Countering the challenges of today’s society as Catholic women
30 October 2018
By Virginia Coda Nunziante
Presentation to young women at the Voice of the Family conference Created for heaven: the mission of Catholic young adults in today’s world, Rome, 20 October 2018.
We are here today to deepen our understanding of the role of the Catholic woman in today’s society, a very difficult society, full of pitfalls and dangers. As St Augustine pointed out, we are all confronted with the choice between the City of God and the City of Man. For those who do not believe, this choice is quite obvious because they do not love God. But we, who profess to be believers and Catholics, we are obliged to make a choice and this is not easy, because the society in which we live puts us under great pressure.
Often there are two reactions. The first is to compromise, which means adapting to the world and absorbing its spirit. This often leads, in the long run, to the weakening and loss of faith. The second is isolation: closed in oneself convinced that by a life of regular prayer, taking care only of one’s own family, living one’s working life in the most Christian way possible, is everything that the Lord can ask for, everything it is possible to do in such a de-Christianised and disastrous society.
I am convinced that for a woman, and above all for a young woman, there is also a third way: that of public witness and of the resistance to the modern world and that is what I would like to deal with today in three phases:
- Firstly, what the Church has taught about women;
- Secondly, how the revolutionary process has used women;
- Thirdly, in countering the challenges that women face in today’s society.
1. The Church and the woman. The Catholic Magisterium and the feminine question
Nobody in the world, no one in history has done for woman what Christianity has done for her. The moral equality of man and woman is a concept completely alien to antiquity. From the ancient Christian matrons and the medieval nuns to the modern nuns and mothers of families, Christianity has equated the woman with the man in her essential dignity, giving her an opportunity to fulfil roles that were previously unimaginable. Just read the volume of Régine Pernoud, Women in the Days of the Cathedrals, to understand the role of the women of that era. According to Karl Bartsch, “women in the Middle Ages read more than men”.¹ And most of the manuscripts were copied by female hands. Think of such personalities as Eleonor of Aquitaine, Bianca of Castile, Matilda of Canossa, who stood up to an emperor to defend a pope, but also of holy nuns such as Hildegard of Bingen, Gertrude la Grande, Catherine of Siena, consulted by popes and kings, or figures such as the abbess of Gandersheim, Roswita, who was considered the biggest name in German literature in the 10th century. Not to mention St Joan of Arc, a commander called by Providence to save France.
The new concept of woman was proclaimed by St Peter and by St Paul and was historically realised in Europe thanks to the influence of Christianity on its laws and customs, especially thanks to the elevation of marriage to a sacrament.
In European history, the mother represented the quintessence of the family. The word “family” indicates a society, that is a plurality of people. If the figure of the father reflects the authority of God, the mother embodies the goodness and the spirit of sacrifice.
Motherhood represents the ordinary way in which the woman reaches her perfection. St Paul says of the woman: “She will become blessed for motherhood.” “The Christian mother,” wrote Cardinal Mindszenty, “is one of the greatest gifts that Christianity has given to Europe because the mother is, after God Himself, her greatest benefit.”
But motherhood, within marriage, is not the only means for women to fulfil their role. Virginity, an ideal that dates to the beginnings of the Church and given by the example of Mary Most Holy, is not a misunderstanding of the goods of marriage, but constitutes a more perfect state. Pius XII dedicated an encyclical to virginity: The Sacred Virginity of 25 March, 1954. In it, he explains that “the sacred virginity and perfect chastity consecrated to the service of God is certainly for the Church, one of the most precious treasures that its Author left as an inheritance. For this reason, the Holy Fathers emphasised that perpetual virginity is an excellent good of an essentially Christian character.”
Virginity is a state that concerns above all those who make the religious choice but, as Pius XII explains, it can also be the vocation of lay people, men and women, living in the world and “by private promise or vow completely abstain from marriage and sexual pleasures, in order to serve their neighbour more freely and to be united with God more easily and more intimately.”
What we must be convinced of is that today, both through marriage and through virginity, a special mission is entrusted to women, especially to the young.
2. How the revolution uses women to achieve its ends
There is a project to destroy the Church and the Christian civilisation and its existence becomes ever clearer to everyone. The popes have defined this project as the Revolution and indicated its historical phases. This project also uses women, to transform their role and through this transformation, to destroy society.
