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Collaborators of the Creator

For Christ, the essential part, “the good portion” is listening to his word and putting it into practice. He never divides humanity into men and women, into the powerful and servants, the learned or the ignorant. What he wants are men and women who have eyes to see and ears to hear in order to understand and to be brought back to their original vocation, which is to become sons and daughters of his Father. From the very first men and women were not placed in relation to each other but in relation to God. The Bible does not give us a theoretical frame or a theological structure to teach us what the specificities of the man and/or of the woman are. What the Bible suggests is that a creature is not defined in relation to another creature; a woman is not defined in comparison with a man, and vice versa. What they are and what they must live is understood by looking at who the Lord God is and at what he does for them. 

He I “Women arriving at the Tomb” (1999)

We may then ask ourselves: how is the woman placed in relation to God? In reading the Gospel we are led to look carefully and to observe the way in which Jesus encounters men and women. With him there is no theology either of the man or of the woman but rather an enlightenment on a possible theology of encounter: that of a man or of several men with him, that of a woman or of various women with him, and finally that of Jesus’ encounter with men and women, namely, with us, now. How does Jesus encounter women in the Gospel? What happens that is unique and precious in these so different encounters? How does Jesus reveal to women their grace, their gift and their specificity? Who are women for Jesus? Who is Jesus for the woman and for women? Jesus’ meetings with women are exceptional, even fundamental moments, they do not offer us a learned study nor a theology or a list of expectations but solely the way in which Jesus reveals them to themselves: present, strong and intelligent (in the sense of inte-leggere, “to read within”). When Jesus is weary, when he is suffering, when he asks for a gesture of affection, when he dies and when he is raised, women are present, they are there. Moreover their indefectible presence is already one of the first feminine graces that Jesus highlights. Encounters of separation and of freedom: Jesus and his Mother. Jesus is born of a woman, it is banal to repeat it, but Jesus’ birth places the first woman of the Gospel in a special condition: that of the mother of her son and also that of the disciple. Nothing is said about Jesus’ relationship with his mother in terms of tenderness, of motherhood, or even less of affection. All the Gospels emphasize Jesus’ gradual detachment from his mother and vice versa. 

