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Mothers share in God's creative work

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 20 July 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Whatever professional opportunities women enjoy in society and the Church's apostolate, nothing can ever compare to the pre-eminent dignity that is theirs through motherhood lived in all its dimensions. We see that Mary, the model woman, fulfilled the mission to which she was called in the economy of the Incarnation and redemption by way of motherhood.

In the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem , I emphasized that Mary's motherhood was united in an exceptional manner with her virginity, in such a way that it is also a model for women who consecrate their virginity to God (cf. n. 17). When we discuss the consecrated life we will return to this theme of virginity consecrated to the Lord. Continuing our reflection on the laity's role in the Church, in this catechesis I would like to consider woman's contribution to the human and Christian community through motherhood.

The value of motherhood was raised to the highest level in Mary, the Mother of God the eternal Word, made man in her virginal womb. Because of this motherhood, Mary is an essential part of the mystery of the Incarnation. In addition, by her union with Christ's redeeming sacrifice, she became the Mother of all Christians and of all people. In this respect too there shines the value attributed in God's plan to motherhood, which finds its unique, sublime expression in Mary, but whose reflection from that highest summit is seen in all human motherhood.

2. Today, perhaps more than ever, the idea of motherhood has had to be reevaluated. It is not an archaic concept, belonging to the mythological dawn of civilization. However much woman's roles can be multiplied and broadened, everything in her--physiology, psychology, almost connatural habit, moral, religious and even aesthetic sentiment--reveals and exalts her aptitude, ability and mission in bringing forth from herself a new being. She is much more disposed than man to the generative task. In virtue of pregnancy and childbirth, she is more intimately bound to the child, close to its whole development, more immediately responsible for its growth, more intensely sharing in its joy, sorrow, and risk in life. Although the mother's task must be coordinated with the father's presence and responsibility, the woman plays the most important role at the beginning of every human being's life. This role highlights an essential characteristic of the human person, who is not meant to remain closed within self but to be open and self-giving to others. Gaudium et Spes stated: "Man...cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself" (GS 24). This orientation toward others is essential to the person by virtue of the highest source of trinitarian love, from which man takes his origin. Motherhood represents an apex of this personalistic and community orientation.

3. Unfortunately, the value of motherhood has been contested and criticized. The greatness traditionally attributed to it has been presented as a backward idea, a social fetish. From an anthropological and ethical standpoint, some have thought that it limits the development of the female personality, and restricts women's freedom and their desire to take up and engage in other activities. Hence many women feel compelled to forgo motherhood not for other reasons of service and, ultimately, of spiritual motherhood, but to be able to devote themselves to professional work. Many even claim the right to suppress the life of their own child through abortion, as if the right they possess over their own body implied ownership rights over the unborn child. If some mothers have preferred to risk losing their life, they are accused of folly or selfishness, and in any case, of being socially backward.

These aberrations show the fearful effects of abandoning the Christian spirit, which can guarantee and reestablish human values as well.

4. The concept of human personhood and communion derived from the Gospel does not allow us to approve the voluntary rejection of motherhood out of a mere desire to gain material advantages or satisfaction from performing certain activities. This is actually a distortion of the female personality, which is destined to unfold connaturally in motherhood.

The marriage union itself cannot be consumed in a selfishness for two. The love that unites the spouses seeks to extend itself in the child and to become the love of parents for their child. This is proven by the experience of so many couples in past centuries and in our times as well. These couples have found in the fruit of their love the way to strengthen and orient themselves and, in certain cases, to recover and be renewed.

On the other hand, the person of the child, even when just conceived, already enjoys rights that must be respected. The baby is not an object that the mother can dispose of at will, but a person to whom she is obliged to devote herself, with all the sacrifices that motherhood entails, but also with the joys it provides (cf. Jn 16:21).

5. Even in the psychosocial conditions of the world today, woman is thus called to be aware of the value of her vocation to motherhood as an affirmation of her own personal dignity, as the capacity and acceptance of extending herself to new lives, and in the light of theology, as a sharing in God's creative activity (cf. MD 18). This sharing is more intense in woman than in man by virtue of her specific role in procreation. Awareness of this privilege led Eve to say after her first childbirth, as we read in Genesis: "I have brought a man into being with the help of the Lord" (Gen 4:1). Since motherhood is a contribution par excellence to the propagation of life, the biblical text calls Eve "the mother of all the living" (Gen 3:20). This name makes us think of the realization in Eve--as in every mother--of the image of God, who, as Jesus proclaimed, "is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Mk 12:27).

In the light of biblical and Christian revelation, motherhood is seen as a sharing in God's love for men, a love which, according to the Bible, also has a maternal aspect of compassion and mercy (cf. Is 49:15; Dt 32:11; Ps 86:15; etc.).

6. Along with the motherhood lived in the family, there are many other marvelous forms of spiritual motherhood. These exist not only in the consecrated life, of which we will speak in due course, but wherever we see women working with maternal devotion on behalf of orphaned, sick or abandoned children, on behalf of the poor and unfortunate, and in many works and projects inspired by Christian charity. In these examples the basic principle of the Church's pastoral work, that of humanizing contemporary society, is magnificently fulfilled. Truly "woman in virtue of her special experience of motherhood seems to have a specific sensitivity toward the human person and all that constitutes the individual's true welfare, beginning with the fundamental value of life" (CL 51). Hence it is not an exaggeration to define woman's place in the Church and in society as a key position.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française. En ce temps de vacances, je vous invite à rendre grâce pour la beauté de l’œuvre du Créateur et à la respecter toujours. Que Dieu vous bénisse et vous garde, vous-même et toutes vos familles!

