We’ve Forgotten How Great It Is To Be a Catholic Woman

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It is difficult to be a woman today, especially a Christian woman. It’s no wonder Catholics are confused about who they are. The Church boldly declares feminine traits are part of a woman’s core identity, deeply rooted in their souls, not just apparent in their physical appearance. Saint John Paul II, in his letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, explains God created women to be different but equal to men as complementary partners, be it as married or religious/consecrated or single women.

 

Our contemporary culture opposes this view as misogynistic. Some feminists promote the idea that women are born as blank slates with exactly the same traits as men, dismissing femininity as simply learned behaviour. If this were not confusing enough, society now toys with the idea of a blending of genders. We have somehow lost the truth about how great being a woman actually is.

 

Nature Versus Nurture

As for this whole nature versus nurture controversy, I tried to raise my children without imposing gender stereotypes on them. However, as almost every mother will tell you, even as babies, little boys are intrinsically different than little girls. Since I grew up with only one sister, my son’s behaviour constantly surprised me.  I remember stopping in mid-stride, frozen with my mouth hanging open when I observed my twelve-month-old son pushing a toy car back and forth on the Chesterfield while he studied the rolling wheels. My boys were boisterous and physical. Even though I tried to hide the existence of guns from them, they made their own swords and guns out of sticks. Their spatial thinking was amazing and their obsession with Lego equally baffling.

 

Don’t get me wrong; I put effort into drawing out the feminine side of my sons. One day when Mark was about four, he asked for his sister’s waterproof doll while in the bathtub. I was so please, I almost raised a fist in triumph as I thought,“Yes! I have raised a son with nurturing instincts!” When I came back into the bathroom, the head was off the doll and he was holding the rubber tubing connecting the doll’s mouth to its bottom. Mark was making loud machine noises as he lowered the head into the water, filled it, then lifted the swinging head to pour water into a plastic pail. Rather than mothering this plastic baby, my son had transformed it into a piece of machinery.

 

I started to laugh at my son, laugh in the face of the whole nature versus nurture controversy, and laugh at my failure to change nature.  Children are not born as a blank slate.

 

It’s Great To Be A Woman

Our universal vocation as women is to love because “love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC 2392). Our secondary vocation is our job and our primary vocation is our specific state in life be it as a  married, religious or single person. Just the idea God has a plan for each of us should be thrilling but modern Catholic women struggle with exactly how to live faithfully the teachings of the Church while remaining true to themselves as members of contemporary society.

Youth are especially turned off by old-fashioned reflections on vocations which romanticize mothers and deify nuns while managing to leave them feeling patronized at the same time. Any vocational decision a woman considers clashes with contemporary concepts of feminism and success. Life as a religious is a laughable waste of time if one views a nun as someone retreating from the world. A celibate single woman faces even more derision from a culture obsessed with sex. Women whose heartfelt desire is to become mothers, feel dismissed and ridiculed for wanting to embrace this most sacred, natural role of women as nurturing mothers.

Many feminists choose to develop masculine behaviours, thinking they must act like men if they want to succeed. They try to free themselves from the constraints of pregnancy and childcare. A woman’s inner life often crumbles to ashes, sacrificed on the altar of success. Motherhood, religious and a single state are choices women should feel free to make without feeling ostracized by a society which is building a false narrative by looking down on women’s unique gifts. If women want to discover what it really means to be a woman, they must look deeper than answers provided by our ever vacillating culture. If women settle for passive submission to current whims, they will end up playing a role in a play written by modern society simply by default. This is hardly an attractive alternative.

Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) was a Jewish German philosopher who converted to Catholicism, became a Discalced Carmelite nun, and died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  She grappled with the nature of women but instead of denying her gender, she looked to her body as the image of her soul. Katharina Westerhorstmann discusses Stein’s view of women in  On the Nature and Vocation of Women: Edith Stein’s Concept against the Background of a Radically Deconstructive Position. Although Stein understood every woman was an individual, she believed women’s bodies and souls share a basic nature designed to give and receive love, the “forming principle of the female soul.” According to Stein, the entire being of a woman seeks to be filled with love. This tendency can only become stable when she is connected to the “external sources”.

Be it in the home, office or on a mission field, women have a gift of knowing when another person needs to be loved. “It is her gift and her happiness to share the life of another human being, namely by taking part in everything that concerns him: in big and small matters, in joy and suffering, and also in tasks and problems”. Women can be fulfilled in a myriad of vocations as long as they are free to develop this gift of being there for others by serving and loving.

 “Each vocation is a vocation, to maternity: physical, spiritual, moral maternity,

because God has placed in us the instinct of life”.- Saint Gianna

People of faith who want to understand their identity as men and women must look deeper than answers provided by our ever vacillating culture because we want to live in eternal truth and in reality, not play roles written for us by a society which will only change their opinion in a few years. Let’s celebrate the natural, inborn differences between men and women and say with joy,” Vive la différence.”