In the Temple of Jerusalem at the age of 12 Jesus takes his distance from his anxious mother, saying to her: “’How is it that you seek me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’… and his mother kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:49-51). The child Jesus reproaches his mother and puts her in her place. She remains his mother but accepts to leave him room, she ponders what she heard with her inner ears and does not keep her son back. She enters into another “possession”, so to speak, as it were, that of the Word that builds . She abandons an attachment that might hinder both her son and herself. She accepts that her son is fleeing from her, but turns his words and actions over and over in her mind and protects him in a different way. She learns and she teaches us freedom, that apprenticeship of the readiness of motherhood to leave others free to make their decisions. Likewise, later, when Jesus is teaching in the midst of a crowd sitting round him and he is told “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you”, he answers her: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mk 3:32-35). With his words Jesus cuts, prunes, overturns and purifies every tie of possession. The encounter with Jesus opens, extends and conveys the meaning of the relationship with him. Man or woman, he or she, those who listen and root Jesus’ word in their own lives become mother and brother; that is, they must bring their own relative into being, and show him this bond of trust that goes beyond blood ties. Encounters that give life, that bring to birth: in the New Testament, when the Canaanite woman comes to Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter, Jesus admires her and says to her: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Mt 15:28). These words recur only once more in the same Gospel, when Jesus in Gethsemane says to his Father: “Not as I will, but as you will” (26:39). What this Canaanite woman wants, in other words life in fullness for her daughter, is what the Father wants. In the same way, when Mary accepts to carry the Son of God in her womb, she does so, knowing the cause, as a partner of the Father without informing either her betrothed or her father. She brings forth her son to life and thereby reveals to us one of the fundamental vocations of every woman; she is a collaborator and a revealer of the Father and of his will. In Scripture there are no narratives of women’s births (cf. Philippe Lefebvre, Ce que dit la Bible sur la famille, Paris, Nouvelle Cité, 2014, pp. 55-62). On an attentive reading of the biblical texts one often comes across accounts of the births of men who subsequently become fathers; indeed to his son a father is a man who discovered that he is a son before God, and this is the true nature of a father. The father reveals something of God’s sonship, he becomes progressively a son in the Son. He receives life from God in order really to be born and become a man and a father. One may therefore say that in the Bible the crucial moment for a man is being born. Well, the woman is placed differently before God; she is beside the Father, she refers to God perceived as Father, she works with the Father to establish life, to implant it on this earth. For example, despite the Pharoah’s prohibition, the two Jewish women [midwives] in the Book of Exodus decide to let male children live. They deliver them regardless of the price to be paid. In so doing they change places with God the Creator and make possible a new phase in Israel’s history, they become mothers of the people. They act as collaborators of the Creator, they reveal the Father God who founds life. The Bible therefore reveals to us that there are infinite ways for a woman to express her being and to assume motherhood: so it is that a woman can be a mother without bringing a child into the world. Thus in Genesis the first three generations of matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca e Rachael) are barren. However, for example, throughout Sarah’s history with Abraham one sees that through her experience she exposes and shows a maternal figure that was to run through the whole Bible: she is a mother who welcomes the improbable coming of God. The encounter of the new birth: Mary Magdalene, another mother for the Church. When Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Jesus, day is barely dawning, everything happens very early in the morning, “while it was still dark” (Jn 20:1), a little like the darkness of the first day of the week in the Book of Genesis, when God creates the light and separates it from the darkness. Jesus is awakening from the sleep of death and he meets Mary Magdalene in the garden. She does not recognize him immediately, so Jesus calls her, asking “Woman why are you weeping?” (Jn 20:15). He had already used the epithet “woman” in addressing his own mother, the first time at the wedding of Cana (cf. Jn 2:49), then, later, a few moments before dying on the Cross, when he says: “Woman, behold, your son!” (Jn 19:26). Well, in Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene something exceptional happens (which he does for no other woman in John’s Gospel): he calls her by name: “Mary”. It is the Risen Christ himself who is calling her by name and in so doing he awakens her and in a certain sense restores her to life. In fact until that moment she had seen Jesus but had not recognized him, therefore she had not yet seen him. It is her inner ears that begin to perceive him. Then she touches him, she comes into contact with him and so recognizes him. Then Christ chides her saying: “Do not hold me”. For some good news is to happen: Christ must ascend to the Father. Mary’s “visible” and tactile act of touching him, confirms Christ’s mission: he must lead and bring all humanity to the Father. It is then that he tells her: “go to my brethren and say to them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God (Jn 20:17). He sends the first risen disciple, the first of the Apostles. She becomes Christ’s spokeswoman. She has recognized the Risen Christ in listening to him and proclaimed him because she can no longer prevent herself from speaking. Indeed, she understands with all the fibres of her being that humanity is not made for death, but overcomes it and passes through it because another life awaits it. Her words are undoubtedly among the most daring and fruitful in human history. The disciples, on hearing her announce the good and happy news, are obliged to be men: henceforth they must live like him, in other words, as sons of the Father. Mary preserves, protects and brings to fruition this incredible surprise of the Resurrection, this “Good News”, for ever and ever, in order to give birth to every new reader and listener who comes to hear of it. Setting out to meet Christ and seeing him meeting women is an adventure that transforms us, changes us and modifies our concepts. This inner pilgrimage is never ending, for there is an inherent part of the mystery in every encounter. For this reason the conclusion of this article is the task of a French Jesuit, Fr Teilhard de Chardin. First of all, with one of his prayers. “In my prayer I asked that woman may find in the centuries to come the true form of her action which, continuing that of the Virgin, must give us (in something irreplaceable) God’s vision and love”. And then, with an extract from his poem The Eternal Feminine: “

.The Virgin is still woman and mother: / in that we may read the sign of the new age. / The pagans on the Acropolis blame the Gospel for having disfigured the world, / and they mourn for beauty. / These men are blasphemers. / Christ’s message is not the signal for a rupture, / for an emancipation: / as though the elect of God, rejecting the law of the flesh, / could break the bonds that tie them to the destiny of their race, / and escape from the cosmic current in which they came to birth. / The man who hearkens to Christ’s summons is not called upon to exile love…. / On the contrary, it is his duty to remain essentially a man. / Thus he has an even greater need of me, to sensitize his powers, / and arouse his soul to a passion for the divine. / For the Saint, more than for any other man, / I am the maternal shadow leaning over the cradle – / and the radiant forms assumed by youth’s dreams – / and the deep-seated aspiration that passes through the heart… / like some undisputed alien force, / the mark, in each individual being / of Life’s axis”.

Catherine Aubin

The author

Born in France in 1959, Catherine Aubin is a Dominican of the Roman Congregation of San Domenico. After earning degrees in psychology and then in theology at the Institut Catholique of Paris, Aubin obtained a doctorate in spiritual theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome, where she teaches sacramental and spiritual theology. She is a lecturer at the Istituto di teologia della Vita Consacrata. She collaborates with Vatican Radio and has written books on spiritual anthropology in various languages.

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