This blog is an extract from The Special Gift of Women.
Love is always and everywhere the most important reality of human existence. Not only the woman who is a mother physically, but every woman has the special gift and calling of keeping the paramount importance of love vibrantly, even if discreetly, present in whatever sphere she finds herself. In doing this she preserves the truth that in all of our earthly endeavors, the human person must remain at the center. Whether in business, or education, or technology, or in any other area, nothing has meaning if it does not safeguard the dignity of the human person, respect his rights, and contribute to his flourishing. But only the reality of love keeps the person at the center of our vision. Love alone stands fully at the service of the person. John Paul II speaks of this particular contribution of woman as her “genius”:
In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material wellbeing to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favors some, it pushes others to the margins of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – And because the greatest of these is love (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).
The woman is the one to whom God gave the special gift of being receptive to persons, of seeing persons as persons, and not simply as intersecting with their own needs and projects. There is a unity between the woman’s heart, mind, and body that allows her to keep a proper order in the relationship between all our undertakings, and the importance of persons. She has been bestowed with the “talent” of warmth and suppleness of heart in order that she may radiate the acceptance and affirmation of unconditional love to those around her.
Compassion – another gift and call of the woman
This vocation to love is inseparable from another specific gift of the woman: a sensitivity for the suffering of others, and a willingness to join in that suffering. In his encyclical on suffering, called Salvifici dolores, John Paul II included a major section on the call for compassion in the face of suffering. He is clear that every single person – whether man or woman – has a solemn obligation to live compassion. But the woman, in virtue of her gifts, can be a special “witness” to this virtue, helping men to develop compassion within themselves. This is one of the ways that the complementarity between male and female becomes fruitful.
Suffering is a great mystery – we could say that in a way it is the greatest puzzle of human life. It has no natural resolution, and is in itself unbearable. But there is a kind of solution to the mystery, insofar something wonderful happens because of suffering. A new intensity of love comes into being, which changes suffering, if not taking it away, surrounding it with its opposite: a deep consolation and even happiness. John Paul II writes, “…we could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one’s ‘I’ on behalf of other people, especially those who suffer.”
To be compassionate does not simply mean to do something that takes away or makes the suffering easier; in most cases, we are not able to do that. Compassion is a “suffering with” the one who suffers. What a consolation, when someone in the dark loneliness of suffering suddenly finds with him in that dark place a sensitive heart – a heart that is hurting because he is hurting, and suffering with him, out of love! As Mother Teresa said, suffering is unbearable only when one suffers alone.
The woman’s vocation to an intimate and deeply personal love goes along with her ability to be in this deeply consoling way with and for the one who suffers. In her receptivity of the other, in her great sensitivity of heart, the woman is able to be a witness to the need for courage in remaining vulnerable to the pain of another; she is a witness to the call for selflessness in taking on another’s wounds.