Theology of Woman

Pope Francis has quickly established himself as a good story.  The press have been eating him up since day one, ironically even while he says things shockingly similar to his predecessor.

Like his predecessor, however, Pope Francis is often misquoted or misinterpreted.  Other times, the real “money quotes” are neglected for the sake of phrases that might make a better headline.

Case in point: his lengthy off-the-cuff exchange with reporters on the way back from WYD in Brazil quickly became the interview where he apparently condoned homosexual acts.

Of course, he did nothing of the sort.  And something that got lost and ignored in the aftermath was his comment about women.

“I think we must go further in making the role and charism of women more explicit … I think we have not yet made a profound theology of woman in the Church.”

A theology of woman.  Beautiful groundwork has been laid for it (John Paul II, of course, but also the oft-forgotten address of Paul VI to close the Second Vatican Council), but Pope Francis seems to be calling us to something even deeper.

The modern feminist movement has tried to ignore, push away, the differences between men and women.  Our fertility is terribly inconvenient, so it must be our right to eliminate that fertility so that we can be equal to men.  But in doing so, they squash the gift of God that gives us our dignity as women.  We have an intellect and will, we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are equal to men, we have dignity as a human person.  But we alone have the ability to nurture man before he even breathes air.

“Many things can change and have changed in cultural and social evolution, but the fact remains that it is woman who conceives, carries and delivers the children of men. And this is not merely a biological fact; it entails a wealth of implications both for woman herself, her way of being, and for her relationships, her relation to human life and to life in general. In calling woman to motherhood, God entrusted the human being to her in an entirely special way.” (Pope Francis, on the 25th Anniversary of Mulieris Dignitatem)

On the plane, after speaking about this need for a theology of woman, the Holy Father was pressed again on female ordination.  He said again, “I would like to explain a bit more what I said about women’s participation in the Church.  It can’t just be about their acting as altar servers, heads of Caritas, catechists… No!  They have to be more, profoundly more, even mystically more, along with everything I said about the theology of womanhood.”  He repeated the position of the Church that there could not be female priests, then repeated, “Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the Apostles, than bishops and deacons and priests.  Women, in the Church, are more important than bishops and priests; how, this is something we have to try to explain better, because I believe that we lack a theological explanation of this.”

I believe the Holy Father is asking us to stop looking at what we aren’t and to start looking at what we are.  We will never be priests because we will never be men.  He is asking us to go deeper – stop wanting a role in the Church you cannot have, because there is a much greater role that you can have.

Our society wants to look at the surface of things and ask “why not?”  The Pope wants to go deeper and discuss what is at the heart of the issues.  Why can’t women be priests? Why can’t divorced and remarried people receive communion?

The Holy Father wants to re-steer these conversations — not to avoid them, but to better understand them.  Rather than wasting time on the exterior of the issues, let’s go to the root of things.  Let’s talk about the theology of woman.  Let’s talk about marriage.  Even when asked about a recent possible scandal and the “gay lobby” in the Vatican — he steered the conversation to the “theology of sin” and the difference between a homosexual tendency and homosexual acts.

But our modern society doesn’t seem to have time for distinctions and roots– we like generalizations and exteriors.

Pope Francis seems to be setting the stage for these discussions — getting to the root of things — in the upcoming synod on family life.  While not mentioned explicitly in the preparatory document as it stands right now, it seems a good platform to begin delving into this theology of woman, since no woman exists without a family and woman, at her root, is daughter and mother.

As we emphasize the role of woman, we cannot lose sight of the role of man, for if we do, any ground gained would soon be lost.  Man and woman are partners, helpmates.  We do not exist in a vacuum.  It does not help women to gain rights if men lose sight of their own dignity, for we will always be subjugated if men are not fitting fathers and husbands.

The Book You’ll Never Finish

I have a bit of a problem.  If there was a support group for people addicted to buying books, I would have to start attending meetings.  For now, I’ll just confess it to you.

Notice I said “buying books.”  I wish I had a better problem — an addiction to actually reading the books.  It’s not that I don’t like to read or haven’t read many of the books on my shelves, but I do find it easy to convince myself that I need a certain book and then finding it sitting on my shelf for several months before I actually crack it open.

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There are several different kinds of books on my shelves.  There are some I’ll probably never read cover-to-cover but that sit on my shelf for reference.  There are others that I devour and which will eventually get handed on to a friend to enjoy.  There are others I acquired free that I may never read.   There are books that I enjoyed but I probably won’t read again.

Then there is one that is rarely on my shelf.  It may be on the table next to my favorite chair, it may be in a bag, or it may be in my car.  It’s a book I’ll never finish.

The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer has already proven to be a companion of mine for many years; I anticipate that will not change.  In this thick book, Father John Bartunek has included the text of all four Gospels, broken down into sections often corresponding to the way the Church has broken down the Gospels for the liturgy.  After each section, Father Bartunek guides you through the passage to help you pray with Christ.

I have always been drawn to lectio divina, the ancient way of praying with the Scriptures so that the Word of God becomes your prayer, but I have not always done it well or done it faithfully.  The Better Part has changed that dramatically.  The first section of the book takes you through the practice of lectio divina, and the rest of the book helps you to live it out.  Benefitting from the fruits of Father’s own prayer, the book takes your prayer life and douses it with the Word.

271101_1_ftcOne day many years ago, I was going through some turmoil that was resulting in theatrical calls to my mother.  As is often the way with such drama, I don’t even recall now, six years later, what exactly was happening at the time, but I do remember my mother’s advice.  “Have you read the section from The Better Part for the Gospel from yesterday?  You should read it.”

I took her advice and took the book to the Adoration chapel.  As I devoured the section, it was as if Father – or the Holy Spirit- had written the passage just for me.  It was exactly what I needed to hear.  It was nothing new, but it refreshed insight that I needed desperately at that moment.  One sentence in particular struck me, and I went along with my day renewed.

Shortly after I left the chapel, I realized that I had already read that same section a few days earlier.  The same section,  read twice in the space of a few days… but yet the second time I had received completely new insight.

Perhaps we could chalk it up to lazy reading the first time, but I don’t think we can dismiss it that easily.  I was bringing different baggage to the passage the second time I read it, and it was prepared to handle that baggage.  Six years later, I could read that same passage and probably wouldn’t remember what line spoke to me then – I need something else now.

Because the Word of God is at the root of this book, it is a book that can accompany everyone throughout life.  It’s for the single person struggling to make his or her way alone in this world and the mother of five who barely has time to pray.  It’s written for the beginner who doesn’t know what lectio divina is and the person who could teach lectio divina.  It is not a book that you read from cover to cover, mark off your list, and put on your shelf to collect dust.  It is a resource, a tool to help you pray better during the time you set aside each day.

If you’re looking for an easy street prayer life, don’t look here – prayer lives aren’t ChiaPets… they’re not created overnight and they’re certainly not easy.  But if you’re looking for help beginning to pray or taking your prayer to the next level, you should probably start with the Word of God.  And I’d highly recommend starting that with The Better Part.