The Revolution is a centuries-old process of aggression against the Church and the Christian civilisation that already by the end of the nineteenth century understood that it had to take possession of the woman in order to destroy the family, society and finally the Church.
A professional revolutionary, like Vladimir Lenin, has an emblematic expression: “The experience of all liberation movements attests that the success of a revolution depends on the degree of participation of women.”
The role of women in the Revolution is little known but terrible. As pointed out by Prof. Roberto de Mattei at the Rome Life Forum in 2017, in the leaded wagon that in April 1917 brought the professional revolutionaries to Petrograd, along with Lenin, travelled Inessa Armand (1874-1920), a member of the executive committee of the Bolshevik party, founder of the “Zhenotdell”, the “women’s department” of the party. She was a woman who had the absolute trust of Lenin, who was her lover. She died of cholera in 1920 and had the honour of being buried in the “red cemetery” under the walls of the Kremlin, as one of the main protagonists of the Revolution. Her name is less known than that of Aleksandra Kollontai (1872-1952), but her influence on Lenin was perhaps greater.² Inessa Armand and Aleksandra Kollontai publicly advocated free love, in the belief that sexual liberation was a necessary premise for the realisation of a socialist society. On 17 December 1917, a few weeks after the Bolsheviks’ conquest of power, divorce was introduced; abortion was legalised in 1920 with no restriction; it was the first country in the world where this happened; prostitution and homosexuality were decriminalised in 1922.³ Trotsky wrote in 1923: “The first period of family destruction is still far from being achieved. The disintegration process is in full swing.”4
Kollontai wrote, in 1920, in the journal Komunistka:
“In place of the individual and egoistic family, a great universal family of workers will develop, in which all the workers, men and women, will above all be comrades. This is what relations between men and women, in the communist society will be like. These new relations will ensure for humanity all the joys of a love unknown in the commercial society, of a love that is free and based on the true social equality of the partners. (…) The red flag of the social revolution which flies above Russia and is now being hoisted aloft in other countries of the world proclaims the approach of the heaven on earth to which humanity has been aspiring for centuries.”5
They were moved by a deep hatred of God and His creation.
The revolutionary project envisaged a precise strategy based not only on false ideas, such as that of the absolute equality of roles between woman and man, but also on the bad tendencies of human nature, wounded by original sin, beginning with female pride. This programme, which was planned in the Masonic lodges at the end of the nineteenth century, today, after more than a hundred years, has been fully realised.
The woman left the home and introduced into the world of work, was immediately indoctrinated by the feminist, socialist, trade unionist mentality. Already at the beginning of the twentieth century, in a still patriarchal society, feminists managed to occupy spaces, to found associations, to convey the poison of social claims. A historian of feminism writes:
“For many militant women, involvement in associations brought about a mental revolution; for each individual, it was an attestation of existence and meant the acquisition of a social span of time outside the home.”6
It is enough to read books on the history of feminism today to confirm it: it was necessary to make women “free”, to make them equal to men and therefore to abolish the laws on parental authority; claiming new laws like divorce or abortion to liberate women from any control, both of the Church and of an objective moral law.
The premise of this diabolical work was the destruction of the woman’s sense of reserve. Whether a woman has a vocation to marriage, or to virginity, reserve is, in any case, a bulwark, in a sense the very foundation of her virtue.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read:
“Reserve preserves the mystery of people and their love […]. Reserve is modesty. Inspires the choice of clothing. Keeps silence and privacy(…) called to a way of life that allows you to resist the suggestions of fashion and the pressures of dominant ideologies.”7
The woman was therefore to be freed from this sense of reserve that oppressed her, it was necessary to make her taste “worldly” success, to make her understand that she could “realise herself” (a very fashionable phrase) outside of the family and make her forget God. It was the subtle return of the serpent’s temptation: you will become like God. And Eve falls once again. And once again the man is dragged to his downfall.
We could recall here how bad the revolution of 1968 was and its deep association with the feminist movements. The Masonic magazine L’Humanisme wrote at that time:
“The first conquest to be done is the conquest of women. Woman must be freed from the chains of the Church and from the law […]. To break down Catholicism, we must begin by suppressing the dignity of women, we must corrupt them together with the Church. We spread the practice of nudity: first the arms, then the legs, then all the rest. In the end, people will go around naked, or almost, without batting an eyelid. And, once modesty has been removed, the sense of the sacred will be extinguished, the moral will be weakened and faith will die of asphyxiation.”
