St. Cyril of Alexandria

Today’s saint lived a generation after the Roman persecution of the Church had ceased.  (Stay tuned in the next few days to hear more about that persecution.)  He lived at a time when the Church was growing at a rapid pace- by the year 300, Christians in the empire numbered over 6 million.  While the threat of persecution was over, peace was not reigning.  Disputes over doctrine were heated and false teaching was spreading, and heroes like St. Cyril of Alexandria were busy teaching and preaching the truth.

St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 – 444) is perhaps best known for fighting the Nestorian heresy, a teaching which held that Mary was not the Mother of God.  The heresy taught that she only gave birth to the human nature of Christ.  St. Cyril and other orthodox bishops recognized that this belief ultimately separated Christ into two persons, human and divine, violating the unity of Christ, Who was one Person.  Every mother knows that she doesn’t look at her newborn and think, “What a lovely human nature I gave birth to!”  Women give birth to people, not simply natures.  The Church in the Council of Ephesus in 431 declared Mary Theotokos, or “God-bearer” and clarified that while Mary is not the source of God, nor did she pre-exist God, she did bear the Word Incarnate in her womb.

God chose a woman to bear His Son, to bear His flesh, to cooperate in salvation in an intimate way.  What dignity this gives women!

Christianity elevated women at a time when their situation was rather bleak. In the Greco-Roman world, women were usually married before they reached their teens to much older men, and then were often forced to put up with marriages where unnatural sexual acts, adultery, and contraception and abortion were expected.

If their child wasn’t killed by abortion (and the abortions often killed the mother as well), it may not live much after birth, either.

Dr. Rodney Stark, a noted sociologist, observed: “Men greatly outnumber women in the Greco-Roman world. Dio Cassius, writing in about 200 AD, attributed the declining population of the empire to the extreme shortage of females. In his classic work on ancient and medieval populations, J C Russell estimated that there were 131 males for 100 females in the city of Rome and 140 males per 100 females in Italy, Asia Minor, and North Africa. Russell noted in passing that sex ratios this extreme can only occur when there is ‘some tampering with human life.’”

And tampering there was. Exposure of unwanted female infants and deformed male infants was legal, morally accepted, and widely practiced by all social classes in the Greco-Roman world.  Another historian noted that even in large families “more than one daughter was practically never reared.”  Historians were able to construct 600 families in the city of Delphi, using inscriptions from the time.  Of these 600 families, only six had raised more than one daughter.

On the subject of female infanticide, Stark asks us to consider “a letter written by one Hilarion to his pregnant wife Ails, which has been reported by many authors because of this quite extraordinary contrast between his deep concern for his wife and his hoped-for son, and his utter callousness toward a possible daughter: Know that I am still in Alexandria and do not worry if they all come back and I remain in Alexandria. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son. And as soon as I receive payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered of a child before I come home, if it is a boy, keep it, if it is a girl, discard it. You have sent me word ‘Don’t forget me.’ How can I forget you? I beg you not to worry.”

As you might imagine, this imbalance of men and women inevitably led to rape and sexual aggression.  All of which was considered quite normal.

Church historian Mike Aquilina comments, “That is the world in which the first Christians were born, in which they grew up and married, and in which they raised their families. You might call it a culture of death.”

In the midst of this culture of death, the son of God had come into the world… as the son of Mary.  And before leaving this world, He left us a Church- a Church that believes in the inherent dignity of the human person, one which sets a woman — the Blessed Mother — as the role model for Christian life — one that elevates marriage to a sacrament, that commands husbands to love their wives, that values the woman’s fertility.

During this current “culture of death,” may we turn to the Mother of Christ, asking her to intercede for us to Her Son.  May her prayers for all of us, especially the women of our country, bear great fruit for the Church and for our beloved homeland.

“Give me an army saying the Rosary, and I will conquer the world.” -Blessed Pope Pius IX

Reconciling femininity and Jeanne

Joan of ArcIt’s been bothering me for some time — as I read more and more about femininity and the genius of woman, I grapple with my patroness.

If you read John Paul II’s Letter to Women, it’s clear that the Church’s idea of femininity isn’t wearing skirts and pearls and spending the day cooking and cleaning.  But there is a large part of femininity that does mean embracing feminine roles and allowing men to embrace masculine ones.  An embrace of femininity means we accept that we’re not men and that’s okay.  In fact, it’s better than okay.  It’s right.

As I thought about the dangers of translating “equality” to mean “identical,” I kept returning in my mind to Joan of Arc.  How could someone who led an army into battle wearing men’s clothing (highly scandalous at the time), be feminine?  I love St. Joan of Arc, don’t get me wrong.  But do I see her as feminine?

Sure, she was told by God to do what she did, including the wearing of men’s clothing.  So I’m not disagreeing with her actions by any means.  But it was hard to reconcile her with femininity.

Until I came across this in a book a few years ago, and everything clicked: “…the desires of a man’s heart and the desires of a woman’s heart [are] at least meant to fit beautifully together … A woman in the presence of a good man, a real man, loves being a woman.  His strength allows her feminine heart to flourish.  His pursuit draws out her beauty.  And a man in the presence of a real woman loves being a man.  Her beauty arouses him to play the man, it draws out his strength.  She inspires him to be a hero.  Would that we all were so fortunate.” (Captivating, emphasis mine)

Something in that paragraph made it all click for me.  Joan of Arc, like St. Catherine of Siena before her, was called by God to raise up a weak man.  In Joan of Arc’s case, the Dauphin failed.  But she, as a feminine woman, called him to the heights.  Her mission was to raise men to fight for truth and beauty.  Not in a seductive way, but in a holy, virtuous feminine way.  And while the Dauphin was a weak loser, you only have to read about the way her armies responded to her to know that she inspired men to be heroes.

So, ladies, now you know.  Raise your men up.  Help them to be men.

And if you’re ever shot in the chest with an arrow, pull it out yourself and leap back into the fray.  It’s the feminine thing to do.

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.