‘Woman, there is your son’: Entrustment on Calvary

| Elizabeth Kelly | February 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

It is a well-known point that St. John Paul II claimed in “Mulieris Dignitatem” that “the moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way.”

So compelling was this idea that in 2013 the Vatican hosted an international seminar to explore it in depth. Scholars came to discuss just what is meant by “the entrustment of the human person to woman.” The very first presentation, given by Father Livio Melina, the dean of the JPII Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome, drew an obvious connection to our subject for meditation this week.

He writes: “‘Woman, here is your son.’ These words that Jesus spoke as he was dying on the cross, words addressed to his mother entrusting her with the beloved disciple John, included with John all of the emerging Church. This is certainly the scene that inspired the great anthropological insight that John Paul II placed at the center of [‘Mulieris Dignitatem’].”

A woman’s sensitivity to the human person — her receptive nature — is God-given, God-ordained.

But receptivity has gotten a bad rap for millennia, and some of us are confused about it still. Through numerous twists and turns in the development of metaphysics, men have been more strongly associated with being active and women with being receptive. This is frequently mistranslated to mean: men are actors and women are acted upon.

Feminine receptivity?

Under the influence of this misinterpretation, we don’t like to think of women as receptive because we think it means women cannot initiate (tell that to Blessed Mother Teresa), or that women cannot lead (tell that to
St. Joan of Arc, Helen Alvaré or Mary Ann Glendon), or it’s a sign of weakness and passivity to be in the position of receiving (tell that to St. Teresa of Avila or any mystic).

But feminine receptivity has been re-appropriated as a formative presence throughout the life of Christ, including at the foot of the cross. St. John Paul II interprets feminine receptivity, says Father Melina, as “necessary for a full understanding of love . . . [it] expresses a characteristic of created beings before their Creator.”

In the manner of the late pope, to receive — and in particular, feminine receptivity— is among the highest expressions of cooperation with God.

“Woman, there is your son,” is not only Christ’s inauguration of the communion of saints. In a real way, it highlights the particular charisms women contribute to the Church. Note, too, it is followed by the address to John, “There is your mother.”

How interesting, as Father Melina points out, that John the apostle was first given to Mary. The first move was to assure that sensitivity to humanity would be secured for the apostle and by extension, the whole Church, including the priesthood. Motherhood in this sense was the priority, not an inessential afterthought.

Feminine genius, therefore, was honored and operating at the foot of the cross.

Next time: “My God, why have you forsaken me.”

Kelly is an award-winning speaker and the author of five books, including “Reasons I Love Being Catholic.” She is trained as a spiritual director in the Ignatian exercises and leads retreats with a particular focus on helping women to flourish in their faith.

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Category: Lent