Pius XII said that “perhaps today the greatest sin in the world is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin.” (26 October 1946) The woman begins to lose the sense of sin by losing the sense of reserve.
Already at the beginning of the 1900s, Our Lady at Fatima had said to little Jacinta: “The sins that bring more souls to hell are the sins of the flesh, certain fashions will be introduced that will greatly offend Our Lord. Those who serve God should not serve certain fashions. The Church has no fashions. Our Lord is always the same.”
Our Lord is always the same: the moral law does not change, it does not change with the variation of historical periods. Instead, how much has the female attitude changed, how much woman has changed in attitude towards God and towards society.
What followed was a consequence: in the middle of the twentieth century laws on divorce and abortion were introduced all over the world, deeply immodest fashions were propagated, sexual freedom spread. Thereafter we arrived at artificial fertilisation, the legalisation of homosexuality, the spread of gender ideology, euthanasia …
All this is part of the same revolutionary process that goes on and does not stop. We do not have the time today to go into the details of its various phases, but it must be clear to all of you that the pivot of this was the revolution in the role of women.
For a deeper examination of this process, I recommend the book Revolution and Counter-Revolution of Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.
3. What a young Catholic can do today
a) What to do today? How should a woman fulfil her role today?
First of all, we cannot accept the process of de-Christianisation of society, because it detracts from the salvation of souls and, above all, from the honour and glory of God.
The present hour demands from the woman a Christian spirit capable of resisting and coping with current fashion; capable of reacting to the secularisation of society and the progress of materialism with an increasingly profound supernatural response.
To defend Christian civilisation, women must, first of all, dedicate themselves to the restoration of the family, the living cell of society. The woman, especially if she has made the choice to abstain from having her own family, must safeguard the institution of the family by fighting the currents and the doctrine that threatens the family, and above all, giving it a hierarchical sense, that of conjugal fidelity, and the Christian spirit.
But more generally, to give greater glory to God, the woman will have to contribute to the restoration of customs, the restoration of modesty and thus fight against immodest fashions that are among the most powerful means of corruption of souls, publicly fight against unjust laws that mainly corrupt young people, try to change the culture and the dominant mentality. Women must strive to bring society back to God, giving it back to the Christian spirit and rebuilding its foundations on natural law and Christian principles.
What means do we have at our disposal to do all this? The means are those that have always been pointed out by the Church.
1) Prayer. To meet the demands of today’s struggle, natural forces are insufficient without grace and union with God. God’s help is obtained above all through prayer. Without a life of prayer, we cannot do anything. A holy life is lived through prayer, which is a necessary and indispensable means for any apostolate. The feminists, the revolutionary women (like the Russians Armand, Kallontai, the Spanish Dolores Ibarruri, the Polish Rosa Luxemburg) were moved in their action by a deep hate for God. Catholic women need to have at the centre of their life a deep love for God: both the contemplative life and active apostolate start from this. And love is increased by prayer. The more we love God, the more we hate evil. The more we love God, the more we would like to spread His Kingship over souls, over society.
It should be added, that our prayer must, above all, appeal to the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin. If I had to list all the reasons for which we must ask for Her intercession, we should need another conference. I limit myself to the suggestion that you read the works of St Louis Grignion de Montfort to understand better why we owe everything to Her. I limit myself today to giving two reasons:
a) Our Lady is the model of every Christian woman, married, virgin, active, contemplative: in Her everything was accomplished to perfection and therefore she remains the example to be imitated in the certainty that the more we imitate Her, the more we will be pleasing to God;
b) Our Lady appeared in the last century in Fatima to leave us a very strong and dramatic message. You are all well aware of it, but I would like to remind you what Our Lady said: “God wants to establish devotion to my Immaculate Heart in the world.” How can we think of not having recourse to Her, to Her Immaculate Heart, if it is God himself who asked us to do so?
