Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 17, 2004
Women show men the meaning of life
Theologian applies papal theology on human gender
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
If Eve had not shown up when she did, men would still be taking care of the Garden of Eden and would know nothing about the meaning of life, contends U.S. theologian Katrina Zeno.
Speaking at a Catholic Women's Conference May 8, Zeno said women are a gift to the world because it is through them that men learn the meaning of life as "union and communion through a sincere gift of self."
"Without you, without us, men cannot realize the meaning and purpose of their lives and I would say that even if there were a flock of men in this room," Zeno told about 350 women attending the conference at Delta South Hotel.
"Without you, men cannot understand fully what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God."
Give yourself away
To be created in the image and likeness of God means to be created "to give yourself away, to fulfill the meaning and purpose of your life by being in relationship," she explained.
Zeno, a mother of one, is a freelance writer for several Christian magazines and a retreat and conference speaker for Women of the Third Millennium, an organization that promotes the dignity and vocation of women.
She specializes in Pope John Paul's theology of the body, the nature of men and women, marriage and the Eucharist, the single life, parenting, and passing on the faith.
On May 7-8, Zeno gave five lectures on The Genius of Women: Our Dignity, Vocation and Mission. Archbishop Thomas Collins also spoke at the conference sponsored by Catholic Family Ministries.
To be a person made in the image and likeness of God means to be in relationship with other people. Alone, man does not realize this essence and, aware of its own solitude, waits for a helper fit for him.
Man gets his helper in the person of Eve. But as Zeno put it, being a helper does not refer to practical things like cooking and cleaning.
"It means the woman helps the man discover his own humanity, what it means to be a person, by being gift to him."
Woman's first presence in the world is a gift, Zeno stressed. "God created her and presented her as gift to the man so she could reveal to him, 'Hey, buddy, you are made for union and communion through a sincere gift of self. You can only fulfill yourself as a person by being in relationships with other people.'"
During one of her talks Zeno asked women to close their eyes and imagine themselves as a gift with a bow on their head.
"You are a gift," she told them. "Your body is a gift. Your presence in the world is a gift. God created you and presented you as a gift to the world. Your presence in the world is a gift. Can you feel it?"
If Eve had never shown up in the Garden of Eden, "men would have just continued to plant the roses and water the trees and play with the kangaroos, that's it," Zeno said to laughter from the audience. "But with us, men learn the meaning of life as union and communion through a sincere gift of self."
Now, how do women practically help others understand the meaning of life as union and communion through a sincere gift of self?
The feminine body
"Fortunately God has given us a very concrete answer and it is standing right before you - it's the feminine body," Zeno said. "Just think about the feminine body. How is it different from the masculine body?
"Women are created with an empty space within. By our very body, our very nature, we are created to be receptive, to be life-givers. Our entire being is oriented towards receiving and nurturing new life. We as women are called to make a gift of self so others can receive the gift of self."
This is what makes abortion so tragic, she said. By aborting a baby, women are refusing the gift of self and refusing to give the gift of self to another being.
"And that's exactly who we are in our bodies and in our nature," Zeno said. "We are created to be life-givers because we have this empty space within. Its purpose is to receive new life and bring it forth.
"And we don't do it in a very impersonal and abstract way. It is very concrete, very tangible and very personal and relational. You are in relationship with that child even before it was born."
Some women are called to biological motherhood but as Zeno put it, "every woman, without exception, is called to spiritual motherhood because motherhood is knitted into the very structure of our being."
Spiritual motherhood means nurturing the emotional, moral, cultural and spiritual lives of others, she explained, noting there are zillions of ways to be a spiritual mother.
Zeno urged older, retired women to use their time to nurture others emotionally, morally, culturally and spiritually. "Don't think because you are over the hill you are useless or disposable. You are in the most important years of your life in terms of really nurturing the other women around you."
Women are spiritual mothers when they make a meal for a friend, when they listen to a friend on the phone, when they volunteer at their child's school or at their parish, when they explain their Catholic beliefs to someone and when they visit people in nursing homes.
"You are being a spiritual mother when you give others spiritual life, emotional life, cultural life and moral life. That's what a woman does. That's what a mother does. She gives life."
Letter to the Editor - 05/31/04
Letter to the Editor - 05/31/04