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially those from Lebanon, and from Nazareth. I also greet the NATO Defense College group. Upon all of you you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ad alcuni fedeli giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini giapponesi, il mondo ha estremo bisogno della Pace. Ora, carissimi, spero che le preghiere che andate elevando al Signore durante il pellegrinaggio che vi ha portato in Terra Santa e a Roma, contribuiscano a stabilire la Pace nel mondo, tramite le mani della “ Regina Pacis ”. Con questo auspicio vi benedico di cuore.

Nel nome del Padre, del Figlio e dello Spirito Santo. Amen.

Ai pellegrini di espressione linguistica tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen Gedanken grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Patres und Brüdern der Salesianer Don Boscos sowie den Ministranten aus Eisenstadt. Mit meinen besten Wünschen für einen erholsamen Urlaub erteile ich Euch allen sowie Euren Lieben zu Hause meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora con todo afecto a los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, al grupo de participantes en el Curso Internacional de Formadores de “Regnum Christi”, a los postulantes de la Orden Hospitalaria de San Juan de Dios, a la Cooperativa “Caja Rural Católica” de Villareal de los Infantes (Castellón) que ha venido a Roma para celebrar el 75o aniversario de su fundación, así como a los componentes del Coro Femenino de la ciudad de Morón, en Argentina, y a las peregrinación procedentes de las archidiócesis de Toledo y Madrid, y de la diócesis de Plasencia.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Uma saudação afectuosa a todos os presentes de língua portuguesa, em particular aos peregrinos vindos de Porto de Mós, da paróquia de São Pedro. Viestes até junto do túmulo do vosso Padroeiro, confessar a fé em Jesus Cristo, Filho de Deus vivo. Toda a vossa vida seja testemunho desta certeza. Assim Deus vos abençoe e guarde até à eternidade.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Serdecznie witam wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski. W szczególności pielgrzymów z diecezji bielsko-żywieckiej, z archidiecezji gnieźnieńskiej, warszawskiej, katowickiej, gdańskiej, częstochowskiej, z sanktuarium Matki Bożej Leśniowskiej, z archidiecezji łódzkiej - duszpasterstwo akademickie i Chór “Piątka”, ze Szczecińskiej - Chór Dziecięcy “Serduszka”. Witam poza tym z diecezji rzeszowskiej - wspólnotę “Wieczernik”, z diecezji siedleckiej - duszpasterstwo rodzin, z diecezji radomskiej - parafię św. Andrzeja Boboli z Koszar, prócz tego siostry felicjanki - kapituła generalna. Witam Chór Nauczycielski im. Stanisława Wiechowicza z Ostrowa Wielkopolskiego. Witam z kolei Kaszubski Zespół Pieśni i Tańca z Sierakowic oraz wszystkich pielgrzymów indywidualnych zarówno z kraju, jak z emigracji.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Il mio cordiale benvenuto va ora ai pellegrini di lingua italiana.

Saluto in particolare le Suore Francescane Missionarie di Gesù Bambino, auspicando che la celebrazione del loro Capitolo generale, in corso in questi giorni ad Assisi, ravvivi in tutta la Congregazione l’impegno di vita evangelica secondo lo spirito francescano; come pure saluto il gruppo delle Apostole del Sacro Cuore di Gesù, che ricordano quest’anno il centenario di fondazione, e auguro loro di essere sempre fedeli alla spiritualità propria dell’Istituto.

Saluto poi il Gruppo di giovani partecipanti al Campo Italia della Gioventù del Multidistretto Italiano del Lions Clubs International ed i pellegrini della Parrocchia di Taurianova (Reggio Calabria), che festeggiano i cento anni del prodigio delle lacrime dell’immagine della Beata Vergine Maria venerata nella loro chiesa.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Rivolgo, infine, un cordiale pensiero ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli.

Carissimi, abbiamo celebrato sabato scorso la memoria liturgica della Madonna del Monte Carmelo. Sull’esempio di Maria, icona di preghiera e modello di spiritualità, voi giovani sappiate trovare nella natura spazi di silenzio, in cui ascoltare la voce del Signore. Voi, malati, siate sempre pronti ad accogliere nella vostra condizione di sofferenza la consolante presenza del Medico divino. Voi, sposi novelli, arricchite la vostra casa con la preghiera, sull’esempio della Santa Famiglia di Nazaret.

A tutti la mia benedizione!

Infine, il Papa rinnova il suo accorato appello per la pace nel Rwanda:

Ancora una volta, purtroppo, dobbiamo implorare da Dio pace e sollievo per le martoriate popolazioni del Rwanda.

Al dramma della violenza e della morte, si aggiunge in questi giorni l’immane esodo verso lo Zaire, che causa innumerevoli vittime tra civili inermi, ed anche tra bambini e fanciulli.

Rivolgo il mio appello alle locali Autorità politiche e civili ed alle Organizzazioni Internazionali: non abbandonino questa moltitudine in fuga! E, cessato il fuoco, si adoperino per facilitare la creazione di condizioni favorevoli alla concorde rinascita spirituale, morale e civile.

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