2) Study. To defend the Church, women must carry out a doctrinal apostolate that can be considered a true spiritual motherhood of the utmost importance. To do this you need to prepare yourselves with study, knowing well and intensely the reasons for our faith in order to guard oneself against the mistakes and dangers of the world and help others do the same. Today, the very foundations of Catholic religious instruction have been lost. It is from there that we must start again, studying the Catechism and spreading it. However, one can not limit oneself to studying the great truths of the Church, it is necessary to know also what are the main errors that oppose these truths. The Church is experiencing an unprecedented crisis in its history: we need to understand its deep, doctrinal and moral causes if we want our remedies to be effective.
3) Action. Finally, for those who do not have a purely contemplative vocation, action is necessary: action that we must exercise for the good of our neighbour and society. This is a task for every woman today that naturally needs to relate to personal gifts and talents. None of us today is exempt from having to defend the Good, the True and the Beautiful in a society imbued with selfishness and the pursuit of personal interest; in a world in which the only professed philosophy of life is relativism according to which there are no absolute truths; in a society in which hedonistic culture reigns, according to which the only possible form of happiness is the satisfaction of one’s own pleasure and instincts.
We must aspire, we must desire with all our strength to be a legion of Catholic women behind the banner of Christ the King who are committed to rebuilding society from its foundation, defending the social sovereignty of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
You might recall the famous text of St Theresa of the Infant Jesus:
“To be Thy Spouse, O my Jesus, to be a daughter of Carmel, and by my union with Thee to be the mother of souls, should not all this content me? And yet other vocations make themselves felt — I feel called to the Priesthood and to the Apostolate — I would be a Martyr, a Doctor of the Church. I should like to accomplish the most heroic deeds — the spirit of the Crusader burns within me, and I long to die on the field of battle in defence of Holy Church.”
The mission of women, once restricted to the hearth and to charitable and educational works, although still necessary today, also extends, given the new needs, to very important political and social action.
We certainly must not think that this is normal, but today we do not live in normal times and therefore if in a deeply Christian society women would resume their role within families and monasteries, today this is not the case. Following the example of so many saints, we must be ready to embrace different vocations and missions but have as their sole end to give greater glory to God, to defend the Church and Christian civilisation.
b) Purity and fortitude
We must rediscover the mainly feminine virtues of purity, of the spirit of sacrifice, of self-denial, of patience, of sweetness. Purity is not weakness or inexperience but a force that derives from the love of God, from the faith of His presence in us and from Christian pride (we have to be proud of being Catholic).
But we must not forget the very important virtue of fortitude. Today also the virtue of fortitude is necessary, especially for women, to respond to the demands of our faith. Furthermore, it is impossible to preserve purity without self-control and a continuous struggle against the world, against the spirit of evil and against passions. This struggle is the seal of the true Christian and demands from the woman and from the young strength and courage, often to the degree of heroism, like that of the martyrs; it requires a spirit of penance and sacrifice, the fruit of living faith and the condition of self-control. St Teresa of Avila recommended to her nuns: “In courage, you should not be women but strong men … indeed to put fear into the same men.”
Pius XII, in a speech to Catholic women, recalled that what is most asked of women today is purity and fortitude. Purity was the first virtue of Our Lady, he affirms and then recalls the example of St Agnes, quoting St Maximus:
“She looks in the face of those who flatter her, and rejects them; who threaten her, and despises them … She loves her purity so much that neither derisions, nor flames, nor torments, nor her executioners frighten her. (S. Maximi Taurin, Sermo 56 In natali S. Agnetis, Migne, PL 57, 644) (…)
“Fortitude and purity, this is what we ask for, as the two most precious ornaments of the heart, for you to the Immaculate Virgin and the martyr Agnes.”
Every woman always has a choice before her: to be Eve or Mary.
I hope that today we leave here being more convinced that we must choose Mary as our model and our safe haven. Convinced that we must fight with love and determination for the cause of God, following the example of many women who have preceded us and whose hidden virtues are only known in Paradise. Convinced that everything could depend on each one of us, knowing well that God does not need anyone, and therefore serve Him in that spirit of profound humility and abandonment to the Divine Providence.
I would like to leave you with an example of a courageous and pure woman, chosen by God for a role that she herself did not understand and initially was certain to refuse because she did not feel equal to it: Joan of Arc.
