the world which is what evangelization means. And, yes, all Catholics are obliged and privileged to open these doors of truth and love for others.
All the baptized participate in Jesus’ office of priest, prophet, and king in His ministry to sanctify, to teach, and to govern, as Lumen Gentium, the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, made clear (§10-13). Lumen Gentium (§31) also states that, with their bishops and clergy, “the faithful who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ, are placed in the People of God, and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, and to the best of their ability carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.”
But realistically, can we “open the door of faith” to people in our secular age especially in the face of indifference, if not open hostility, that often slams the door in the face of fundamental Christian teachings? We know that this will not be easy.
And do Catholic women have a particular responsibility for the “new evangelization”?
Yes, we do. Pope Paul VI strongly affirmed this in his special message to women at the close of the Second Vatican Council (his entire letter is on the facing page). We took his words to heart when we first began our efforts to make our voices heard with the Affirmation for Catholic Women years ago many more than I like to recall. In fact, the early print copies of the Affirmation quoted Pope Paul’s message to women on the back. (If you haven’t signed the Affirmation yet, please do and please urge others to add their voices!)
Further, as you can read on our website (wf-f.org/WFFFAQ. html), Women for Faith & Family makes this statement concerning women’s role in the Church’s mission:
• “The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved” (Pope Paul VI Address to Women, at the end of the Second Vatican Council, December 1965).
• Women’s feminine nature, linked to their capacity for motherhood, gives them distinct spiritual and physical capabilities with which to participate in the Divine Plan for creation, such as the capacities for nurture, instruction, compassion and selflessness.
• We affirm the genuinely ecclesial role of women within the family, the “Domestic Church,” which includes the responsibility for transmitting the truth of the faith as teachers and catechists.
• We affirm the vocations of women who have consecrated their lives to the service of God, His Church, and humanity in religious and consecrated life, as this service extends their distinctive feminine gifts to the evangelical mission of the Church beyond the individual human family.
• We support and encourage women who devote their talents and labor as teachers, scholars, writers, musicians, catechists, speakers, leaders, artists, members of movements or associations, whether voluntary or professional, which promote and defend human life and the moral and ethical precepts of the Catholic faith, and which increase knowledge of and authentic devotion to Christ and His Church.
• We believe it is necessary for all Catholic women to discern prayerfully their particular vocation in the Church’s mission, and to accept and exercise it with diligence and devotion, with wisdom and responsibility.
What about women’s role in society? Our statement says this:
• As Pope John Paul II repeatedly emphasized, “the human being is entrusted to women” in a special way.
• We support women who devote full time to caring for their families. We recognize the irreplaceable role of mothers, whose selfless work is a unique and invaluable gift both to the Church and to the world.
• We recognize that women have the right to work outside their homes, whether from financial necessity or for other reasons. We support these women in their decision. Women can and have made vital contributions to society through such work. This work and many kinds of volunteer work can also provide opportunities for women to give witness of faith in Christ in their work places and communities.
• In Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul II said, “In the name of liberation from male ‘domination’, women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine ‘originality’. There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not ‘reach fulfillment’ but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness. It is indeed an enormous richness. The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity; they are merely different. Hence a woman, as well as a man, must understand her ‘fulfillment’ as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the ‘image and likeness of God’ that is specifically hers.”
• Pope Paul VI, in his message to women, said, “You women have always had as your lot the protection of the home... You are present in the mystery of a life beginning. You offer consolation in the departure of death. Our technology runs the risk of becoming inhuman. Reconcile men with life, and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of the race. Hold back the hand of man, who in a moment of folly might attempt to destroy civilization. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.”
Those women who have labored long in the tangled vineyards of our society are extremely encouraged that so many young women of great talent and energy are now hard at work with us. You will read of their promising and fruitful works in this issue of Voices. This gives us all great hope for the challenging years ahead!
“Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy,” as Pope Benedict said. May God give us the wisdom, strength, and courage to faithfully and lovingly serve Him and His people wherever they may be following the example of prayerful fidelity of Our Lord’s Blessed Mother Mary.
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