On May 8th we celebrate Mother’s Day, and as Catholics we dedicate the whole month to our heavenly mother, Mary. And so, May is a natural time to reflect on the irreplaceable role of mothers and all women in our lives. In the weeks following our appearance at the Supreme Court, several women who write about Catholic spirituality mentioned prophetic words of Pope Paul VI to women in reference to our case – words uttered over 50 years ago, but which are, perhaps, more relevant today than ever.
“At this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling,” Paul VI said at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. He continued with this urgent plea: “Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.”
The fact that several women who have no obvious connection to each other, and who are too young to have assimilated Paul VI’s words when they were uttered December 8, 1965, mentioned these words to me, is worth pondering. As I do so, the faces of countless women and girls pass before my mind’s eye, and myriad prayers arise in my heart.
I think of the elderly women in our homes around the world – women who have borne children and labored at tasks both great and small – and who now spend their days praying for others’ needs even as their own strength wanes. I think of our female staff members, who spend themselves so generously in the care of the aged and then return home to serve their families, churches and communities. I think of my nieces and other young women who are grappling with so many competing choices and pressures as they strive to define the priorities and values that will guide their adult lives.
I pray for women around the world who have been displaced by war, economic hardships and situations of religious persecution, who struggle mightily to provide their children with the most basic human needs and comforts. I also pray for the brave women who advocate for educational and workplace equality, for victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation and the plague of illegal drugs.
As I ponder Paul VI’s call for women to save the peace of the world, I also think of the religious sisters and Catholic laywomen – full of enthusiasm and impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel – who joined us in prayer and walked with us as we prepared for our day in Court, and who gave a stunning public witness to the beauty of the Gospel of Life at the rally outside the Supreme Court.
Finally, I pray for the women who protested against us on March 23rd, that they may come to understand that openness to life – most often expressed through physical motherhood, but also manifest in spiritual, affective and cultural maternity – does not deprive women of their dignity, their potential, or their possibilities, but enables them to flourish through the sincere gift of self to God and to others.
In this month dedicated to Our Lady, the greatest expression of the “feminine genius,” let us turn to Mary and ask her to intercede for all women. May we cherish our vocation as guardians of life and nurturers of peace. May we step out as unapologetic prophets of a more human culture where each person is seen as the child of God they were created to be and those who are weakest receive the greatest share of our love.
Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.