PASTORAL LETTER BY
THE ARCHBISHOP OF MALTA
AND THE BISHOP OF GOZO
on the occasion of
THE FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION 2006
A CONSCIENCE IN FAVOUR OF WOMEN
Beloved Sons and Daughters in the Lord,
On the Cross, seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother: “Woman, this is your son”; and then said to the disciple he loved: “This is your mother” (Jn 19, 26-27). This testament of Jesus on Calvary has inspired many beautiful reflections with regard to the relationship between the Holy Mother and the Church, which is the community of the disciples of Jesus.
Inspired by this scene of the Gospel, we, Bishops would like to make some reflections regarding the importance, the dignity and the mission of women in the Church and in our society.
Appreciation for all women
We have close to our hearts all the women of our country: those who choose to share their lives with their husbands, including those whose marriage is facing some sort of difficulty; mothers and those who wish to become mothers; the single women of our country; women who work at home; widows; those who with a sense of responsibility choose to offer their contribution in the general sphere of work, particularly women whose commitment is in the political, educational and health sectors; women workers whose rights are not respected; nuns and women consecrated to God, women catechists and women engaged in generous voluntary work, especially those who offer assistance to the poor and the needy.
In the kind of historical context in which we are living, with the cultural and economical systems of our times, woman over and over again finds herself in a condition of dependence and exploitation; very often she is also a victim of instrumentation.
In such a situation, we, Bishops want to express our appreciation towards all the women who, were they not present in the lives of each and every one of us, in our society and in the Church, it would greatly impoverish our lives; we would like to help create a conscience that promotes the dignity of women by seeing society cherishing that which belongs specifically to women, and offering each and every woman the possibility of being what she truly is.
Under the guardianship of women
Although man and woman have the same dignity, between them there exists a diversity which is written in the very nature of man and woman. Both are orientated towards love. Both have the capability to love; but both love in a different way. Accordingly, man and woman learn from each other how to express love.
When Jesus says to Mary, “Woman, this is your son”, we understand that, apart from entrusting all humans to Mary, at the same time Jesus is also entrusting humans under the protection of woman because she has the genius to train the human person in love. When Jesus indicates to the disciple he loved this “woman” as his mother, Jesus is also putting an emphasis on the relationship that there has to be between the human being and woman, particularly that of the person with the mother, so that the person would be able to aspire for those forms of love that are proper to woman.
At this time, when we are celebrating the feast of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, we focus on this “Woman” of the Gospel. In her we see taking effect in full perfection these forms of love, and so each and every person, man or woman, is that “disciple he loved” who receives Mary.
The capability to receive and embrace
Like Mary, woman has a natural disposition to receive and embrace others. This is evidenced in the common experience of us all who, since our childhood, when we entered home the first word that we used to utter was “mother”! Home is that privileged place where the human being looks forward to be received and embraced in a true and genuine way; the family is the environment where woman offers a point of reference so that those close to her open their hearts and find comfort; the family is the place where woman consoles and instils peace in one’s heart and peace with others. Due to her and as a result of her love, the family becomes an environment wherein profound relationships sprout and grow between the members of the same family, relationships which in themselves require fidelity.
As a matter of fact, experience shows that when woman is missing in the family – due to death or because marriage collapses – the members of the family, especially small children, suffer because nothing can replace a mother’s love.
It is also a fact, however, that sometimes it is necessary for the mother to be absent from home to contribute towards the family’s livelihood. We empathise with such women, because we are convinced that this decision costs them a lot, especially where there are small children. It is society’s grave duty to ensure that there is absolutely no kind of pressure forcing women to go out of home to work.
As regards those cases where woman, as is her right, decides to go to work out of her home, society should take the necessary steps towards setting up a legal framework designed according to the proper needs of woman, especially if she has to fulfil her duties which flow from her primary commitment that is her family. For the economy of the country to register progress, it needs not only persons who produce material goods, but also and above all mature persons who build the community of human beings.
The up-bringing of children
The up-bringing of children is the joint responsibility of the mother and the father. The mission and duties of the mother and the father are complementary to each other. Both of them have to give their children that to which the child has a right from the mother and the father together. Precisely because of this, it would be a great disaster for the Maltese family and for our society, if instead of encouraging mothers to give the first priority to their children, according to the mother’s fundamental and natural call as a mother, especially when the children are still very small, we embark on projects intended to push mothers towards quickly getting out to work outside the home.
The Church continues to maintain that the work the mother carries out in the family in the up-bringing of her children, especially in their first years of life, is so great as to be comparable to any professional work.
The Church also continues to maintain that the hard work the mother does in the family with her children merits to be recognised by society as giving to the mother the right to financial benefits. A State which looks far ahead and which truly recognises the good that is achieved with the work a mother does with her small children, would be wise if it strives to help and encourage mothers to place their small children at the top of their priorities.
The contribution woman offers in her home, especially in the formation of children, is a contribution to the whole of the human community, and this contribution, precisely of the woman-mother, is priceless. It is at that stage of human development that children have their first experience of true love, and so receive the basis of their ability to love. We will not be able to have a future generation that loves and welcomes others if our children do not have an experience of such love and of being welcomed in the arms of their mothers! Human beings develop according to the up-bringing they receive.
Woman guardian of life
Even if with the participation of man, it is woman who lives the marvellous experience that gives a new life. Woman goes through this experience with pain, not only when she gives birth, but also when nature deprives her from becoming a mother. The suffering of such a woman becomes even bigger in her knowledge that science tries to offer her a remedy, but her values and ethical principles tell her that a child should be the fruit of the love between a man and a woman and not a product of science!
Precisely because nature requires from woman to protect life, almost in all cases we find woman present in those moments where life is at risk and there is suffering. Various such women with a big heart come to mind: those dedicated night and day to persons with disabilities; those who day in day out offer love and care to the sick and the old in homes or hospitals; the mothers or the wives of victims of drugs or alcohol; mothers preoccupied because of problems in their children’s marriages; those who diligently remain at the bedside of the dying. In these moments, woman is not only near to the sufferer, but she herself suffers.
Beloved Sons and Daughters in the Lord, we shared with you these few reflections so that we would grow together in the recognition and respect of the dignity and the mission of woman. We invite our sisters, the women, to cherish that which is specifically theirs — “Woman, this is your son!” We appeal to all society to continue to strive towards imitating the beautiful values that woman has - “This is your mother”.
Even as a Church, we must strive to strengthen in ourselves these two dispositions which we learn from woman: to be more and more a Church that through pastoral charity receives and embraces everybody; to be a Church that protects life, especially where there is suffering, and never tires in her search for new means to encourage the life of the spirit in our people. Let us hope that in our Church we will be able to rediscover the gift of the ministries, especially in that which concerns the welcoming and protection of life in all its phases.
We have a strong faith that, with the example and intercession of Mary, the spirituality of our women will express itself also in a prayer of intercession before God. We are sure that many of our women, especially mothers, have been and continue to be women of prayer and teachers of prayer.
May Mary, Mother of the Church, bless all our women and all our families.
We impart on you our pastoral blessing as a pledge of every heavenly good.
Today, 10th August 2006, Feast of St. Lawrence.
X Joseph Mercieca
Archbishop of Malta