Transforming our secular culture: the role of women

Transforming our secular culture: the role of women

Marcia Riordan

An evangelisation initiative (see by young Melbourne priest Fr Paul Newton in the parish of St Peter Chanel, Deer Park, has sought to give solid Catholic instruction to young adults aged about 20-40 years who have too often, says Fr Newton, "been the forgotten bracket in the Church".

A social setting has proved an effective way of attracting non-practising Catholics or non-Catholics to attend. Apart from the evangelisation aspect, many single Catholics would like to meet people of similar outlook.

Prayer and reflection nights with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a homily from Fr Newton, rosary and confessions with the chapel set in semi-darkness with extra (bees wax) candles on the altar have proved popular with the young participants.

The program included guest speakers. with Marcia Riordan's talk on 3 October well received by 40 young adults.

Our secular Western culture is sterile. No wonder Pope John Paul II calls it a culture of death, for it is marked by materialism, consumerism and the inroads of the sexual revolution. Overall, women have tended to lose out.

Our culture has lost respect for women, men and children: it sets men against women in the wars of the sexes and women against children through abortion - a certain sign that as a society we are failing women.

Amid this scenario, it is easy to despair, to think that things are either hopeless or not our problem; or that all is lost and give up.

Yet, however gloomy (or depressing) this picture appears, the one sure remedy remains at our fingertips: the good news about a culture of love that is to be found in the Gospels. It tells us there is a way out of darkness and despair.

The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate radical, counter-cultural message: the promise of eternal life, that we have been saved, that Our Lord died to free us from sin and death and that he has given us a way home.

Ultimately women want this vision of a better world - a new kind of feminism and a world of radical solidarity with women.

How then do we go about creating this better world?

There is only one way of bringing these dreams to reality - the way of love, for love is stronger than hate. We can become witnesses to hope, ambassadors of God's love and mercy.

John Paul II says that women have a special role in this regard: "In transforming a culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place in thought and action which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a 'new feminism' which rejects the temptation of imitating models of 'male domination,' in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of life of society and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation."

He has also said that through motherhood, whether physical or spiritual, women first learn and teach others that human relationships are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognised and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health. This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change.

Early Christians

In the first centuries of the Church, the early Christians transformed the pagan Greco-Roman world, which, by all accounts, was also anti-life.

In this context the good news of Christianity was especially attractive to women evidenced by the fact that women converts outnumbered men in the first few centuries.

This was partly a result of the Christian teachings against abortion and infanticide - especially female infanticide. In addition, Christian women enjoyed a substantially higher status within the Christian subculture than pagan women did in the surrounding cultures.

As women converted to Christianity, they turned around the paganism of the Roman Empire. Often they converted their husbands and their husband's families as well so that the culture eventually became Christian.

We in the 21st century appear to have forgotten our history and to have lost our way again - but we can find it once more.

There are signs of hope that we can make a difference, e.g., in the numbers of people flocking to see The Passion of the Christ and Lord of the Rings. These films have touched something in us all. Is it because these films too are calling us to a different and better world?

Pope John Paul II is calling us to again transform our culture as the early Christians did. His hope is in young people and especially in young women.

Let us take the good news of the gospel of love with us, everywhere we go, for that is the news, the good news that today's women really want!

  • Marcia Riordan is the Executive Officer, Respect Life Office, Archdiocese of Melbourne.

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