Edmund P Adamus Director for Marriage & Family Life, Diocese of Westminster, gave the following keynote speech yesterday at the 2012 Catholic Woman of the Year Awards.
Forward in Faith Called to be Saints
Madam Chairman, Committee members, Award recipients, Rev Fathers, Sisters, ladies and gentleman; I am delighted and honoured to be with you today for this wonderful annual celebration and in particular for being blessed with the singular privilege of being invited to address you all as part of this unique occasion.
I was but three years of age in my home town of Manchester when the first Awards Luncheon took place on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima in 1969 (what a great feast to start an annual custom!) and now 44 years later I am truly humbled to be given an opportunity to contribute in some small way to a piece of history not just to the life of the Church in our nation but I hope by my words to add something of value to a long chain of speakers before me [each of them I have no doubt far better able than I] who have paid fitting tribute not just to the recipients of the awards they dined with, but who have reminded us of the unique role and indispensable graces that come to the Church and all of humanity through the dignity of women.
One of my great heroes in the faith- the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen told a story of how he attended a grand banquet where he was seated next to the guest speaker. As the speaker was being introduced, the Archbishop noticed his wife seated opposite, slip him a little note on which he could see the letters “K I S S” . The Archbishop discreetly leaned towards the man and said: “How nice of your wife to give you such a message of encouragement just when you need it.” To which the guest speaker replied: “Oh it’s not what you think it means Fr. What she means is ‘keep it short stupid!’ Well I apologise that my wife isn’t able to be with me here today on this our seventh wedding anniversary to give me the same sage advice so I hope I am not too long.
Staying with Archbishop Sheen, it was on the very subject of womanhood that he said the following: “To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”
In short, I suppose what he is saying is that when women are at their best, they bring the best out in men. And by the same token of course when men [especially husbands and fathers ] lay down their lives in service and love of the women in their lives, then women are more likely to respond with reciprocal generosity.
I rejoice in initiatives like the Catholic Women of the Year Luncheon and all the authentic feminism that lies behind it because it allows us to pause and reflect on what we all instinctively know to be true [but can so often take for granted or have drowned out by the noise of the popular culture around us] that the complementarity of the sexes is fundamental to our survival as human beings and furthermore that the male female difference is ordained by God [as yesterday’s Gospel so beautifully reminded us] as THE kernel upon which His plan for creation and salvation rests.
This year the organisers decided the theme should be; Called to be Saints. And that is really to get to the heart of our Christian faith isn’t it? Indeed to provide in shorthand what our entire relationship with God and with one another is all about; the fact that we are each of us made in the Imago Dei (in the image and likeness of God) and that we are capax Dei (we have the capacity for God) and that by virtue of this likeness to God – we are capable [hard as it may seem to feel and believe of ourselves at times] capable of sacrificing ourselves for one another out of love.
Now I know most of us don’t even want to consider ourselves as being saint-making material, least of all I imagine the three extraordinary ladies whom we honour and whose heroic virtues we give thanks to God for today. However the truth of the matter is that it is the very raw material of who we are as men and women – the very fact of our human sexuality – our femininity – our masculinity, it is in and through the very things which make us tick as women and men [different but equal] that God draws us close to Himself because our sexuality – literally, our sexual difference is what delights God most of all – why? Because it is precisely that difference yet complimentarity through which God makes His Trinitarian presence felt and real in the world. And of course we see this most vividly displayed in the matrimonial union of a man and a woman.
Only yesterday the Pope himself declared at the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops to discuss the New Evangelisation in Rome that: “Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross.”
Those of you who have known me especially in and through my work in the Diocese of Westminster these last 8 years will be aware of my particular focus, perhaps a passion if you like, for the vision and teaching of Blessed Pope John Paul II and his theology of the body. And that liberating vision he had of human sexuality with its captivating emphasis upon personal dignity is not an inappropriate lens through which to gaze our appreciative eye over the achievements of Josephine, Bron and Maureen to whom we pay tribute today. Why do I say this? Well because John Paul’s theology of the body is nothing more than a fresh take on the Gospel itself. And what is the Gospel if not the call to holiness [i.e. sainthood] through acts of selfless love?
Theology of the body in shorthand means serving the communion of persons. And how does one serve that communion? By making a sincere gift of oneself for others. It is what John Paul would call – a disinterested gift of self. In other words, that Gospel truth of going the extra mile, laying down one’s life for one’s friends, giving with no expectation of anything in return. I think we can safely say that these three women as well as their fellow nominees [as I am sure with all previous award recipients and nominees] have manifested that teaching on a significant scale.
There is no other way we can view such heroic virtue but with a sense of it being a theology of the body. After all, do we not speak of performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy? We serve others precisely in and through our embodied selves – it is our eyes, ears, mouths, hands, feet and hearts with which Christ reaches out to others to see, hear, comfort, heal, approach and love. And yes acknowledging the Divinely-created sexual difference of masculinity and femininity on an occasion which singles out the specific glory of and witness to womanhood is a fitting thing to do. Why? Because we must seize upon every opportunity to remind the world obsessed with its own version of equality that difference matters? Yes, but also because without our own firm grasp of that sense of difference but God-inspired equality of the sexes, we cannot celebrate fully the achievements of either women or men. Why do I say this? Well it’s because there is another useful shorthand to define theology of the body based on John Paul II’s writings and it goes something like this:
“The vocation of EVERY man is the dignity of EVERY woman. The calling of EVERY woman is the integrity of EVERY man.”
