Cardinal Grocholewski at the Roman College of Holy Mary

On May 9, the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, visited the International Center of Studies Villa Balestra in Rome, the seat of the Roman College of Holy Mary, the center of studies for women of the Opus Dei Prelature from all over the world. The Cardinal celebrated Holy Mass in the Oratory of the Holy Family. The choir sang the Mass De Angelis and a number of polyphonic pieces. Before giving his blessing at the end of the Mass, the Cardinal encouraged those present to preserve forever the joy of that Eucharistic celebration.

After Mass some of the professors accompanied Cardinal Grocholewski on a brief tour of the classrooms, auditorium and library.

Then the Cardinal had a discussion with students at the Center, who work professionally in various fields. Topics dealt with included the need to study the metaphysics of being in order to confront philosophical relativism; the importance of the Encyclical Fides et Ratio in this regard; the formative role of Catholic schools; and the search for truth in the study of history. The meeting concluded with the presentation of a choral piece in German.

Later the Cardinal personally greeted some of the students; before leaving wrote a few words in the visitors book of the Roman College of Holy Mary as a remembrance of his visit.

The text of his homily at the Mass follows:

«Dear professors and students of the Roman College of Holy Mary:

1. The Mission Given by Jesus

Videntibus illis elevatus est. The Church celebrates today our Lord Ascension’s into heaven. The definitive glorification of our Redeemer fills us with deep joy, and stirs up our hope of reaching heaven, attaining the eternal life that Christ wants to give us.

At the same time there resounds in our ears the question the angels addressed to the disciples, as we heard in the first reading: Viri Galilaei, quid admiramini aspicientes in caelum? Why do you look up to heaven? The Lord will return; he will return at the end of time. He will return to establish definitively his kingdom, judging the living and the dead. But until then he leaves you here on earth to continue his saving mission, so that with the help of his grace you spread his kingdom-which he has begun with his life, death, resurrection and ascension-to the ends of the earth. That is precisely what we have just heard Christ say in the gospel: Euntes ergo docete omnes gentes.

Christ ascends into heaven and entrusts his Church with a mission that is universal both in time and in space. To carry it out Christ promises to send the Holy Spirit, who will descend on the small Christian community and empower a few poor men to be his witnesses, not only in Jesrusalem and all Judea and Samaria, but usque ad ultimum terrae (cf. First Reading).

It is also comforting to hear in the gospel that other solemn promise of Christ: Ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem saeculi.

2. The Participation of the Entire People of God

It is true that within this great mission entrusted to the Church, Jesus assigned the apostles and their successors a particular ministry among his people that no one else can carry out. They represent Christ as Head, Shepherd and Priest: they act in Persona Christi. It is through them that Christ makes present his redemptive sacrifice, that he pardons sins and communicates words of eternal life.

But the people for whom they have been ordained ministers of Christ is at the same time, in its entirety, a holy people, a priestly people. All its members participate, each in his or her own way, in the priesthood of Christ, and each fulfills a particular and specific function. The Second Vatican Council recalls in the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium: «Pastors indeed know well how much the laity contribute to the welfare of the whole Church. For they know that they themselves were not established by Christ to undertake alone the whole salvific mission of the Church to the world, but that it is their exalted office so to be shepherds of the faithful and also recognize the latter’s contribution and charisms that everyone in his own way will, with one mind, cooperate in the common task» (Lumen Gentium, no. 30).

It is from this perspective of the mission entrusted to the entire Church that I want to share with you the following reflections on the role and participation of women in this mission.

3. Women’s role

The Holy Father has spoken about the dignity and vocation of woman in very beautiful language in his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (August 15, 1988). There he recalls the difference in essence (and not only in degree) between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful, following the teaching of the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium (cf. no. 10). Then he goes on to say: «The Second Vatican Council renewed the Church’s awareness of the universality of the priesthood. In the New Covenant there is... only one priest: Christ. All the baptized share in the one priesthood of Christ.... This concerns everyone in the Church, women as well as men. It obviously concerns those who share in the ‘ministerial priesthood’ (Lumen Gentium, no. 10), which is characterized by service... Although the Church possesses a ‘hierarchical’ structure (Lumen Gentium, nos. 18-29), nevertheless this structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members» (no. 27).

It is noteworthy too that Blessed Josemaría chose to speak here at the Roman College of Holy Mary — on the very day of his going to heaven (June 26, 1975) — about woman’s participation in the royal priesthood of Christ.

In this perspective, the scene which took place after the Ascension, recounted by Saint Luke in the First Reading of today’s Mass, has a special meaning. The apostles had returned to Jerusalem and were gathered together in the Cenacle: «All these with one mind continued steadfastly in prayer with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren» (Acts 1,14). And it is there, in that place of prayer and communion, that the Holy Spirit descends upon them. Although only the apostles possess the authority to explain to the crowd what this outpouring of the Paraclete means, it is evident that He descends not only upon them but also upon all the men and women in the Cenacle, transforming this small group into the Holy Church, with the Mother of God at the center, surrounded by the holy women. The promised Holy Spirit, which the Risen Lord sends from the Father, fills the entire Church with the fire that the Son of God brought to earth.

