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The Apostolate of Women

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Since the dawn of Christianity women have been outstanding in passing on the true faith to succeeding generations.

There is no doubt that Christ chose men to be His first Apostles; that He ordained them to the priesthood and gave them the breath-taking powers of changing bread and wine into His own living Body and Blood, and of forgiving sins in His name through the sacrament of penance. Christ made men the foundation stones of the hierarchy and made Peter and his successors the rock on which He built His Church.

All of this is part of our Catholic faith, and it is the irreversible expression of the divine will.

Saying this, however, only serves to emphasize the role of women as mothers in the Church, mothers in body and especially as mothers in spirit. Without them future generations of believers would not have been born in the flesh — which is obvious; and would not have been reared in the faith — which is less obvious.

My purpose in this short column is to ask three simple questions and answer them in a few words:

  • How have women been the spiritual mothers of the Church since apostolic times?

  • Why are women desperately needed as apostles of the faith in our day?

  • What are some practical recommendations to Catholic women for the future?

Spiritual Motherhood

We have become so accustomed to identify women with bodily motherhood that we are liable to forget that, from the earliest days of the Church, they were also the spiritual mothers of those who believed in Christ.

Let us recall what happened on Calvary. Jesus was expiring on the Cross. Beneath the Cross were Mary and the apostle John. "When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, 'Dear Woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother'" (Jn. 19-25-26).

Ever since that dramatic occasion, we have come to call Mary "the Mother of the Church." Not only did she conceive her divine Son, without the cooperation of a human father, but she was commissioned by her Son dying on the Cross to mother the children of the Church until the end of time.

We know that Mary remained on the earth for some years after her Son's Ascension into heaven. We know she was among the disciples on Pentecost Sunday and therefore received the Holy Spirit coming down on them and her in fiery tongues.

We also know that through the centuries, it was the women, as natural mothers of their offspring, as supernatural mothers of their own and other people's children — who have literally enabled the Church to grow and reproduce herself beyond all human calculation.

I wish to emphasize both forms of regeneration, of body and of spirit, of flesh and of faith. On both levels and in both ways, it has been women, the married and the unmarried, who have not only kept the Church in existence but have extended the Church to the farthest reaches of the earth, and contributed mightily to the Church's sanctity.

Crucial Need

If all we are saying has been the story of Christianity for 1,900 years, the need for women to preserve the Church and sanctify the Church is desperately needed today.

In my estimation, one of the worst consequences of the limitations of births is the fact that literally millions of potential members of the Mystical Body are either not conceived, or snuffed out of existence before they are born.

In the same way, the widespread neglect of their role as mothers in the home by so many women, has deprived other millions of children of the nurture in the faith from infancy through childhood and into adult age.

In the same way, the massive exodus from our parochial schools of once dedicated religious women has left a spiritual vacuum that is crying to heaven to be filled.

But we should not be discouraged. On the contrary, I am confident that the Holy Spirit is sending down His gifts of fiery tongues on the Church today — and with emphasis on the women. He is inspiring them to follow in Mary's footsteps and do for the beleaguered faithful in our day what she did for the infant Church in her day.

Time and again our Holy Father has appealed to the faithful women as they stand beneath Christ's bleeding Mystical Body to carry on Mary's role as Mother of the Church in our time.

This is a strong statement, but I firmly believe that no small reason for the crisis in the Church today is due to the neglect of this spiritual motherhood by women in every state of life.

Correspondingly, I also believe that the future resurgence of the Church

  • of strong faith in Jesus as the true Son of God

  • of strong faith in Jesus really present in the Holy Eucharist

  • of deep loyalty to the Holy Father as Vicar of Christ on earth

  • of tender compassion for the spiritual and bodily suffering of sinful mankind&3133;all of this, and more, I am sure will be rekindled and burst into glowing flame in large measure because Catholic women, and girls will, like Mary, tell Our Lord, "be it done to me according to your word."

Then, as the angel promised Our Lady, what seems impossible to men will become possible with God. But, I repeat, it will take Mary-like women to achieve this miracle of renovation of the Church of God.

Practical Recommendations

We still have one short question to answer: "How are Catholic women to accomplish their providential role as spiritual mothers (with Mary) of the human race?"

The answer is simplicity itself. Like Mary —

  • They are to know Jesus from daily intimacy with Him in prayer

  • They are to receive Jesus by often receiving Him into their hearts

  • They are to love Jesus, by spending themselves in serving the needs of Christ's children as they have never done before.

Know Jesus. There is no substitute for growing in the knowledge of Christ through daily prayer. Call it meditation or mental prayer, call it reading the Scriptures with prayerful reflection, call it reciting the Rosary, or spending some quiet time each day — just talking with Our Lord.

No matter. Our Lady we may be sure always had Jesus on her mind. Even when she did not speak to Him in vocal words, she was pondering on Him and speaking to Him in her heart.

Receive Jesus. Our faith tells us, that when we go to Holy Communion, we receive the same identical Jesus who was conceived in Mary's womb at Nazareth. Except for her, we would not have Jesus, and therefore would not have the Blessed Sacrament.

If women are to fulfill the awesome mission entrusted to them in our day, they must strive to be united with Jesus by receiving Him often into their hearts.

Why is this so important? Because the Christ whom they receive is Love become man. Receiving incarnate Love into their bodies will animate selfless love in their souls.

And it is selfless love, truly selfless love that is such a crying need in the world and the Church today.

God has made the hearts of women naturally self-giving. But their womanly nature must be fortified on the Sacrament of Love to give them the heroic strength needed to mother the Church today.

Love Jesus. Love is proved by service. It is in spending ourselves for others that we mainly show our love for Our Lord.

The apostolate of women in the modern world is not a moral option. It is a mandate. It is nothing less than a call from the Son of Mary, telling women who stand beneath the Cross with Mary, to carry on the work she began in first century Palestine.


"Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church, obtain from your Divine Son the graces that Catholic women need today to carry on your work as Queen of Apostles.

"Ask Jesus to inspire women to rise to their dignity as spiritual mothers to a suffering, bleeding human family.

"Above all, dear Mary, tell women today as you told the servants at Cana to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. You can obtain miracles from Jesus, not only at Lourdes and Fatima, but throughout the world. But on one condition, that we do everything that your Son tells us — especially today tells women — to do according to His will. Amen."

Today's Church needs miracles of conversion and repentance, and the miracles will take place, provided women do their part, through Mary, and in Jesus and with a woman's selfless love.

Copyright © St. Bernard Charities, Inc.

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