Saturday, May 11, 2013
Edith Stein, also known as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was a Jewish convert to Catholicism; she was a philosopher and nun; she died in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany in 1942, and was canonized a saint in 1998. Edith Stein once said of Original Sin that it was a very deliberate act of the devil to targeted Eve (and not Adam) to create the first doubt in God, which would lead to Original Sin and all the sin and evil that followed. Edith Stein, I think correctly, thought that the devil had the foresight and even the cunning to know the true power and influence women would have over humanity – both men and other women – and that the devil hoped that such feminine power and influence would help the devil in his battle with God. While the devil was correct in knowing the power and influence women would have; the devil was so wrong that feminine power and influence would align with him and defeat God. And we can thank the countless mothers and spiritual mothers for their teaching and prayers. This story sets up well the third in my series of homilies during this Year of Faith on the Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church. Following Dr. Christopher Kazcor’s book of the same title, the third big myth is that “the Church hates women” - or at least holds them as second-class citizens. It is an unplanned yet nice coincidence that I tackle this myth on Mother’s Day weekend, during the month of May, which the Church holds as a month in special devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and on the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord. The short response to this myth is that the Church does not hate women or consider them second-class citizens, but in fact the Church loves and honors women. To this point, Dr. Kazcor responds that the Catholic Church has done more than any other institution in the world and throughout history to promote the well-being of women in providing food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education. Dr. Kazcor further argues that the time, resources, and money expended by the Catholic Church as an institution to improve the well-being of women is impossible to reconcile with the belief that the Church is “anti-woman.” The great dignity of women that Church holds is found clearly in the life and teachings of the Church’s founder, Jesus Christ. Like no one else before him, Jesus affirmed the value of women, bestowed his friendship on them, and protected them. Women were among his followers, and Jesus highly valued their faith. Moreover, the first witness to the Resurrection was a woman. We can also look to what Jesus taught to understand the value and worth that he saw in women. We see this specifically in Christ’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage and the prohibition against divorce. Jesus’ teaching protected women, who especially in the ancient world, were typically put at tremendous economic and social disadvantage in cases of divorce. Furthering this teaching, the Church today upholds the dignity of women by promoting the sanctity of marriage and championing the idea that women are free to marry or not, and if called to married life they must enter into marriage freely and with full consent. Some who hear this may be quick counter by pointing to the “subordination” passages in the Scripture – you the know the ones that always trigger the elbow in the side and chuckles when read. The most popular is Ephesians Chapter 5: “let wives be subject in everything to their husbands.” Much could be said of this passage, but let me just point out two things. First, when we read anything in Scripture, we can’t just pick and chose words or passages, but we must read and understand them in their entirety – and when we do this, we read that the call to be subordinate to your spouse is placed on BOTH husband and wife. And, second, St. Paul is using this passage to call married Christians to a strong mutual love and respect for each other, which is just the opposite of making women inferior to and objects of domination by their husbands. As Dr. Kazcor points out, the reservation of priestly ordination to men is perhaps the sorest spot among critics of the Catholic Church’s treatment of women. Many people understandably believe that this teaching of the Church holds women less holy, less intellectually capable, less pastorally sensitive, or less capable of leadership than men. This is false on two counts: first, the Church does not teach this, and second it is false that woman are less smart, caring, or capable of leading than men. However, the Church is bound by the fact that Jesus – in a completely free and sovereign manner, consistent with God’s eternal plan, and after having spent the night in prayer – chose men exclusively at the Last Supper for the institution of the priesthood. In the male priest, we see the man Jesus, who is called to a life of service, love and sacrifice – not domination, power or exultation. The fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, was not called to the priesthood clearly shows that a male-only priesthood does not mean that women are of a lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Just as Christ’s selection of only men to be his apostles did not exhibit or imply in any way the inferiority of women or superiority of men, so too the continuation of this particular apostolic ministry by men does not manifest the belief that women as inferior. Unfortunately, as Dr. Kazcor notes, the Church and its members have not always followed Christ and his teachings as closely as they should with respect to the treatment of women. Blessed John Paul II acknowledged as much when he confessed that many members of the Church, including some in the hierarchy, have acted – and sometimes still act – in ways that fail to express the equality of man and woman. But, such shortcomings do not reflect what the Church and its members are called to be! In God’s sight, men and women share a common dignity that comes from being created by God, in his image and likeness, and made good. Men and women also share a common goal: eternal happiness. It is Christ who leads and proceeds us by His Ascent into Heaven in achieving this goal. This is the joy we celebrate today with the Ascension our Lord – who as we read in the second reading: “seats at the right hand of our Father in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.” In today’s first reading and Gospel, we read from two different books the same story by the same author. It is a story worth repeating because the Ascension matters to us. Our Lord now sits at the right-hand of the Father and constantly intercedes for us before the Father. Our Lord’s Ascension also matters because it reminds us that our human bodies are significant and important. Jesus rose from the dead body and soul; and he ascended to Heaven body and soul. However equal we are in the eyes of God, we were also created as man and woman – not gender-neutral robots, but as uniquely man and woman - – biologically, emotionally, and spiritually – each gender is different but with complimentary roles and gifts in our vocation of love and service. It is through this lens, that we begin to see the full and true dignity of women. And this is what I suspect Edith Stein was referring to when she spoke of the power and influence of women that the devil so coveted in the garden of Eden. In our shared vocation to love and serve, women truly have a unique capacity and ability. Some refer to this as the feminine genius - this receptivity (among other qualities) - to love and for life. We see this most profoundly in a woman’s capacity and ability to love and receive new life as a mother – a total self-sacrifice and self-donation for the life growing inside of her. And especially in her ability to then endure the pain of pregnancy and labor to bring new this life and joy into the world. It is this same capacity and ability to love and serve that makes women great wives, teachers & principals, nurses & doctors, lawyers & judges, police officers & lawmakers; secretaries & CEOs; and saints & doctors of the Church. I honor and thank the women in my life – my wife, my mom, my sister – who have so wonderfully exercised their God given capacity to love and serve. I know that I have not always been so respectful or grateful. My prayer for them and every woman is that, filled with the Holy Spirit promised to each of us in today’s readings, they may know always their dignity and value as a woman and the unique joy of God’s plan for them. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 10:17 AM