Holiness: Women are there

women

The first thing that jumped out at me in Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et exsultate, is how much he has put women in the foreground.

Women are usually in the background of papal statements, if they appear at all.

Not here.

They are upfront and visible.

Right at the outset (para 3), Francis brings up the witness of Sarah (along with Abraham), and calls attention to the role of our own mothers and grandmothers as holy witnesses who have shaped our faith.

He continues to name outstanding women believers within the exhortation. These include

  • Maria Gabriella Sagheddu (para 5),
  • Josephine Bakhita (para 32),
  • Theresa of Calcutta (para 100),
  • the martyred seven sisters of the monastery of the Visitation in Madrid (para 141),
  • Scholastica (para 142),
  • Monica (para 142), and, of course,
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus (paras 124 and 176).

It’s traditional that papal statements end with an appeal to Mary, but here she also appears within the document, as an exemplar of joy (para 124).

Francis makes particular mention of the “genius of woman” in para 12, drawing attention to how the Holy Spirit has worked through women saints like Hildegard of Bingen, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux, whose witness emerged at crucial times in history.

These saints “produced new spiritual vigor and important reforms in the Church,” Francis says.

Yet he also credits “unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness” (para 12).

Francis cites women writers frequently and at length.

Indeed, the one paradigmatic example Francis gives of holiness in everyday life is a woman (para 16).

He describes how she faces four different moments of decision in her day, and every time opts for charity, justice, compassion, and faithfulness—each of these moments, as he describes it, is a “step” toward holiness.

He also speaks affirmatively of the holiness of men and women who work hard to support their families: literally to “bring home the bread” (para 7).

This papal acknowledgment of women as economic actors is striking. Continue reading

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