That is to say women have an absolute right [as John Paul would say] to their dignity simply by being women. And men by virtue of their manhood are capable of the most noble and highest virtues and women have a right to remind them!
I read somewhere that on average a woman only needs to hear the Gospel a few times for the message to sink in but that men need to hear it many times before it starts to take. Seriously. This is no glib observation. If it’s a physiological fact that women on average need to speak about 30,000 more words a day than men, then it must be because God ordains the very feminine psyche to be of an indispensable significance in the communication of God’s love and grace to others. This is part of what John Paul would call – ‘the feminine genius.’
In other words, each of us in our own way through our manhood and through our womanhood must strive to truly recognise and see the very presence of God in the other, precisely because she IS a woman and specifically because he IS a man. None of us can avoid, ignore or deny the reality of the masculine and the feminine. Why would we? It is how God chose to crown His creation. It is how He furthers His work of redemption now. And its universality means we are all called to honour it whether we are married, single, consecrated religious or ordained.
And it is in the home – the Christian household, the heart the Church [the domestic church] that the theology of the body is lived and experienced day in day out through the quality of our loving and the welcome we give to all who cross that threshold as well as those to whom we reach out beyond its boundaries.
Ladies – Josephine, Bron and Maureen. Each in your own way, you connected the ordinariness of your own domesticity to the service of others. Jo, you literally made your home a centre from which the truth about the Good News of love and Catholic faith and action might touch and inspire the lives of so many others. Bron literally sold her home to utilise it as a resource in order to create a sense of home and family for others who had never known such security and Maureen who in many years of dedicated service in loco parentis [i.e that immensely privileged and under-cherished role of the teacher to personify the values of the parents as an extension of the home] you exercised a spiritual motherhood to so many as an educator, a formator and builder of communion.
I cannot think of anything more fitting for me as a man, three days before the great opening of the Year of Faith on October 11th when we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism with their combined call to each of us to holiness, than to be here among such a noble company of women and all of you here today who remind me what faithful Christ-like loving looks like. Faithful Christian women are beautiful icons of the tender Heart of Mary and the strength of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
And speaking of icons it is important for us to be aware as we stand on the threshold of this great Year of Faith that a full scale replica of the famous Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland is soon to arrive on our shores for a nationwide pilgrimage. This Icon commissioned for the cause of the Gospel of Life and the Civilisation of Love has been travelling since June from Vladivostok on the Pacific coast of Russia, making its way through more than 12 nations covering 10,000km to arrive in Fatima, Portugal by Christmas. It will be in touring Great Britain from the 5th to the 16th November. The presence of this sacred Icon reminds us of both the inner strength of women to be ambassadors for the Gospel of Life and of how the seedbed of that Gospel lies within the Christian home.
Legend has it that the original icon, beneath the medieval restored version we see today was in fact painted by the evangelist St. Luke on a piece of cypress wood from part of the furniture [possibly the kitchen table] of the actual home of the Holy Family itself in Nazareth. I like the idea of such a legend for we are all called to be icons of the everyday sanctity of the kitchen table.
The place where fraternal love, compassion for the needy, in short the corporal and spiritual works of mercy is taught is the sanctuary of the home and its altar where so much love and fellowship is exchanged time and time again is the kitchen table. The kitchen table receives more tears per square inch than any other item of furniture. Young children meet their mothers there with their bleeding knees, banged elbows and scratches. Older children may spill some tears on their pillows, but, if they want someone to listen (and they usually do), they roam in to the kitchen table. The kitchen table also is the scene of more laughter than any other place in the home, because that's where the people are. It's a place where one can learn from early childhood values of fraternal outreach, where prayers are said, plans are made, joys and sorrows are shared, memories relived. It's a place for arguing but hopefully not quarrelling.
And this brings me back to the icon of Czestochowa. It bears the scars and marks of attack. So too does the Christian family, so too does all of humanity in the merciless destruction of the unborn, the mindless violence of war and unnecessary hunger and the endless degradation of human sexuality.
So I urge you to support the British tour of the Ocean to Ocean Pilgrim Icon www.fromoceantoocean.org.uk when it comes as a major response to the Year of Faith and to be further inspired to BE saintly.
Finally, just over two years ago during the Hyde Park vigil on the eve of the Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman the Holy Father reminded us of Newman’s insight to discern the call to ‘some definite service’
Well there is no mistaking the definitive nature of the service these three ladies have given and in so doing are true icons of the presence of God among us by their love. I wish my final words however to be those of Blessed John Paul II (who despite losing his own mother as a child learned to love all the women he encountered by his deep manly intimacy with the Perfect Woman – the Queen of Heaven) And so in his great letter on the dignity of women he wrote: Mulieris Dignitatem n31
“ Therefore the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for "perfect" women and for "weak" women - for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love; ..The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine "genius" which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.”
Thank you and God bless you and your families in this Year of Faith.
See also: ICN founder receives Catholic Women of the Year award http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=21213