Well, the bras have been burned and the ashes long-since scattered. The glass ceilings have been shattered, the girly magazines have become ho-hum, and the only unacceptable word in some circles is "virginity." We've come a long way, baby — how's the landscape?
Whatever was cutting edge in the sexual revolution in the 1960's is beyond mainstream now, and yet the free-love express has proven a rocky ride. All that Pope Paul VI predicted in Humanae Vitae in 1968 has come to pass and yet there have been no apologies. Educators want more sex education, entertainers want more sexy entertainment, and the romantics don't get it — more sex doesn't mean more romance, only more heartache, loneliness, and lies.
Women in particular have paid a very high toll — women who are hard-wired for commitment, protection, and a gift of self, instead have suffered abandonment and abuse. And what does the Church offer them? Twenty years ago, John Paul II wrote them an extraordinary letter praising their feminine genius, their capacity for heroic sacrifice, and their essential place in the divine plan. Mulieris Dignitatem ("On the Dignity and Vocation of Women") was penned from the heart of a man who discerned in God's plan the fact that civilization itself hinged on whether women were faithful.
This is the God who "in many and various ways spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb 1:1-2). The sending of this Son, one in substance with the Father, as a man "born of woman", constitutes the culminating and definitive point of God's self-revelation to humanity (MD, 3).
All of salvation history depended on the fidelity of a young girl in Nazareth, and through the centuries, the Church has stood by women as equal participants in the plan of God:
Everything that has been said so far about Christ's attitude to women confirms and clarifies, in the Holy Spirit, the truth about the equality of man and woman. One must speak of an essential "equality," since both of them — the woman as much as the man — are created in the image and likeness of God. Both of them are equally capable of receiving the outpouring of divine truth and love in the Holy Spirit. Both receive his salvific and sanctifying "visits" (MD, 16).
Of course this equality doesn't imply that men and women are the same, and Mulieris Dignitatem points out the essential and fruitful differences that are to be acknowledged and respected. Part of the distinction is a remarkable statement that John Paul II makes, after many examples of Jesus' esteem for women.
In God's eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root. The order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the life of the Trinity. In the intimate life of God, the Holy Spirit is the personal hypostasis of love. Through the Spirit, Uncreated Gift, love becomes a gift for created persons (MD, 29).
First in the order of love? What a privilege, what a responsibility! Love gone wild has nearly taken our culture over a steep precipice, and yet Karol Wojtyla, who participated very actively in the Second Vatican Council knew of that body's closing statement to women:
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 his 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.
With this in mind, we bring our readers to the joyful announcement that the Vatican will honor the twentieth anniversary of Mulieris Dignitatem in 2008. The lay faithful everywhere are invited to study the document, meditate on it, create initiatives, and to give thanks for the beauty of God's plan for women revealed therein. Women in North America in particular are asked to consider it in light of one overarching theme: The dignity of woman in a technological and consumeristic society.
To help this observance move forward around the country, a comprehensive web site has been created with resources and initiatives, so that women everywhere can tap into study groups, days of reflections and conferences. This year will be what we make of it — and now is the time to take seriously the vocation to which God has called us, His cherished daughters. We know the sexual revolution has left ensuing generations a disaster beyond measure, but we do have a response — the very feminine genius about which John Paul II wrote. This is the antidote to the poison we've ingested for so long.
Kindly visit www.dignityofwomen.com, pray about the needs of your parish or larger community, and consider creating an initiative of your own in the coming year. Women can see that they've not won respect and esteem by pursuing androgyny or utilitarian sex. If we spread the news about the precious gift of authentic femininity, the landscape has every chance of bearing rich fruit and providing a home worthy of God's children.