The Grace and Role of Women in the Church's Mission!
Founder’s Word – July 9, 2019
By Deacon Georges Bonneval
It is undeniable that women have a very particular role in the history of the Church's mission. To begin, we emphasize how Christ gave women the honor and beauty of their dignity. I hope by the end of this meditation we have the desire to chant the Magnificat in thanksgiving for the female being!
In order to understand the revolution brought by Christianity, it is necessary to search for other attitudes practiced in relation to women of the same period; they had no public life, remained in the home, did not go out often, and had little impact on social life, to name a few. An eloquent example which the Gospels reveal in the episode of the multiplication of the loaves:
“Those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Mt 14:20)
Christ brought an unusual revolution to the feminine condition of his time
In the past, and still today, in some cultures and mentalities, doesn't the view of women remain in the Old Testament? Certain stereotypes of scorn are still hidden behind glances and comments. These occur especially when the woman is being used or manipulated, whether in her body, femininity, sexuality, or fragility.
It is necessary to acknowledge that women, in the life of Christ, were a model of benevolence. His real enemies were men, especially the order of the Pharisees, which was constituted only of men. Only Herodias, the lover of Herod, their daughter (Mt 14: 3-12), and the servant whom Peter addresses (Mt 26:69) are exceptions. Why then, should we give in to this tendency of suspicion and distrust of women?
France Quéré, a Protestant theologian, humorously declares: "About Eve, instigator of sin, are long speeches. About the man who killed Jesus, no words ... To kill God, is even worse than stealing his apples!" (France Quéré, The Women of the Gospel).
A derogatory view of the mystery of women has continued throughout history and spread from generation to generation. Let us recognize that there is a deep separation and insecurity in women precisely because they no longer know who they are. We provide her with a false image of herself, and due to this her temptation is to seek out of her own self her identity, femininity, and dignity. Women can only truly be themselves in their personality and vocation, when they live the richness of their grace, beauty, and gifts. This does not come from borrowed masculinity or revolting against and escaping male domination.
Man, in turn, cannot fully discover his personality and vocation, if he does not recognize woman face to face, as someone other than him and his masculinity. She can help reveal and complete him according to the plan of God, who presents him to the woman, not as a rival or a threat, but as "a helper as his partner."(Gen 2:18).
Our society is full of oppositions and divisions, and the one that has the most consequence, is not the opposition between man and woman?
"In the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God." (1 Cor 11:11-12)
The woman, the vocational dynamics of gift and humility
In Scripture, as well as in life, there is a mystery of election about women: is not she the "first"? First as a victim, but also, first as a witness; first as a sacrifice, but also, first in the offering of the heart. In conflicts, she is often the first to be inclined to reconciliation. By her natural predisposition to the gift of herself, woman is called to be an unceasing reminder of God’s love.
“Woman can only hand herself by giving love to others.” (St. Jonh Paul II, MulierisDignitatem, no. 30)
In this sense, the Virgin Mary remains for all times the model and icon of the most perfect fulfillment of every vocation. In this, we therefore understand the Catechism (n. 773): “The ‘Marian’ dimension of the Church precedes the ‘Petrine’”.
In the Jewish tradition, the only liturgical act that is asked for a woman is to light the Shabbat lamps during the celebration of the family liturgy. It is she who brings light when the darkness of night falls. We always hope that women are those lamps that light up the night of the world and help us find courage in the night. (The Priesthood of the Heart: Woman’s Unique Vocation, Ed. Beatitudes, p. 173)
“Like the sun rising in the heights of the Lord, so is the beauty of a good wife in her well-ordered home” (Sirach 26:16)
Women have a preponderant role to play in the Church, society, and in the proclamation of the Gospel. Women participate with men in the prophetic mission of Christ, and also in their priestly and royal mission. The universal priesthood of the faithful and royal dignity is given to men as well as women (1 Peter 2:9).
Among many women of the Gospel, here are some examples of their importance in the mission of Christ
- The Samaritan woman and her dialogue with Christ at the well of Jacob in Sychar (Jn 4: 1-42) It is to her, a sinner of Samaria, excluded by the Jews, that Jesus reveals the profound reality of the true worship given to God: that the place is less important than the attitude of worship “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24).
- Lazarus` sisters, Mary and Martha of Bethany: Luke, in his Gospel, emphasizes the contemplative Mary, the primacy of contemplation over action recognized by Christ (Lk 10:42). Then, in the Gospel of John, it is for the active Martha that Jesus will reveal the mystery of his mission: “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (Jn 11: 25-26). With these words, the paschal mystery is first given to a woman.
In the Passion accounts, it was the women who were closest to Christ on the way of the Cross and at the hour of death.
- Veronica: It is true that Simon of Cyrene was obliged to carry the Cross of the Lord (Mt 27:32), but several women testified their compassion along the "via crucis" (Lk 23:27). The figure of Veronica, even though not biblical, expresses well the feelings of the women of Jerusalem.
At the Cross there is only one apostle, John, the son of Zebedee. While several women are present with our Lord`s Mother (Mt 27: 55-56): Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John; Mary, the mother of James the younger, and of Joseph; and Mary of Magdala. They were witnesses of Jesus` agony, and all present at the time of the anointing and the burial of his body in the tomb. After the burial, they are the first to return to the tomb at dawn the next day. They are the first witnesses of the empty tomb, and they are the first to tell the Apostles (Jn 20: 1-2).
- Mary Magdalene: In tears at the tomb, she is the first one to encounter the Risen Lord who sends her to the Apostles, and she is the first to announce His Resurrection (Jn 20, 11-18). This is how the Eastern tradition sees Magdalene, almost in the place of the Apostles, for she was the first one to announce the truth of the resurrection, even before the Apostles and the disciples of Christ.
Woman and the magisterium of Pope John Paul II
St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, presents his reflection, following the Second Vatican Council (in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes and in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity "Apostolicam Actuositatem"), and explains:
“The Dignity and The Vocation of Women have gained exceptional prominence in recent years. This can be seen, for example, in the statements of the Church's Magisterium present in various documents of the Second Vatican Council, which declares in its Closing Message: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at his moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling" (St. John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 1)
Woman and the magisterium of Pope Francis
For Pope Francis, as he has pointed out on several occasions, the Church is missing “a profound theology of women”. This is not an instrumentalization, but a reflection of the role of Mary, in the midst of the Apostles. Perhaps we shall soon see the Pope call a Synod of Bishops focused on the grace and the role of women in the Church and Society.
For now, woman, become who you are, in the unique, beautiful and fruitful grace that you have received from your Creator and Lord!
“The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because “the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace”and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, no. 103)