4. The Church’s teaching

It is fitting, therefore, that in this international educational center, where women of such diverse backgrounds and professions live and study together, we consider today the extraordinarily important role women have in the Church’s mission. The Magisterium has spoken more frequently about this topic of late, especially in the second half of the last century. And it has been the Holy Father, so sensitive to the signs of the times, who has devoted great attention to this topic, taking pains to foster a healthy «Christian feminism,» so to speak. This feminism is founded on the radical equality of men and women, but also acknowledges that the specific ways each contributes to the family, to civil society and to the Church, while different, complement each other. In addition to the above-quoted apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, the Holy Father has written many other considerations about woman. I want to quote here a significant passage of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (March 25, 1995): «In transforming 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 the life of society» (no. 99).

I know that you, as faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei, follow with close attention, deep respect and intelligent enthusiasm the teachings of the Roman Pontiff. As good daughters of your founder, you are convinced-like those women in the Gospel who were the first witnesses of the Lord’s resurrection and who received the mission of announcing it to Simon Peter and the other apostles-that there is no Church without the Pope, since Christ made Peter the rock on which will be raised forever the spiritual edifice that is his Church. For this same reason, you feel the interior impulse to be very united to the successor of St. Peter, to follow his teachings promptly, to transmit them to your friends and companions, to defend them with the deep conviction of one who knows ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, ibi Deus.

5. Both as faithful and as women

You understand very well, as women fully immersed in the world, the specific role that corresponds to you in the Church’s mission. You know how to stay right where you are, following Blessed Josemaría’s clear teaching, «without the mad urge for change» (The Way, 837). You remember what he wrote in The Way: «From your own place in life, like a powerful generator of spiritual energy, you will give light and vigor...without losing your own vitality and your own light» (The Way, 837).

In the first place, you will follow your vocation as ordinary faithful who seek holiness in the middle of the world. You strive to have an intimate friendship with Jesus Christ, looking up to heaven but not turning your back on the problems that afflict humanity. And you work to spread his kingdom in the midst of today’s society by fulfilling your professional and social obligations, participating with the Church in the suffering and sorrows, but also in the hopes and dreams of all men and women. You strive to illumine with the light of the Gospel the human endeavors in which you take part as citizens, the same as everyone else, demanding your rights, each one following her own professional bent and cultural possibilities, always within the faith and the morality of the Catholic Church. And you do this all with a broad outlook, with a desire to live in peace with everyone, with a great openness of spirit, in dialogue with all persons of good will.

At the same time you are fully aware that your contribution to the common good— in civil society as well as in the Church-has certain particular features, because you are women and you want to be women. Let us recall those inspiring words of your founder: «Women are called to bring to the family, to society and to the Church, characteristics which are their own and which they alone can give: their gentle warmth and untiring generosity, their love for detail, their quick-wittedness and intuition, their simple and deep piety, their constancy... A woman’s femininity is genuine only if she is aware of the beauty of this contribution for which there is no substitute and if she incorporates it into her own life» (Conversations with Monsignor Escrivá, 87).

It gives me great joy to see how Blessed Josemaría was able to grasp, not without special light from God, the precious contribution of woman, and how he fostered it, taking care of the formation of his daughters. He also took such care because he was convinced that his daughters in turn would carry out a broad and deep work of formation among so many women of the most diverse conditions and backgrounds, thus making it possible for the Church to exert a vivifying influence as a universal sacrament of salvation.

6. Conclusion

I have seen many apostolic works of Opus Dei. As Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education I am very glad to be here today, to observe more closely this hidden work that Opus Dei carries out specifically among women. This work is evidently founded on the clear grasp that your holy founder had of the importance that women have — and have always had — in the life of the Church. I would like to end by citing again some words of his which are no doubt familiar to you: «For many reasons, including some derived from positive law, I consider that the distinction between men and women with respect to the juridical capacity for receiving Holy Orders should be retained. But in all other spheres I think the Church should recognize fully in her legislation, internal life and apostolic action exactly the same rights and duties for women as for men. For example, the right to do apostolate, to found and direct associations, to give their opinion responsibly on matters which affect the common good of the Church. I fully realize that all this, which is not difficult to admit in theory when we consider the theological arguments in favor, will in fact meet with resistance from some quarters. I still remember the surprise and even the criticism with which some people reacted to the idea of Opus Dei’s encouraging women who belong to our Association to seek degrees in theological studies. Now instead they are tending to imitate us in this, as in other things» (Conversations with Monsignor Escrivá, 14).

How much the Church expects of your effort to form yourselves well, here in the heart of Christianity, very close to the See of Peter! Don’t ever forget your specific mission: with your gaze fixed on the glorious Christ, who is always at your side, work without getting discouraged to carry his love to all nations, from the particular place that corresponds to you. Thus what Blessed Josemaría prophesied about his daughters will be fulfilled more each day: «With a group of valiant women... closely united to our Sorrowful Mother, what work for souls could be done in the world!» (The Way, 982)

I desire with all my heart that your generous apostolate may bear abundant fruit within the mission that Christ confided to his Church when he ascended into heaven.»

Romana, n. 34, January-June 2002, p. 124-129.

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