Bishop's Interview: Recognizing the unique gifts of women in the church
Editor: Bishop Vásquez, this month we are talking about the role of women in the church. Let’s begin with how the women in your life have contributed to your own relationship to Christ and his church?
Bishop Vásquez: God has blessed me with great women who have mentored me and worked with me to serve his church. I am particularly blessed to have had a wonderful mother and wonderful grandmothers, aunts and sisters who have been very influential in my life. They were and are women of faith who have nurtured me in my own faith. I continue to have a very special relationship with my sisters, which has been enriched and has become stronger as the years have passed.
I greatly admire these particular women because they are strong, influential and powerful in the best senses of those words. They have always been very supportive of my vocation to the priesthood. My mother in particular was very encouraging, and above all else, she wanted me to be happy and blessed. I find it a great blessing that God has blessed me with these great women who have taught me so much.
Editor: In 1988, St. John Paul II wrote “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women,” which recognized the dignity, vocation and mission of women in the world. In 1995, he followed up with his Letter to Women and used the term the “feminine genius.” What does that term mean to you?
Bishop Vásquez: Feminine genius — as I understand it from reading St. John Paul II’s writings — is the special character and nature that women have received from God. God has blessed women with unique characteristics. They are different but at the same time equal to men. There is no room in the church for chauvinism; neither sex is superior or inferior to the other. The great genius of God is that he creates both men and women in his image and likeness.
St. John Paul II says specifically, “Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the ‘human’ as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.”
In “Mulieris Dignitatem” (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) St. John Paul II discusses particular aspects about the feminine genius—one being receptivity. That is to say, women are willing to enlarge their lives and their hearts by welcoming others to come into their world, into their realm. Particularly through motherhood, women are receptive in welcoming the gift of new life.
St. John Paul II says that Mary is the supreme model for all women because she exemplifies the great gifts of generosity, receptivity, sensitivity and, of course, maternity. “Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting herself at God’s service, she also put herself at the service of others: a service of love,” he writes.
Mary teaches us many things. She is the Mother of God – she said “yes” to God’s divine plan and fully cooperated with God to save humanity. She also shows us how to become true followers of Jesus Christ, as she was the perfect disciple of Jesus. Therefore, our spiritual relationship with Mary is crucial because she always leads us to know and love Jesus. Mary desires us to deepen our relationship with her Son, Jesus Christ.
Editor: Mary Magdalene is another woman who encountered Christ. Pope Francis just raised her memorial observance on July 22 to a major feast day. What is the significance of that?
Bishop Vásquez: Mary Magdalene’s role in Christianity is unique. She was a disciple of Jesus and was present at important moments of his ministry. One important encounter is described in Mark’s Gospel, when she was privileged to see Jesus after he rose from the dead. Thus Mary Magdalene is called the “Apostle of the Resurrection” because she is the first to witness the risen Lord and then tasked with finding the apostles and telling them the Good News of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Pope Francis has great admiration for women and their role in the church, and especially in the New Evangelization. He has spoken often about his family and the influential role women have played in his life. He appreciates the unique role of women in the world, and we are seeing him invite more women into conversations about various church topics. He knows the church needs the full collaboration and help of women in order to be fruitful.
Editor: Can you give some specific examples of the unique relational ways in which women can evangelize effectively?
Bishop Vásquez: First of all women, especially mothers, are often first evangelizers of children. Mothers teach their children selfless love as they care for them and form them in faith. I learned about God, the Scriptures and his church through my mother. I know that the first prayers I learned were from my mother, as well. My father also played a role in my faith development, but it was my mother who constantly taught us the greatness of God’s love.
Women also evangelize as catechists in our parishes. In fact, the majority of our catechists are women. They are planting seeds of faith in the children they instruct. Women help form young people in their understanding of faith and more importantly, their own lives witness to their faith.
Women religious are also beautiful examples of evangelizers. They witness to the kingdom of God as they live the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In his May 2013 address to religious women, Pope Francis said their vow of chastity expands their ability to give themselves to God and to others “with the tenderness, mercy and closeness of Christ … let it be a ‘fruitful’ chastity which generates spiritual children in the Church. The consecrated woman is a mother, she must be a mother.…”
I am most grateful to the many women, religious and lay, who are involved in ministry. Besides their responsibilities at home and at work, they find the time to serve God and his people in our parishes. I am especially thankful to the women on our diocesan Pastoral Staff. Their profession is not simply a job but a ministry. How could I accomplish my responsibilities as bishop without the assistance of these individuals? Because of women such as these, the church in Central Texas is strong and alive.
Editor: On Aug. 27, there will be a Diocesan Women’s Conference in Georgetown entitled “The Face of Mercy,” and you will celebrate the Eucharist with us during the conference. What are your hopes and prayers for that day?
Bishop Vásquez: Yes, the enthusiasm is building for this diocesan-sponsored women’s conference, which will be focused on women in the church and how they can help address the challenges in our church during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. We anticipate a gathering of up to 500 women and I understand registrations are brisk. I encourage women to attend on Aug. 27, and my prayer is that women will continue to take their rightful place in service to the church — and as they place themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives, that they will persevere in revealing the merciful face of God.