The Role of Women in Families and Society

Written in 1995, Pope St. John Paul II’s Letter to Women is a significant document in understanding the role of women in families and society. While brief, the letter addresses all women in gratitude for their gifts, talents, and feminine genius which provides depth to culture. 

We are seeing a gentle push for women to rediscover their femininity, but what does that look like? We are exploring how Pope St. John Paul II’s message to women and his understanding of the feminine genius gives us a better picture of the role of women in families and society. 

Women Who Are Mothers

“You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail.”

Through the example of the Blessed Mother, women find their role of motherhood to be one filled with great joy and sacrifice. John Paul II reiterates the motherhood of Mary being one of total dedication and service. He expresses the powerful impact mothers have on the education of children and how this role develops an “affective, cultural and spiritual motherhood.” Mothers have the great task of educating their children to be thoughtful, kind, and virtuous participants in society. 

Women Who Are Wives

You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.”

John Paul II’s great admiration for the Sacrament of Marriage is recognizable within his Letter to Women as well as in his great work, Love and Responsibility. “Man is called to transform the earth,” and within the vocation of marriage, both husbands and wives work together to build the Kingdom of God in their own homes. While created equally, men and women have different gifts that compliment each other. Wives have a special grace to bring peace to their homes and support and encouragement to their husbands.

Women Who Are Daughters & Sisters

Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.”

The family is the great “school of love” where children learn to grow in relationship with others, practice virtue, and grow in understanding and empathy. John Paul II identifies a daughter’s sensitivity, intuitiveness, generosity, and fidelity in the midst of family life, and he sees the profound impact daughters and sisters can have on the foundation of the family. Through strong relationships with siblings, sisters are able to bring love, affection and perspective into focus. 

Women Who Work

“…You make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of ‘mystery’…” 

Making sure to highlight the accomplishments of women throughout the centuries, John Paul II recognizes the great contributions women have made to society through their unceasing dedication to the service of others, especially the poor. He explains the great need for women to infuse their work with the feminine genius that they have been blessed with so as to make culture a better reflection of truth, goodness, and beauty. 

Consecrated Women

“You help the Church and all mankind to experience a ‘spousal’ relationship to God, one which magnificently expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with his creatures.”

The example of spiritual mothers and those women who have given their lives completely to Christ is profoundly influential in light of the family and society. John Paul II mentions St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena who had a great impact on the Church as well as all the women who dedicate themselves to the education of others, to the healing of others, and to the marginalized in society. These women provide a soothing balm for society and a reminder of the value of serving those less fortunate or in great need of spiritual, cultural, and familial comfort. 

Every 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.”

John Paul II finishes his litany of gratitude by thanking every woman for being what God has called them to be. In his Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II details the dignity and vocation of all women in reflection to the beauty of the Blessed Mother’s call to be the Mother of God. Because of her femininity and unique attributes as a daughter of God, she was able to bring Christ into the world and share him with those in her community and beyond. All women are called to “enrich the world’s understanding” just as the Blessed Mother did. 

No matter their vocation, there is a great need for the rediscovery of femininity and emphasis on the role of women in families and society. Each woman has a special part to play in bringing about goodness into their little corners of the world, and as Pope John Paul II expresses in his Letter to Women, “womanhood is part of the essential heritage of mankind and of the Church herself.”