In Praise of Woman: Meditation by Father Cantalamessa

Papal Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 11, 2005 ( In his commentary on this Sunday’s liturgical readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, offers a reflection on the dignity of woman.

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For once, instead of concentrating on the Gospel (the parable of the talents), we will meditate on the first reading, taken from Proverbs, which speaks of the grandeur and dignity of woman.

The eulogy, though very beautiful, has a defect that is not grounded in the Bible, but rather in the age and culture it reflects. It reflects a masculine view: Blessed is the man who has a wife who makes his clothes, who honors his home, who enables him to walk with his head held high. Today, women would not be enthusiastic with this praise.

To know the authentic and definitive biblical thought on woman one must look at Jesus. He was not, as one would say today, a «feminist»; he never made an explicit analysis or criticism of the institutions and relations between classes and sexes. In his mission, the difference between man and woman has no weight. Both are images of God, both need redemption. But for this reason precisely he is able to unmask the deformations that have led to subjecting woman to man. Jesus is free before woman: He does not see her as a snare or a threat, and this allows him to break many prejudices.

Jesus does not refuse to speak with women, to teach them, to make them his disciples. Risen, he shows himself first of all to a group of women, who then become his first witnesses. From his lips there is never a word of contempt or irony for woman, something that was rather commonplace in the culture of the age, penetrated by misogyny. The salvation of woman is as important for Jesus as that of man. That is why many of his miracles affected women.

I am moved by one in particular: the healing of a woman who for 18 years «was bent over and could not fully straighten herself» (cf. Luke 13:10). Jesus called her and said: «Woman, you are free from your infirmity.» Immediately she was made straight and praised God.

That woman, whom Jesus called and to whom he said, «you are free!» who now can raise her head, look at people in the face, see the sky, glorify God and feel like a person again, is a powerful symbol. She is not just one woman; she represents the feminine condition. She is every woman who does not walk bent over, not because of an illness, but because of the oppression to which she has been subjected to in almost all cultures. What freedom and what hope is contained in this cry of Jesus!

One of the positive events of our age is the emancipation of women, their equality of rights. In the apostolic letter on the dignity of woman («Mulieris Dignitatem»), John Paul II underlined the contribution the Church wants to make to this sign of the times.

Woman (like man) has a powerful ally in this journey of authentic liberation — the Holy Spirit. He himself «bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God» (Romans 8:16) gives us the real meaning of our dignity and freedom.

In Hebrew, the name of the Holy Spirit, «Ruah,» is feminine. But, without stressing this fact too much, it is true that there is a certain affinity, a conniving, and a partnership between the Holy Spirit and woman. He is called the paraclete, which means consoler, and «spirit of life,» which «warms what is cold, heals what is sick.» And who better than woman shares, at the human level, these prerogatives?

It is said that the daughter of a king of France treated her young maid very harshly. One day, irritated, she said to her: «Don’t you know I am the daughter of your king?» The young girl replied calmly: «And, don’t you know that I am the daughter of your God?»

[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana; translation by ZENIT]

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