On His Feast Day: St. John Paul II’s Thanks to Amy Coney Barrett

In his “Letter to Women,” St. John Paul touched on all of her important roles

(photo: Office of Senator Tom Cotton)

It appears a done deal: Amy Coney Barrett, faithful Catholic and Supreme Court nominee, will be confirmed to the Supreme Court before election day. The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote at 1:00 p.m. Thursday; and just a few days later, the Republican-majority Senate will vote to approve the nomination. Even liberal Democrats acknowledge that there is little to stop her from assuming a seat on the Supreme Court. As Democratic Sen. Cory Booker admitted, “The goose is pretty much cooked.” Judge Barrett will become Justice Barrett, taking her seat on the Supreme Court just days before the general election.

The date of the Judiciary Committee vote is significant. For one thing, because Judge Barrett's advancement toward a seat on the Supreme Court will take place on the feast day of a saint she admired — St. John Paul II. 

Pope John Paul II, whose feast day we celebrate on Oct. 22, released his “Letter to Women” in June 1995, three months before the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. In that letter, the Holy Father spoke to Amy Coney Barrett in all of her roles: as a busy professional, but also as wife and mother, and as a member of a wider family who love her, and whom she loves. That the Pope should attach equal significance to each of these roles of women is noteworthy, and is in stark opposition to the view of many contemporary feminists, who see women's responsibilities to their families as holding them back from what feminists perceive as really important: the world of work. G.K. Chesterton unmasked that error when he wrote, “Feminism is a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers, but slaves when they help their husbands.”

In his “Letter to Women,” St. John Paul acknowledged the importance of women's contributions in the workplace. “Thank you, women who work!” he wrote.

You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery,” to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

But even before that, the Holy Father acknowledged the great gift of women's love within their families, to their children and their husbands. 

Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.
Thank you, women who are wives! You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.
Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.

That great self-giving — which emanates from the love of a mother and a wife and a daughter and a sister and of a woman in consecrated life — gives woman great dignity. That love, which compels women to seek what is good for those who hold a place in their hearts, also better equips them to seek the greater good in the workplace. 

Recognizing women’s unique value in God’s creation, the Pope wrote of the “feminine genius.” He called on society to recognize the genius not only of great and famous women of the past or present, whose workplace contributions can be easily tallied, but also of those “ordinary” women who reveal the gift of womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. Women's dignity is evidenced in their service — in large ways and small.

During the hearings, Senator John Kennedy, bemused by the thought of Coney Barrett’s large family and their busy home life, asked who did the laundry in their home. Barrett’s response pointed to two critical roles of a mother: She teaches children to accept responsibility; and sometimes, she just does the work herself. “We increasingly have been trying,” she said, “to get our children to take responsibility for their own, but those efforts are not always successful.” 

“Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood,” wrote St. John Paul, “you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” He explained that women, in giving themselves to others each day, fulfill their deepest vocation. It is not money or fame which makes a woman great, but rather, her generosity of spirit and her ability to truly see the person before her, and to welcome that person with the love of Christ. “Perhaps more than men,” Pope John Paul wrote,

...women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty — not merely physical, but above all spiritual — which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women.

It is that independence from ideology, that beauty bestowed by the Creator, that Judge Barrett has promised to bring to her service as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. May God, in his abundant goodness, bless her and the entire Barrett family, and may the Holy Spirit guide her as she seeks to impose equal justice under the law.