Evening of reflection focuses on women’s gifts to the Church

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | August 28, 2013 | 2 Comments


Blessed John Paul II’s 1988 teaching that women possess a unique genius that complements that of men is even more relevant now as we seek to understand women’s roles and why God made us male and female, according to presenters at an evening of reflection on the 25th anniversary of the Holy Father’s apostolic letter, “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.”

Opening with Mass for the Feast of the Assumption celebrated by Bishop Lee Piché at the St. Paul Seminary, a panel of presenters later spoke on the letter’s significance at the University of St. Thomas. About 250 attended the Aug. 15 event.

The evening was sponsored by Siena Symposium for Women, Family and Culture, along with St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, Center for Catholic Studies and the Archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life.

Working together

Presenters noted the letter’s emphasis for women on motherhood — physical or spiritual — and the feminine gift of sensitivity in caring for others at home and in the workplace. It is part of finding their mission in working together with men.

“It is to the fullness of what it means to be a woman that the Church calls us to bring not only our natural capacity to attend the needs of others but to offer our wisdom, our strength, our love — indeed everything that we are,” said Deborah Savage, theology and philosophy professor at St. Paul Seminary and co-founder of the Siena Symposium, an interdisciplinary faculty group at UST dedicated to rebuilding families and culture through scholarship and the insights of the Catholic faith.

The Church needs women’s gifts and must further develop their role and a theology of womanhood, Bishop Piché said.

Pope John Paul’s teaching in the letter is important for people today because “love is always relevant and ‘Mulieris Dignitatem’ [the letter’s Latin name] identifies the vocation of women as promoting the true order of love wherever she is, whether in the home or in the world,” said R. Mary Lemmons, philosophy and Catholic studies professor at the University of St. Thomas and Siena Symposium co-director.

“True love requires sensitivity to the needs of others; and women, because they are the ‘life-bearers’ of the human race, have that sensitivity; it is their feminine genius,” she said.

The model of the feminine genius is the Blessed Mother, Bishop Piché said. “Mary’s Assumption was and is the definitive fulfillment of the gift and vocation of human life — human life which she lives to the fullest as woman now in complete union with God,” he said.

The letter offers a starting point from which we can understand why God made us male and female, Savage said. Men and women have their own genius and they complement and need each other’s gifts.

The letter “is an acknowledgement that [women] have something to offer that distinguishes our unique contribution from the equally significant and unique contribution of men,” she said.

Finding our place

As John Paul taught, each person is called to a “unique, irreplaceable, exclusive relationship with the Holy Trinity,” according to presenter Gina Bauer, senior high youth director at St. Joseph in West St. Paul. “We all have our place, and why is that so important? So we can work together.”

We need to equip ourselves for our mission through prayer, she said, later adding that one of the greatest needs now is to teach young men and women in St. Paul about their dignity and worth.

Laureen Bluhm of Lumen Christi in St. Paul said she was impressed by the presentation. “It enlightened me on the document and made me more excited to read it and share some things I’ve heard,” she said.

Elizabeth Jacobsen, who is studying at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., said she found the discussion relevant to questions she’s considering.

“I’ve been looking to find a place in the world as a Catholic woman,” she said. “I was not sure what to do. This answers my question.”

Jacobsen said she took away from the talks insights into the feminine genius and the fact that we need both males and females. “Men and women are distinct,” she said. “One can’t replace the other and our mission is all about love.”

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