St Joan8 is the model of the virgin warrior in whom two virtues, chastity and heroism, are marvellously conjoined. A virgin – writes Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira – to such an extent that she can assume the warrior function of man, fully retaining her femininity.9
“The complete ideal warrior of the Middle Ages as St Joan of Arc shows the possibility of a new way of holiness for the woman, which is the sanctity that conforms par excellence to the praise that the Gospel addresses to the strong woman.”10
In the bull with which Benedict XV proclaimed her saint, he wrote:
“Joan always had the habit of often receiving the divine sacraments, observing the prescribed fasts, always attending church, participating every day in the sacrosanct sacrifice of the Mass, reciting fervent prayers in front of the images of Jesus hanging from the cross and the Blessed Virgin. The days of celebration, while the other girls took rest and gave themselves to the dances, she went to church, bringing candles, which she offered to the most holy Virgin and, by singular devotion to her, she would undertake pilgrimages to the solitary church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Bermont. She was also transported by such a great love towards God and to the worship due to Him, that in the evening, even when she was in the country, as soon as she heard the church bell, bent her knees, she raised her mind to God. She distinguished herself by charity towards her neighbour. In fact, she refreshed the sick and willingly gave alms, housed the poor, to whom she willingly gave up her bed, sleeping herself on the ground. God filled these wonderful virtues with glory and honour in a girl of about 12 years, and she began to reveal his intentions.”11
Each of us must appreciate this example: the search for pleasure in God in small things, in small daily duties, in acts of charity towards one’s neighbour. But always ready to be docile instruments in the hands of God, as was St Joan of Arc
“who, in order to carry out divine orders, abandoned her family, left her female occupations, braced her arms and led the soldiers to the battle: not fearing death threats or the unjust sentence, which condemned her to be burned. Knowing that she was innocent, and not a heretic, witch, apostate and recidivist, surrounded by flames, offered prayers and supplications and repeated that she had done everything by God’s will, until, finding strength in seeing the cross, she gave up her spirit.”12
Here too we must be ready, not so much to suffer the stake, as having to suffer scorn, contempt, misunderstanding, and false accusations. Men’s misunderstanding does not matter when we know that we are doing God’s will, no sacrifice is too great when offered for the glory of God: this must be our compass and only this can give us the true and profound joy in this life and eternal happiness in Paradise, which is the ultimate goal for each one of us.
1. Cited in R. Pernoud, Rizzoli, Milano 1986, p. 62.
2. Cf. The Letters to Lenin from Inessa Armand and Aleksandra Kollontai from March 1917 in V. I. Lenin, Opere complete, vol. 35, Editori Runiti, Roma 1952, pp. 210-212.
3. Cf. Giovanni Codevilla, Dalla Rivoluzione bolscevica alla Federazione Russa, Franco Angeli, Rome 1996.
4. Leon Trotzkij, Problems of everyday life, Monad Press, New York 1986, p. 37.
6. Fiorenza Taricone, Dal privato al politico: il salotto della contessa Spalletti Rasponi (From the Private to the Politician: the Parlor of Countess Spalletti Rasponi)(1903-1931), an article.
7. CCC 2522, 2523, 2526.
8. St Joan of Arc (1412-1431), the peasant of Domrémy was favoured by heavenly voices who encouraged her to help the French King Charles VII in his work of liberation of France from the English. Arrested by the English she was tried for witchcraft and was burnt at the stake on 30 May, 1431. She was declared blessed by Pius X, 18 April 1909 and proclaimed a saint by Benedict XV on 10 July 1920. The conclusion of the epoch of St Joan of Arc can be known thanks two sources of exceptional historical value: the two processes that concern it. The first contains the transcription of Joan’s long and numerous interrogations during the last months of her life (February-May 1431). The second contains the depositions of about 120 eyewitnesses throughout her life. This process, which opened under the authority of Pope Callistus III, ended with a solemn sentence that declared no condemnation (7 July 1456; pp. 604-610) (cf. Procès de Condamnation de Jeanne d’Arc, 3 vols and Procès en Nullité de la Condamnation de Jeanne d’Arc, Klincksieck, Paris l960-1989, 5 vols).
9. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, A Cavalaria, pp. 99-100.
10. CSN, 14 September 1991.
11. Benedict XV, Divine Bull, on 16 May 1920.