Week One: Women and their Relationship to the Church
“How It Feels to be Catholic Me” by Julie Robison
“Grandmother Kaleidoscope” by Elizabeth Hillgrove
We three are writing a Lenten blog post series from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!
A Relation of Love
It was recently said to me that if you believe something 100%, you cannot argue or defend it well. You are so steeped into belief that the points have a “Duh! Obviously!” quality to them, thus making them hard to explain to others. This is my problem as I look at the relationship of women and the Church. “Are women disrespected by the Church?” some ask. I don’t think so. “Are women important in the Church?” Duh, yes! Women are important in the Church because women are important to Christ. The radical love Christ shows for the women in the Gospels continues today through the Church he instituted.
Jesus’ first miracle is performed at the prompting of his mother. He respects her and her motherly prodding. As we’re told while dating, look at how a man treats his mother, since it’s indicative of how he will treat you! What a good omen for us women!
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus often scandalizes both his detractors and his followers with his willingness to engage women, with the tender love and mercy he showers upon them, and with the personal attention and respect he exhibits towards them.
When Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, becomes ill and dies, we read of Christ’s love for the women in his life. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister…he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to back there?” (John 11: 1 -8) Jesus’ love for this family, for these two women and their deceased brother, is so strong that he disregards danger to his person in order to see them, comfort them, and raise Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus continually astounds those around him with his love. The bleeding woman, the Samaritan woman at the well, the Gentile woman, the one who anoints Christ’s feet with expensive perfume – they have deeply personal encounters, which defy the cultural norms of that time, with him. And it is the women who truly understand him. “Yes, Lord…I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world,” proclaims Martha (John 11). It is the women who weep for him along the Via Dolorosa. It is the women who sit at the foot of the cross (the only Apostle who bothers to show up is John). To top it all off, it is to a woman that Christ first appears after the Resurrection!
Jesus didn’t let cultural norms bar him from respecting women and giving them the chance to know him and share the news of the Messiah; throughout the centuries, the Church hasn’t either. If it had, would the Church celebrate the lives of so many women? The Blessed Mother, St. Agnes, St. Catherine, St. Joan of Arc, St. Therese of Liseux, St. Faustina, Bl. Kateri Tekawitha, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa – like the women in the Gospels, these faithful women and countless others across the centuries have known Christ’s love, served the Church, and spread the faith.
In 1988, Pope John Paul II published Mulieris Dignitatem, the Apostolic Letter on the dignity and vocation of women. Meditate upon these beautiful closing remarks and be strengthened in belief that Christ’s radical love is professed today by the Church he founded:
“… the Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the “mystery of woman” and for every woman – for that which constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the “great works of God”, which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her. After all, was it not in and through her that the greatest event in human history – the incarnation of God himself – was accomplished?
Therefore the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for “perfect” women and for “weak” women – for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love; as, together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal “homeland” of all people and is transformed sometimes into a “valley of tears”; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity according to daily necessities and according to that definitive destiny which the human family has in God himself, in the bosom of the ineffable Trinity.” (31)