Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Woman's Natural Vocation [St. Edith Stein, Part 2]

St. Edith Stein’s Essays on Women offer compelling descriptions of ideal femininity and how women can best attain this in their lives. First, St. Stein describes the natural vocation of women, writing that, “Only the person blinded by the passion of controversy could deny that woman in soul and body is formed for a particular purpose. The clear and irrevocable word of Scripture declares what daily experience teaches from the beginning of the world: woman is destined to be wife and mother” (43). St. Stein writes that this purpose is perfectly compatible with the nature of women to seek “to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole” (43). She also writes that women are suited for another role compatible with motherhood: companion. According to St. Stein, “it is her [woman’s] gift and happiness to share the life of another human being and, indeed, to take part in all things which come his way” (44). This role requires “subordination and obedience as directed by God’s work” (44).

It is difficult, in this feminism-ridden day and age, to accept that the primary role of women, for which we have been formed and according to which we have been endowed with certain and sundry capacities, is a supporting one. Most of us have been ingrained with the idea that women can and should do whatever men do, a view that effectively denies the unique qualities and gifts that make us specifically suited for specific functions—through which we are able to become what we were created to be (which, to put it mildly, is no small thing!). The secular view of freedom as the liberty to do whatever one wants, whenever one wants is a main culprit of the disparity between what women do and what women should do (this applies to men as well, of course). To be enslaved by our whims is no freedom. Contrarily, to FREELY CHOOSE to work for the good and benefit of others by living according to God’s will is the way, not only to salvation, but to the fulfillment of our purposes—our reasons for being. There is supreme dignity in the choice to excel in what we were created for.

Advent is the perfect time for women to accept, not our place, but our purpose. This implies something far beyond anything chauvinistic or misogynistic; rather, it involves embracing our ideal forms and working to realize them through our lives. Advent is a wonderful time for this because of the glorious example of obedience, support, and love that the Virgin Mary demonstrated when she FREELY CHOSE to submit to the will of God. Hers is an example of the feminine ideal for which we should all strive. It is also an example of what results from bowing to the Lord’s will, as is stated in these words from Hail Mary: “blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” The fruit of Mary’s choice was the means for the salvation of the world! Of course, not all of our actions may result in such obvious splendor, but our participation in the Lord’s will is always glorious. May all of us, male or female, pray this Advent for the strength and will to act according to our reasons for being, so that our works may bear fruit as Mary’s did!

[In my next post, I will write about St. Stein’s views on feminine vocations other than the maternal.]


SpiritMeadow said...

The sad thing is no man would make such a post. It's all the sadder that a woman would. You claim that "most of us have been engrained with the idea that women can and should do whatever men do." Well I did not grow up that way, but I helped to make it that way for you. You attempt to undo decades of sacrifice so that you can choose to play this different and subordinate role you choose to call simply "different" and "supportive." You may choose what works for you. That is our legacy. Please refrain from claiming your choice the "right" one.

Ryan Hallford said...

Are you denying that women are formed as female for a particular purpose, and that somehow the ability and vocation to be a wife and mother isn't a part of femininity in the way that being a husband and father isn't a part of masculinity? Let me frame my question to you this way: What would be inherently negative with God ascribing the certain roles to femininity and masculinity? I think the problem is, as the post suggests, that many people conflate the gender difference and pretend in theory that both are the same. God created us all equal but different. Edith Stein starts with the natural vocation of wife and mother. She also states that there is no profession that can't be practiced by a women in an authentically feminine way. But the thing to realize is that a woman shouldn't do it in a masculine way. Furthermore Edith Stein says women can be good mothers and have a profession. I welcome your insight and a healthy debate, and I encourage you to respond again.

SpiritMeadow said...

Sadly you seem unaware that equal but different is but code phrase for racism and sexism. No I see no basis for concluding God made men and women "different" other than physiologically so for obvious reasons.

Ryan Hallford said...

Maybe you understanding of equal but different is too narrow-minded and you need to be open to a different view on sexuality and spirituality. Every person is created in the image of God with the same dignity. However, making us male and female and ascribing his plan for sexuality in our very flesh we can enter into physical and spiritual communion with each other through the bonds of holy matrimony. In this holy union and family we can represent and participate in the communion of the Trinity. Who, as John Paul II mentions, is family and the source of all family. Our sexuality calls us to communion and family; draws us outside of our self to seek others and ultimately God who satisfies our deepest longings. As you mention there is a physiological aspect, so why are you so hesitant to admit there might be a spiritual aspect as well? Does not God make our flesh and spirit one? Are we not body and soul? You cannot ultimately separate the two as if they were completely independent from one another, to do so is dualism.

Sarah Metz said...

Spiritmeadow, I would highly recommend reading Edith Stein's Essays on Women, if only to better understand the other side of this debate. She does say that women can perform in practically any profession, but goes on to clarify that certain characteristics inherent to women make us particularly suitable for certain ones. In fact, my post tomorrow will be on the professions that women are especially able to perform well.
And I would like to understand how accepting and celebrating our differences is harmful in any way. Like Ryan said, a healthy debate is certainly welcome!