The Church Needs Women (To Be Women)
His stomach once hungry, she offered Him her milk. His diaper soiled, she wiped Him clean. A scraped knee, nightmare, or hurt feeling, her kiss made it all better. Through each small act of love, Mary raised the Son of God.
His stomach again hungry, one prepared Him a meal. His heart longing to share Good News, one sat and listened. His body weary from travel, preaching, and healing, they offered him a beautiful home for rest, relationship, and rejuvenation. Through each act of friendship, Martha and Mary consoled the human heart of the Savior.
His shoulders straining beneath the weight of the wood, she bravely pushed her way toward Him. His brow dripping with sweat and blood, she wiped His face clean. Because of Veronica’s courage, Jesus’ human eyes could see clearly for a few more steps on His road to Calvary.
His heart had been pierced and her heart was broken. His body lie dead and she came to anoint Him. He spoke, she believed. Mary Magdalene ran to proclaim the Good News to the apostles, the first priests and bishops of the Church, “He
Throughout Jesus’ earthly life, the women were near. In raising Him, sustaining Him, bravely standing by Him and believing in Him, women cared for the human, incarnate body of Christ. In our current day, as the abuse crisis and cover-up scandal ravage the Church, I’ve heard the suggestion that it’s time for women to be given more power in the hierarchy. I contest instead that it’s time for women to renew our understanding of our uniquely feminine role. The authentic call of a Catholic woman is more vital than culture’s understanding of power. Our role is essential to the healing and flourishing of the Catholic Church. Like the women of the Bible, we are called to raise up, befriend, bravely stand up for, and spread the Good News to the Body of Christ on earth – our Catholic Church.
Like Mary, women raise up the Body of Christ. Of course, on a natural level, women do this by birthing, baptizing, and teaching little Christian children of their own. But the formation of souls certainly doesn’t stop at a biological level. It extends to the wider Church. The majority of teachers in our Catholic schools and religious education programs are women. How pivotal is that role? As educators in the faith and witnesses to faith lived well, women literally form the Church of the future. A woman doesn’t even need to work directly with children to form souls. Any edifying conversation or attempt at apologetics and evangelization with a friend, coworker, fellow student, peer, in-law, sibling, teacher, etc. serves to raise up the souls of others.
Like Martha and Mary, women infuse beauty and foster relationship within the life of Christ. Truth, goodness, and beauty are essential to the mission of evangelization. Bishop Barron suggests that we start with beauty when evangelizing the culture. Women are naturally attuned to beauty and instinctually understand the necessity of making evangelization efforts attractive. Women like Sarah Yaklic of Grotto Network and the editors of Verily Magazine are pioneers in the use of new media and perpetuating beauty. Once attracted by beauty, a soul can seek the goodness and truth found in relationship with Christ.
Similarly, women are naturally inclined to value and cultivate relationships. People often leave the Church because they don’t feel welcome or acknowledged when they are there. Bishop Barron notes, “Enrollment means helping another person feel comfortable enough to take a metaphorical walk with us. It’s letting them know that they are seen and heard.” Women are often naturally good at that. We tend to offer a welcoming hello and genuine “How are you” to everyone who walks into the parish for Sunday Mass and remember details about their lives. This “accompaniment evangelization” (#Catholicbuzzword) is a characteristic of the feminine genius, making her essential to the evangelization of culture.
Martha and Mary opened their home to Christ for good food and easy friendship. Today’s women can similarly foster friendships with good priests. Every priest I know is just as angry, ashamed, horrified, and confused about the scandals as I am. We can love and support these leaders of Christ’s Body by opening our homes with a tasty meal and opening our hearts for authentic friendship. While a priest’s spiritual life is anchored by prayer, his humanity can be sustained by true friendship extended by us and our families.
Like Veronica, women courageously offer healing to the wounded Body of Christ. There’s no doubt that our Church is wounded right now. It is women who are boldly pushing through the fray and begging for transparency as the road to healing. 46,495 Catholic women signed a letter to Pope Francis asking him to disclose scandalous information and approve a full investigation into cover-ups of abuse. Alison Oertle, Catholic wife and mother, wrote a passionate letter to Pope Francis, All Bishops, Priests and Deacons of the Catholic Church begging “Those who have the authority to do so must do what needs to be done and expel every evil from our midst.” She does not mince words but, like St. Catherine of Sienna, courageously calls the ordained to swift action. Kendra Tierney of Catholic All Year launched a Sackcloth and Ashes campaign, calling Catholic faithful to acts of reparation for the sins of abuse. These women are bold. These women are cutting through the bureaucracy and confusion. These women are demanding justice for victims, thorough cleaning of a deep wound, and true healing for the Body of Christ.
Like Mary Magdalene, women recognize Christ and proclaim Him to others while being faithful to their earthly duties. Go to any daily Mass, rosary group, parish faith formation meeting and you will find that the crowd is predominantly female. I believe that this is because women more easily than men recognize their need for God and dependence on Him. Far from being a sign of weakness, this is a sign of women’s true strength, for as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” The power of Christ can live and act through the soul that recognizes its own weakness to rely fully on His strength.
What was Mary Magdalene doing that Resurrection Sunday? She was going about her duty. She couldn’t bring Jesus back from the dead, but she offered what little she could: the anointing of His sacred body. This faithfulness to her little duty gave her the privilege of being the first witness of the Risen Christ. By being faithful to our particular Vocations day after day today’s women can experience that same privilege. Then like Mary Magdalene, we will trust that Jesus lives and proclaim Him to others; starting with the priests and bishops of the Church!
So the power of the female Catholic is nothing new. It is as old as the women of the Bible. But I fear it is often untapped. If we Catholic women concentrate our efforts on ascertaining more “power” from within the hierarchy, we may be attempting to bring about change, but are not doing it with the full strength of our femininity. Women are not made stronger by attempting to be more like men. In his Letter to Women, Pope St. John Paul II notes that women “humanize and sensitize.” We are needed right now to humanize and sensitize a dehumanized and desensitized culture and Church culture that allow for sexual promiscuity, abuse, and scandal. To bring about lasting and effective progress and change, we must operate with all our feminine strength to raise, befriend, beautify, heal, and proclaim the visible Body of Christ – our holy, hurting Catholic Church.