There were times during my engagement when I felt so, so far from being ready to get married. It was that feeling of having to have my own act together first, you know? I've written before about the beauty and the struggles, the agony and the ecstasy I experienced during my year of service. So often, I felt that year forming me--I was purified, broken, and remade dozens of times. Some trials revealed to me strengths I was unaware of, but others put my biggest flaws on display to people who became some of my closest friends.
I wanted so badly to overcome the sins I kept falling into, to stop leaving my towels on the floor, to get out of bed on time, to spend more time in prayer, and to bake the perfect loaf of bread, all before I got married. In my mind, everything needed to be in order before I was worthy of becoming a wife. Over time, though, I came to remember that just like anything else, holiness is a process. It doesn't end with certain milestones, as much as I sometimes wished it would, but I found such peace in knowing there's beauty in the fight and that, moreover, getting married would give to me a partner in Andrew to call me on and smooth my rough edges. I wouldn't be all by myself, though it's certainly hard sometimes to expose your weakest self to the person who loves you best.
Anyway, amidst all my worries, reading about womanhood and the feminine genius helped me in so many ways. Being reminded of my dignity, beauty, and particular gifts as a woman was one of the best, most constant ways for me to prepare myself, as best as I could at least, to become a wife and mother. Mulieris Dignitatem, Blessed John Paul's letter on the dignity of women, is flat-out amazing. Mary's fullness of grace, God's intention for marriage back at the creation, the fallout of the, well, fall, for men and women, the ways Jesus honors women in the Gospels, virginity and motherhood, the Church as the Bride of Christ...it's all here. If you're familiar with the Theology of the Body, you'll find echos of that here, too--there's trinitarian love, original solitude, God's intention for marriage back at the creation, and the repeated notion of a gift of self. I'd been blessed to have learned about so many truths in this letter already, thanks to wonderfully knowledgeable friends, but reading through it illuminated them in a way that made me realize how profoundly radical they really are, as articulated through the late, great Pope.
He doesn't say anything brand-new, of course; rather, he brings womanhood to light in a way that's so perfect for our time, with so many concepts of feminism, as well as perfect for all time. His words seem like such a healing remedy for our wounded culture, pointing out that as much as women have been hurt, which undermines their tremendous dignity, every hurt inflicted on them by men diminishes their dignity and the truth of who they are, as well. It's a complementary thing. Oh, this man.
I could keep going on, but instead, check out a few of my favorite passages, in words that surpass anything I could communicate myself:
In the "unity of the two", man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist "side by side" or "together", but they are also called to exist mutually "one for the other".
In the biblical description, the words of the first man at the sight of the woman who had been created are words of admiration and enchantment, words which fill the whole history of man on earth.
Christ's way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women. Consequently, the women who are close to Christ discover themselves in the truth...They feel "liberated" by this truth, restored to themselves: they feel loved with "eternal love", with a love which finds direct expression in Christ himself.
The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return.
Have you ever fallen into the same trap of perfection as me? Let these words sink in deep. You can read the letter online here!
Oh, by the way, that beauteous picture of Mary up there is my favorite image of her, Our Lady of the Millennium! What's yours?