By Suzanne Shaffer.
When a woman is in her forties, single but not completely happy with that fact, she may find herself wondering what she is called to be. Despite enjoying a good career, numerous volunteer activities and the loving support of family and friends, she meets fear and loneliness, even bitterness, on a regular basis. A haunting feeling of wasting life envelops her. It was that way with me. I was restless.
“Come join us! We’re going to discuss the pope’s theology of the body,” urged my friend. I did not understand the topic. But I was curious, so I went. That Saturday morning a small group of women gathered around a table. In front of us was a tiny hardback book entitled Original Unity of Man and Woman. It was the catechesis on the book of Genesis by then Pope John Paul II, based on the Wednesday talks he gave in 1979 and 1980. We began slowly to unwrap his thoughts. Despite my inexperience with the subject, I was drawn deeply into the ingenious and loving plan of our Creator for human sexuality – our masculinity and femininity. Terms such as Original Solitude, Image of God and Nuptial Meaning of the Body cut through to my core. I was called in my femininity to give myself to others as an Original Gift. I had purpose. I was unique, precious, totally loved in my womanhood, and destined for fulfillment with others in the Communion of Persons. It seemed that scales fell from my eyes. It made incredible sense. We were to continue our study in ensuing weeks.
He wants me exactly as I am and invites me to reach out to others as I am
I drove home as if on wings. Any burden of my single state was lifted. The realization that my worth – my femininity -- is not predicated on being married or single or a consecrated religious stunned and exhilarated me. God has created me in His image out of His incredible love for me. He wants me exactly as I am and invites me to reach out to others as I am. His plan puts me smack in the middle of creation as a woman of faith with the capacity to embrace all whom I meet. There is no emptiness here. There is no wasting life here. As Pope Benedict XVI would later write, “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.” We are vital to His plan in our gift of sexuality.
In the years that followed, this realization grew. Appreciation for St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body grew as well. Imago Dei, Inc., was founded to spread this beautiful reality, lighting fires in the hearts of men and women who formed study groups across the nation and worldwide. These are persons who, like me, were hungry for the truth and are now transformed in body and soul because of finding it. What a gift! What a life! What a gracious Creator!
I haven’t looked back since.
Suzanne Shaffer is a co-founder and now Chairman of Imago Dei, Inc. A native Washingtonian, she has devoted over 50 years to religious education as catechist and director, is active in church and community organizations and is retired from careers with Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Archdiocese of Washington and The American Spectator, among others.