Vatican City -- "Ever ancient, ever new": It's hard not to think of St. Augustine's paean to the lord when you're walking past a synod of bishops, on the way up to meet the pope in Rome, as I was one recent morning.
I was in Rome to receive, as a representative of the United States and "women of the world," a message first delivered by Pope Paul VI at the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
"Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender and accessible; make it your task to bring the spirit of this council into institutions, schools, homes and daily life," the message concludes, after a celebration of women in all states of life. "Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world."
No small task! But can anyone deny our culture is in dire need of just such a thing? Women and men need to work together without the hostility all too often inherent in our conversations about life, liberty and happiness.
It's a notion we've gotten so far away from that we've reached the point where the federal government has by regulatory diktat declared fertility to be a disease, a source of oppression for women, one that must be suppressed if women's freedom is to be achieved. That's exactly why we find ourselves confronted by the Department of Health and Human Services' abortion, sterilization and contraception mandate that has Americans -- Protestants and Catholics together -- suing for their religious liberties.
It's a situation that the women of Verily, a new Catholic magazine, are helping to make better. A few fashionable young women came up with the concept for the magazine over brunch in New York. Verily intends to bring a positive, integrated message about being authentically feminine in the 21st century.
"It's no secret that the old rules and roles between men and women in relationships have largely gone by the wayside in today's culture," the gals tell me in a collaborative statement, via email. "There can be advantages to this, and yet, without any social 'scripts' or guideposts, many young adults -- men and women alike --tend to find themselves without a clear sense of how to navigate relationships.
"Advice such as 'Just do what feels right' may not be the compass we need to chart our relationship course. There are many reasons that could account for this -- many of the social revolutions and cultural shifts in the past decades brought us to our current situation. Still, we cannot go back in time, but must live in the present. So, we are trying to pull from the best lessons handed down to us --tried and true advice we've gleaned from our friends, parents, social scientists and scholars ... By doing this, we hope to truly thrive and have the best relationships -- friendships, families, romance -- possible!"
"By building up strong, savvy women of integrity," they contend, "We will help promote healthier, happier communities and stronger friendships and relationships between men and women."
With more women like these trying to help us better understand what true freedom and liberation is -- not a battle of the sexes or a conflict of rights between a mother and child -- any of the resonance of the "war on women" rhetoric thrown at Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney for simply daring to defend the dignity of human life and religious liberty starts to crumble.
As was first stated in 1965: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why at this moment when the human race is undergoing such a deep transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling." When we start to look at one another, and ourselves, with a deep respect for who we are and why, there is liberation to be found.
It's easy to buy into hurtful untruths about men and women and how they relate to one another. It's easy to fail to properly treasure the gift of procreation and life. And it's all too easy to suppose that the editors and readers of Verily don't have a friend in Rome. But there's no war; they're not enemies. Together, they're making progress.