My Reading Challenge Pick for “An Encyclical…”

How is your reading going for the 2017 Catholic Reading Challenge? Haven’t started? It’s not too late. I’ve been sharing what I’m reading for each category throughout the year. Hopefully this gives you some inspiration for your picks…or just inspiration to get started.

Category: An Encyclical from One of the Last Three Popes

My Pick: Mulieris Dignitatem by Pope John Paul II

Mulieris Dignitatem (technically an apostolic letter, rather than an encyclical — feel free to read either for this category) is JPII’s 1988 letter on the dignity and vocation of women. It offers a beautiful and rich perspective on the God-authored dignity of the human person in general, and the dignity (and therefore vocation) of women in particular.

Where to start?? As a woman, this was incredibly life-giving to read! Women — you need to read it. Men — you should read it too. Why? Two reasons. First, because St. John Paul II explains how the dignity of our particular gender is intrinsically tied to our human dignity. Second, because when you understand the ways in which one gender’s dignity manifests itself, you are able to understand how the other’s dignity perfectly complements it, gives it meaning, and works with it to be a human sign of Christ and his Church.

Gender differences can be a hot-button issue in our culture today. I find that people who land in error on the issue can be in one of two camps. Either they want to deny that significant differences exist, or they tend to discuss gender differences in order to emphasize the domination of one gender by another. Some people come from backgrounds in which they have been improperly taught about the God-intended differences between male and female — and this may have left some wounds, engaging their defenses when the topic arises. If you are someone with such scars, this apostolic letter will be healing for you. 

There were several points that jumped out to me. But I’m just going to share a couple of them here. I want you to discover others for yourself.

(1) We find ourselves and our worth in giving ourselves away. JPII puts it this way:

 Man – whether man or woman – is the only being among the creatures of the visible world that God the Creator “has willed for its own sake”; that creature is thus a person. Being a person means striving towards self-realization…which can only be achieved “through a sincere gift of self”. (MD p. 9)

Self-realization is a popular idea today, but true self-discovery involves the giving-away of ourselves — both to others and our God. In meditating on this point, we realize that God doesn’t ask anymore of us than Christ has already done for us. Women are called to give of themselves in particularly feminine ways — ways that point to the feminine genius (as JPII puts it) designed by God. Likewise, men are called to give of themselves according to their design by God.

(2) Jesus intends the counter-cultural elevation of women in both his gospel narratives and his institution of the sacraments. JPII argues that Christ, far from acting conventionally, interacted with women in prominant and significant ways, which demonstrated his deep esteem for them. He chose 12 men for the sacramental priesthood, not because he found women to be unworthy of some utilitarian task, but rather because he wanted these men — “in persona Christi” — to give themselves away as Christ, the bridegroom, gave of himself for the Church, his bride (MD p. 37).

Which means that while we as women are definitely called to give ourselves away in particular ways — namely in biological and/or spiritual motherhood — we are uniquely called to receive another’s gift of himself as well. 

There is so much more good stuff in there — particularly the part about how Mary offers us the ultimate example of the feminine genius and the dignity of the female vocation, regardless of what particular feminine shape it takes. I encourage you to put it on your TBR list!


What encyclical or apostolic letter did you read for the #2017catholicreadingchallenge? If you are posting your pick on social media, remember to use the hashtag!

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