Marriage, the Consecrated Life, and Women in the Church
On Saturday, May 16, 2015, Pope Francis met with a group of consecrated men and women from the Diocese of Rome, men and women who have committed their lives to service of God and others through the vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty. In a question and answer session, two questions touched on themes related to marriage and the family.
Marriage and the Consecrated Life
The Holy Father was asked how marriage and virginity (consecrated life) can “illumine the way for one another” so that married persons and consecrated persons can “walk together toward the Kingdom.”
Pope Francis responded by highlighting the “spousal dimension” that is present in consecrated virginity, both for men and for women. This is illustrated by the marital imagery used when speaking of religious sisters as the “brides of Christ” and of religious men as the “spouses of the Church.”
Consecrated women in particular find a model for their vocation in Mary and in the Church herself – and it is a model of maternity. “Don’t forget that the Church is feminine,” said Pope Francis. “The love of the Church is maternal…Fidelity, the expression of love of the consecrated woman, must…reflect fidelity, love, the tenderness of Mother Church and of Mother Mary.” A religious woman, then, lives a life marked by spousal love and motherhood, in a unique way thanks to her vow of virginity.
The pope emphasized the concreteness of love, a theme he has spoken about before. “A Sister cannot have a love in the clouds. No, love is concrete. …[Y]our love as women is a concrete maternal love.”
Women in the Church
Pope Francis was also asked how the presence of women in the Church, and particularly consecrated women, can be appreciated. His answer touched on themes applicable to all women: single, married, and consecrated.
Again, he spoke about a broader meaning of motherhood: “Maternity is not only to make children! Maternity is to accompany…maternity is to spend hours at the side of a sick person, a sick child, a sick brother; it is to spend life in love, with a love of tenderness and maternity.” The presence of women in the Church – all women – is a presence of maternal love.
Continuing, the Holy Father clarified that the role of women in the Church cannot be one of “simple functionalism” but needs to “rediscover” the presence of women in a “more profound way.” He used a phrase coined by St. John Paul II, that women need to be able to express their “feminine genius” and bring their unique identity as women into their service of the Church.