The Twentieth Anniversary Celebration of Mulieris Dignitatem
By Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle
This is an exciting time for women in our world. Twenty years ago, our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, wrote the extraordinary letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, "On the Dignity and Vocation of Women." The Pontifical Council for the Laity is now encouraging the lay faithful worldwide to observe a celebration of this Apostolic Letter in the coming year of the twentieth anniversary by reflecting on the meaning of the document. Each continent has its own specific theme regarding the Apostolic Letter.
Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter (given on August 15, 1988) was written to encourage women in their vocations, to highlight the essential feminine genius that they provide to their families and the world, and to restore spiritual and physical motherhood to a culture that was quickly losing sight of the dignity of women and mothers.
Living in an era where the unborn baby may not be safe within his own mother's womb, with debates raging over the nature of marriage, and confusing messages directed at women about where she should find her place in society - all point to the timeliness of this observance.
The Pontifical Council of the Laity has asked the Catholics of North America to consider the document specifically in light of one overarching theme: The Dignity of Women in a Technological and Consumeristic Society.
Interestingly, Pope Benedict spoke recently about "the materialist ideologies that say: It is absurd to think about God. It is absurd to observe God's Commandments. It is something from a bygone era.... Only consumerism, selfishness, and fun are worth something. That's life." He said, "Again it seems absurd, impossible to oppose this dominant mentality with all its media and propaganda power. It seems impossible to think about a God who created man, who became a child, the real would-be ruler of the world."
The poignant words to women at the closing of the Second Vatican Council should compel us to do something to help better our understanding of a woman's role and dignity. "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. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling."
We know that all of salvation history depended on the faithfulness of one young woman in Nazareth and her courageous "yes" to the Lord. Our Church has held women throughout history with the deepest respect, despite what our world might have us believe. Women of the third millennium have an amazing opportunity to reap the benefit of the graces poured out on them now for a clearer understanding of their dignity and vocation as they reflect upon Pope John Paul II's affirming and beautiful words for them. Women of our time "can do so much to aid humanity in not falling." It's time to open our hearts to God's message to women and act upon it imbued with the spirit of the Gospel, spreading love, understanding, and peace with our own "yes" to a world in desperate need.
A website has been created in order to provide a comprehensive resource for those interested in ways to reflect on this timely anniversary.
Dignityofwomen.com will point to the Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, relevant books, speakers, study guides, and other initiatives that will bring the beauty of this document to as many people as possible, while continually integrating suggestions, additions, as well as a bulletin board of events to access over the coming year. The website suggests ways in which to get involved with this Vatican initiative including: procuring a study guide and taking time to discuss the document, compiling book lists related to the document and discuss different aspects or topics relating to the reflection of these authors, planning a day of reflection in the parish or larger community whereby talks and prayers can bring to light the beauty of the Pope John Paul II's understanding of authentic femininity, and a larger project might be the creation of a congress or conference, in which the ordinary is invited to participate. This would reflect the collaborative nature of the Church: joining the hierarchy, or Petrine dimension, with the women, who image Marian dimension, and bear spiritual fruit by means of the spousal reality.
"Through prayer and discussion, women everywhere will reveal their feminine genius in the way they celebrate this anniversary - ultimately giving glory to God, Who delighted in creating women in His image" (from the Dignity of Women website).
You may send your suggestions or submissions of resources to the link provided at the website or to Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle at DMCooperOBoyle@aol.com. Please join with us in prayer so that this will be a very fruitful observance. May our Blessed Mother watch over this worldwide celebration for the dignity and vocation of women and bless us with her graces in all of our efforts to understand the richness of the feminine vocation.