When I was leading a theological discussion group in an earlier parish where I was Pastor, the topic came up about the role of women in the Church. The group was composed of mainly women. I wanted the group to realize that gender issues were just beginning and that only a very short time ago, it would not even be brought up. I looked around the circle and said something like, “You know it is within this very century that during elections I could go and vote but all the women here could not.” This statement stunned the group. In the last article, I spoke about the big thing afoot that we call globalization, something so big that we could miss it. I think the same is true in the worldwide movement to redefine the ‘place’ of women. I put the word place in quotes because it seems very odd to talk about half the human race this way. Who does the placing? The other half?
However, one cannot argue with the historical fact that, in previous centuries, women had a very limited sphere of development. Their role of wife and mother seemed to supersede everything. This is still true in many of the cultures of our world. Embedded in the major religions like Judaism, Islam and Christianity were always the seeds of development. In Christianity, the role of chastity and celibacy provided a safe and honorable alternative for women. Take the great cult of the Virgin Martyrs: refusing to submit to the role of wife and mother chosen for them by their families, they stood firm in the realization of their own dignity as daughters of God. The Church affirmed this realization in saying by this that a woman did not have to be a wife and mother in order to be a full human person.
In the modern world, however, the logical consequences of the teaching of St. Paul finally flowered: in Christ, there is no male or female! It has taken a great deal of human maturation to arrive at this radical equality. We are witnesses of this saving act of God happening in our midst.
Guided by God’s hidden wisdom, the Church has dogmatically prepared for this great historical moment of grace by elevating the woman of faith par excellence: Mary, the Mother of God. It must be seen in this context that the two major dogmatic pronouncements of the modern Church have to do with a woman: the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and that of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Both promulgations are meant, at least partially, to buttress the emergence of the genius of the feminine on the world stage.
It is the world, under the constant tutelage of the evil one, which has tried to mar the magnificence of women by instilling the politics of resentment over the Church’s understanding of the Priesthood as reflective of the historical personage of Jesus. Equally and most tragically, the world has convinced itself that essential to this modern concept of full freedom, it is necessary to affirm sanctity of choice over the sanctity of life: i.e. the denigration of the life giving power of women into the vice of terminating life in the womb.
In addition, it is sad that the beauty and life giving essence of the feminine is connected in the popular imagination with a restive concern with the leveling of true gender difference under the heading of undifferentiated equality. Women are different from men by divine edict and ‘Vive la difference’! Because of her special role in the history of salvation, Mary embodies the uniqueness of being a woman and the giftedness of her particular approach to both the human and the divine, especially as dwelling within the sanctuary of her womb that makes holy the protective and life giving nature of that relationship. Seen in this light, we can see the horrendous way that abortion violates the feminine by imposing a traditional (though not natural) ‘masculine’ solution to an unwanted pregnancy. This attack on the fetus in the holy sanctuary of the womb is the most direct violation of being a woman imaginable.
Seeing a more positive historical development to the emergence of freedom in the modern woman is therefore essential to balance the negative modern bias. Women are excelling in every field of endeavor. Professions that seemed completely closed to them now have been enriched by the feminine gift. This new and expanded understanding of the gift of the feminine is spreading throughout the world in every culture and in every religion. The imposed limitations on women in different areas of the world seem more and more bizarre and unwarranted. The human consciousness, worldwide, is changing.
In this quest for full actualization of a woman’s potential, there cannot be a false equality that seeks to make a woman in the image of a man. Too many modern films go out of their way in portraying women in violent, gun soaked imagery. This is a basic denial of the feminine genius, which is thankfully critical of the solutions of the male gender to world politics. Women must be allowed to express their own special understanding of life so that we are truly enriched by them and so that, conversely, we do not impoverish the specialness of women under the banner of a false equality.