When I took my first precarious step out into the big, scary world of writing and publishing I found one woman whose door seemed perpetually open to me. She is a woman of great compassion and concern for her sisters-in-Christ and will truly do all she can to spread the Good News. I am speaking of Catholic talk show host Teresa Tomeo. For me, it was truly no big surprise that Teresa would be among the women invited to Rome this past February to celebrate the 20th anniversary of John Paul II's Mulieris Dignitatem. She has never seen herself in competition with other women but only as a tool to promote Christ's message in all the ways He was calling her to open doors, through her talk show, to others sharing the Good News of Christ.
Hence, I was able to be a welcomed guest on Teresa's show many times, often promoting a book of my own, but always having a wonderful and warm conversation about being a Catholic woman today. Even listening to Teresa on her daily morning-drive program, "Catholic Connection," (produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard on over 120 Catholic stations through EWTN Global Catholic Radio, the Internet, and Sirius Channel 160), you are aware that her zeal for Christ is only tempered with her own personal humility that she is allowed to serve Him in such a rewarding career. When she spoke of receiving the invitation to the conference it was always in reference to her awe and she would delight her listeners as she would say, in regards to the invitation, "Once I picked myself up from the floor…" Teresa is also a published author (Noise by Ascension Press) and I had the good fortune to review her wonderful book and share my thoughts with you last week on Catholic Exchange.
Today I have the continued good fortune to share with you a recent interview I had with Teresa on the important document Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II's Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, and her trip to Rome. Together, Teresa and I encourage you to download the document, read it, embrace it, study it, and live it. It will, we are convinced, enliven and enlighten your personal journey as a Catholic woman.
In honor of this celebration, I would also like to remind you that Catholic Exchange is in its last week of registration for the online women's study that reflects the teachings of this letter. A link for registration is on the CE homepage under Faith Factory.
Cheryl: Teresa, you were invited to Rome to participate in the celebration of Mulieris Dignitatem. Give us a little background on the document and the Rome celebration.
Teresa: The document was written 20 years ago by our late Holy Father John Paul the Second. As one of my friends, Joan Lewis of EWTN, said, it is truly the most beautiful letter ever written for and about women. The Apostolic Letter goes into great depth concerning God's plan for women and men and the important role women play in the Church. It also addresses the impact radical feminism has had on women, marriage, and family and then shows how God's plan is the best plan. John Paul II also takes a close look at Jesus and His treatment of women. He shows us how He was a true liberator of women and broke social norms when it came to involving women in various aspects of His ministry.
Americans attending the Vatican’s conference on the Dignity of Women included from left to right: Donna Marie Cooper O'Boyle, author and speaker; Colleen Carol Campbell, author and EWTN host; Teresa Tomeo, media consultant and talk show host; Genevieve Kineke, author of The Authentic Catholic Woman; Elizabeth Kirk, Assistant Director Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture.
The conference was put on by the Pontifical Council of the Laity. It was held in Rome from February 7th through the 9th and featured Catholic experts addressing such issues as the balance between work and family, women in the Bible, the life issues including abortion and reproductive technology, and the effect of the mass media and culture on women and the Church in general. There were 260 delegates, mainly women, from 49 countries on 5 continents representing women's associations, Bishop's conferences, religious institutes, and Catholic communications.
Cheryl: Why is this document so significant to Catholic women?
Teresa: More Catholics need to take the time to read what the Church says and teaches about the issues rather than what they think the Church teaches. Most base their understanding of Church teaching on something they heard from the secular media or in a passing conversation. I believe if women read this document they would fall in love with Jesus and the Catholic Church all over again — or maybe even for the first time — because they will see the plan for their lives and how God's unique design of women and men really does work and that the only way to be truly happy is to understand what God wants from us as females and males. Christian anthropology, in other words, is what best reveals the true dignity of all of us.
Cheryl: I turn 50 this year and have been married for 22 years and am the mother of three sons. I've spent a good number of years working as a corporate trainer and then as a parochial school teacher. I have come to see that radical feminism has failed. Having read MD a number of times, I am convinced that the Catholic Church offers an authentic feminism. What do you think?
Teresa: I couldn't agree more. And actually this was part of the discussions at the conference. Many of the speakers addressed this, saying that while the feminists started out with good intentions to provide women with more opportunities, much of the movement has responded to women's issues with anger and bitterness which has resulted in pitting women against men. Instead of complimenting or completing each other, radical feminism makes man the enemy. Cardinal Stanislaus Rylko, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, told conference delegates that this mentality has led to a war being waged against women.
Cheryl: Although I have no daughters, I taught in parochial middle school for many years and it is my belief that females of all ages, from these young girls to women in my mother's generation, need to recognize and embrace the truths JPII so eloquently puts forth in MD. How do you see the message of his Apostolic Letter as helping females of all ages answer the question, "What does God want from me?"
Teresa: The letter helps us understand God's plan for humanity. Once we see how we women and men are created each in the image and likeness of God, we will also see how we were created for different purposes and vocations. St. Augustine said, "my heart does not rest oh Lord until it rests in thee" and John Paul says "we don't find ourselves until we lose ourselves in Christ." This document is a woman's road map, young or old, to a happy, fulfilled life.
Cheryl: Finally, MD has a timeless message. Having attended the conference in Rome, what would you say is the overall message you, personally, walked away with?
Teresa: The verse John 10:10 regarding the abundant life comes to mind right away. Jesus Christ, as revealed through Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church, wants us to have an abundant, fruitful life and we can have that life by following God's plan. First of all I came away with an even deeper love and fire for the Catholic faith. The entire weekend I felt as if I were among the women of Bethany, honored to sit at the feet of the Lord. I want people to know that despite the challenges in our world — especially the culture — the Church continues to teach the truth in love. If we embrace that truth of the Church, which is the truth of Christ Himself revealed, we will have an abundant and fruitful life. Things may not always go our way perfectly and we will have struggles, but in the midst of everything with Christ and the Church there is an abundant life of joy and especially a joy of knowing that I am living out my vocation as a daughter of God."
Our prayers are with you as you enjoy this anointed year in whatever manner you choose to celebrate your dignity and vocation as a woman!
(To invite Teresa to speak at your event, please feel free to contact her at 586-777-2691 or send her an email through her website, www.teresatomeo.com. To read my book review of Noise visit www.bezalelbooks.com and click the 'book review' link.)