"Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” -Letter to Women, 2
Authenticity. It is something we admire in others, and yet, it can be so hard to model for ourselves. Sensitivity. It brings people closer together, but it can also be seen as a point of weakness. But, in this line by our late Holy Father, we are actually encouraged as women in our sensitivity and authenticity. Why?
We live in a culture which cultivates anything but a genuine showing of ourselves- of making ourselves truly known. Photo filters remove every flaw in our skin for that profile picture, social media bombards us with what everyone else is doing, and often, our newsfeed tempts us to think of what we lack.
It is not that these things are bad at all…In fact, there is an immense beauty of that we can do with social media and photography. But amidst this, we can see an abuse of such goods. The environment in which we live can convince us that everyone has their lives together and that we are meant for complete happiness in this life. It can convince us that we are lovable only when we are happy, self sufficient, and strong.
I currently am writing this blog post in Belize, in the heart of a village which has spoken the message of authenticity to my heart. For a few weeks, I have been teaching here on mission in a little village called Benque Viejo. The journey has been quite different than expected, as has been a walk on the way of authenticity for me.
Half my life, I dreamed of going on mission. I was inspired by Mother Teresa as a child, and wanted to help others in need. And the reality has been far from what I expected. I came to help people with my own “strength,” only to find that I am very weak. I have found that, while I thought my heart was open, it actually has been full of barriers; I have grasped onto many material possessions in order to try and find my identity in things other than God.
Amidst all this, something has struck me and brought down barriers in my heart. The people here are so genuine and open to receiving the other. They are direct and ask questions that get to the heart. And, many times since being here, I have witnessed a joyous smile, and a moment later heard about a tragedy from the same person. It has been through such people that I have encountered Christ in a tangible way.
Life is not “perfect,” and yet it still holds its joys. By sharing their stories, these people have shared their lives. They have opened their hearts and homes to a visitor like myself, making me feel more welcome than I have felt anywhere else. It seems as though the vulnerability of their lives has propelled them to be more open and welcoming to receiving the gift of the other.
When we think of the deepest outpouring of God's love for us, what comes to mind? The Cross. It is on the cross that Jesus was vulnerable. In such vulnerability, He was exposing himself to others in his weakness, making that a gift of love. He took a risk, knowing He could be rejected, and yet, still made a gift of Himself. It is in such an act of showing our true selves, in both joys and sorrows, that true love is born.
Authenticity. I have found that, yes, it is painful. It is hard to allow yourself to be seen and truly known. Doing so is taking a risk…It is taking a leap of faith that you might be rejected by those around you who do not fully embrace who you are. And yet, it is one of the most beautiful and attractive qualities one can possess. Authenticity - feeling both the joys and sorrows of life to the depths - enables one to embrace life to the fullest. It enables one to be loved as one truly is, and to give back in love to others.
Yes, our sensitivity as women can be seen as a burden in today’s society. And yet, the world needs us and this gift. The world needs the woman who feels things deeply and is there to listen to her best friend. It needs the mother who notices the joy her son finds in art, and encourages the unfolding of his talents. It needs the businesswoman who shares her feelings on how a new company change will affect the employees on a personal level. The gift of our sensitivity can change the world. It can be a gift that, as the Holy Father stated, “makes relationships more honest and authentic.”
By cultivating those authentic and real relationships around us, we can encourage others to see the person. We can encourage genuine love of others as they reveal their true selves, hoping to be seen and loved. And in that, we can love them and be with them with our compassionate hearts. Our sensitivity can encourage love in today’s world. So the real question remains, Where can you gift the world with your sensitivity and authenticity?
“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” (John 11:27)
Darkness, Light. Doubt, Faith. Death, Life. Our faith is full of paradoxes, and where there is a lack, we often see the birth of the opposite.
In this painting called “The Resurrection of Lazarus” by Leon Bonnat, we see faith in an utterly hopeless situation. This faith is exemplified most especially by two women whose feasts we just celebrated. In this image, Mary and Martha are at the feet of Christ, witnessing a miracle before their eyes. Instead of terror and fear, we see serenity in their face. We see a gentleness and awe in their appearance. These women are beholding in physical form the invisible reality of their faith.
In the midst of the two sisters, Jesus stands, firm and unwavering. His power, though not physically seen, is shown by his posture. With outstretched arms, it seems as though the life is coming out from Him. And Lazarus, whose lifeless body was in the darkness of a cave for four days, emerges in hints of light, still covered in his burial cloths. A life which was lost has been found again…All due to the faith of simple women who reached out to Christ in a time of need.
We often hear of Martha as the woman who was filled with worry (Luke 10::38-42). Yet, in this passage of Scripture, we see a woman with her weaknesses placing her entire self at the disposal of the Lord. Her sensitive heart, overwhelmed with grief at the loss of her brother, shows its true strength amidst one of the darkest moments of her life.
While this image doesn’t show us the darkness surrounding Lazarus’ death, we can probably imagine what Martha experienced. For four days, she probably went through the stages of grief and wondered how her life would move on after the loss of a loved one.
But, in this, she had the strength to run to the Lord and to proclaim her faith in Him. In John’s Gospel, we read that when Jesus was approaching the village, Martha did not wait for Jesus to come…She ran up to him. Her act of faith was persistent, as she claimed, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died." and later said, “even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21-22). In this moment, Martha not only believed that Jesus was a healer, but she also proclaimed who He is…She saw with the eyes of faith. She knew that Jesus was the Son of God, and so, would have power to raise her brother from the dead if He willed. She got to the core of Christ’s identity by her faith.
Faith. It is something so powerful that it can bring someone back to life. Often, certain passages of Scripture can be so common to us that we often forget their significance. But, meditate on this image and Scripture passage again…A man, who was dead for four days, and as Scripture mentions, was stinking (John 11:39) was brought back to life! Something utterly impossible happened right before the eyes of numerous witnesses…All due to the faith of two women.
As you ponder this image, place yourself in the position of Martha or Mary. What is your Lazarus, dead in the tomb? What is that one thing which is dead in your heart? Is it a certain decision you made that you regret? A feeling of helplessness as you struggle with spiritual desolation? Or that one sin that you committed which you feel you can never let go of? Like Lazarus, Jesus wants to raise this from the dead. He comes into your life, as he came to the house of Martha and Mary, asking you for a reply.
Like in the situation of Lazarus, Jesus tells you, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it" (John 11:4). He awaits your faith; such an act of faith will bring an even greater glory out of something which seems like an evil to us.
Like Martha and Mary, let us give Jesus those areas of our hearts which seem dead and hopeless. Let us see with the eyes of faith, and place our hope in Him who is more powerful than us. Let us surrender ourselves to Him, knowing that as He raised Lazarus, He will bring glory out of all things.
The image of "The Resurrection of Lazarus" by Leon Bonnat can be found at https://www.wikiart.org/en/leon-bonnat/the-resurrection-of-lazarus