Women in the new evangelization

By Bishop David Ricken

Called to be holy, engaged and fully alive!

The Year of Faith, as we know, began on Oct. 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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Bishop Ricken

It is an opportunity for all Catholics to experience a conversion (metanoia) of the heart and mind — to turn back to Jesus and enter into an ever deeper relationship with him. This conversion has been described as opening the “door of faith” (see Acts 14:27) by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a door opened at baptism and which we are asked to step through again in faith to rediscover and renew our relationship with Christ and with his holy church.

The Year of Faith is a deeper preparation for “the new evangelization,” which is a fresh and new proposal of the Gospel to the world, person by person. The new evangelization calls each of us to deepen our own faith, to have confidence in the Gospel message, to seek opportunities to grow in faith and to go forth to proclaim the Gospel with courage and joy.

It is often a matter of reaching out and inviting someone we love, who may not have been to Mass for some time, to come with us and to let them know that they are missed at Mass by us and by the community. They may be our children, our grandchildren or our family members. This is not easy but women have always played a prominent and courageous role in sustaining the faith of our families and our communities.

Women have an especially unique and important role in the new evangelization. From the beginning of Christ’s mission, women show to him and to his mystery a special sensitivity which is characteristic of their femininity. The women are the first at the tomb. They are the first to find it empty. They are the first to hear: “He is not here. He has risen, as he said” (Mt 28:6). They are the first to embrace his feet (cf. Mt 28:9). They are also the first to be called to announce this truth to the apostles (cf. Mt 28:1-10; Lk 24:8-11). (Mulieris Dignitatem, 16)

Pope Paul VI, in his “Address to Women” at the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, emphasized that “Women … are present in the mystery of a life beginning. You offer consolation in the departure of death. Our technology runs the risk of becoming inhuman. Reconcile men with life, and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of the race. Hold back the hand of man, who in a moment of folly might attempt to destroy civilization. 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.”

Today, we are not a world or indeed a country at peace. Man tends to be more of the head and woman more of the heart and this is urgent today to be able to renew the life of a society that is dying for lack of love. If we look at the recent events in Boston we see how life can be willfully destroyed and the dignity of the human person eroded. Nowhere can this be more clearly seen than in the destruction of the unborn child.

Dorothy Day, whose cause is being advanced for canonization, had this to say to us: “No matter how cynically or casually the worldly may treat the birth of a child, it remains spiritually and physically a tremendous event. God pity the woman who does not feel the fear, the awe and the joy of bringing a child into the world. I was filled with awe of my baby’s new life and in gratitude to God I wanted her to be baptized in the Catholic Church. I did not want my child to flounder as I had often floundered. I wanted to believe, and I wanted my child to believe.”

As a 21-year-old atheist, Dorothy Day had chosen to abort her first child, a decision that she regretted and then spent her life repenting for in the sacrament of reconciliation. Her profound conversion to the message of Jesus Christ led her to become one of the country’s best known pro-life advocates and internationally recognized for her work with the poorest of our society.

Pope Francis, in his papal audience of April 3, had this to say to us about the place of women in our church and in our world: “The first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the resurrection are women. This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is risen! Mothers go forward with this witness! … Women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating his face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love.”

On Dec. 8, 2010, I and the entire Diocese of Green Bay had the unique privilege and honor to announce the official approval of the apparitions at Our Lady of Good Help Shrine in Champion. In October 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on three occasions to Adele Brise, a young Belgian immigrant. Brise stated that a beautiful lady dressed in dazzling white appeared to her and claimed to be the “Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.” The Lady asked Brise to pray for sinners, as well as to gather the children and teach them what they should know for salvation, including how to make the sign of the cross.

The Blessed Virgin followed the commands with these words of assurance to Adele Brise, “Go and fear nothing, I will help you.” Since 1859, a continuous flow of the faithful has come to Champion, Wis., to pray and to seek solace and comfort in times of trouble and to petition our Lord Jesus Christ through the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Good Help. We too come before Our Lady of Good Help bringing to her our worries, our struggles and our hopes.

During this Year of Faith, we are all called to readjust our priorities: to reschedule our lives; to put Christ and his word, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and penance back into the center of our lives and the weekly rhythm of our personal and family life.