Comments

John Minehan Added Nov 4, 2017 - 11:18am
Let people be who or whatever they are.  It's the only way that works.
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 4, 2017 - 9:52pm
Yes, agreed but sometimes people need help discovering who they really are by filtering out societal, cultural, parental pressure and expectations
John Minehan Added Nov 4, 2017 - 10:28pm
But don't all those things shape us?  Isn't it up to the individual to accept of reject what is offered?
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 5, 2017 - 12:59am
True, my character is the result of my inherited qualities, how my parents raised me and the time and culture I was born into. The tradition of a spiritual director, a teacher or a mentor is based on the notion that we often need guidance to help us ask the hard questions of who we are and where we are going. It is difficult to move from the head to the heart, to discover my true inner soul and my calling, even though it is hidden in my deepest self. Sometimes we need help to accept and reject what is offered because man needs community, relationships.
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Nov 5, 2017 - 5:55am
The tradition of a spiritual director, a teacher or a mentor is based on the notion that we often need guidance to help us ask the hard questions of who we are and where we are going.
 
I guess latest when one gets out of adolescence one should be able to figure that out by himself, at least when one is able to read and use the brain ;-)
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 5, 2017 - 10:52am
However, teens are pressed to make life decisions when, in fact, the rational part of a teen's brain isn't fully developed and won't be until age 25 or so. ... Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain's rational part. ... part of the brain and the decision-making center are stilldeveloping
 
AND, no one is an island, no one can read and use their brain in isolation.  But people are more complicated than that- we are more than a brain.
Listening to our heart and deepest inner spirit takes practice and wisdom. Prayer is learned and it is easy to be deceived without drawing on the vast wisdom learned through the ages. Why reinvent the wheel when others have experienced the pitfalls and have shared their wisdom with the world?
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Nov 5, 2017 - 11:06am
Wisdom can't buy power and influence. That's why it's not playing a relevant role in the human race, and a reason why war will always win against wisdom.
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 5, 2017 - 12:22pm
In the end, those who buy power and influence always stumble and fall. Nations rise through war and power but eventually fall, for many reasons but the bottom line is power corrupts. The usual example people mention is the Roman Empire.
In terms of eternity, even though the little people, the anawim, appear to be powerless they "win" in terms of what really matters. Only Love will last, everything else will pass away because it is ephemeral without lasting influence.
Flying Junior Added Nov 6, 2017 - 2:09am
What culture discourages femininity?  Don't take them seriously.  Why would you consciously try to bring out the feminine side of your son?  Just teach him to love and know tolerance.  To be a feminist does not require the adoption of masculine traits.
 
Relax.  Amp down.  A Catholic woman is a beautiful thing.  I love my own more and more every day.  And believe you me, she was a serious feminist  back in the day.  You would like what she did.  She demanded, worked to establish and received childcare at our community college.  Local politics at its finest.
 
It may not be fair to say that men cannot be as nurturing and loving to a child, or to the poor, or to those in need, but your sex is ahead of us in the race.
 
Femininity is to be celebrated, adored and treasured.
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 6, 2017 - 3:10am
@ melaine. "Don’t get me wrong; I put effort into drawing out the feminine side of my sons. One day when Mark was about four, he asked for his sister’s waterproof doll while in the bathtub. I was so please, I almost raised a fist in triumph as I thought,“Yes! I have raised a son with nurturing instincts!” When I came back into the bathroom, the head was off the doll and he was holding the rubber tubing connecting the doll’s mouth to its bottom. Mark was making loud machine noises as he lowered the head into the water, filled it, then lifted the swinging head to pour water into a plastic pail. Rather than mothering this plastic baby, my son had transformed it into a piece of machinery."
 
Is it that the developing child is predisposed to born a female but are born males if a certain hormone chips in at a precise time?
 
As an educator, you can see the difference in the way boys learn compared to girls. The problem is the feminization of schools wants boys sitting quietly with their legs tightly closed.
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Nov 6, 2017 - 6:47am
Only Love will last, everything else will pass away because it is ephemeral without lasting influence.
 
Is this a poem ? Love dies the same way as everything does when we decompose. Actually, what IS "love" ? Is it a chemical reaction to a biological need to reproduce ? I guess so. First, love is desire, and after a while it becomes a habit to have the person around.
 
Of course there is a mutual understanding and non-biological attractivity around, such as common interests, but finally love dies gradually when the person disappears.
 
And ..... "love" has never been stronger than hate when human history is considered.
Ray Joseph Cormier Added Nov 6, 2017 - 8:00am
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not Love, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not Love, it profits me nothing.
 
Love suffers long, and is kind; Love envies not; Love vaunts not itself, is not puffed up,
Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil;
Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the Truth;
Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
 
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
 
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
 
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abides Faith, Hope, Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.
1 Corinthians 13
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 6, 2017 - 8:11am
Various religious zealots can quoth their scriptures to justify any mayhem, murder, and torture of others.
Michael Cikraji Added Nov 6, 2017 - 8:23am
I was born and raised Roman Catholic, but don't really consider myself Catholic anymore.
I never understood why the church always had such a negative view of sex, sexuality and the human body. 
Secondarily, I also never understood why priests couldn't marry. If marriage is such a holy thing, why can't priests do it? Saint Peter, THE FIRST POPE, was happily married, and evidently was a great father....
Thirdly, but most importantly, the child sexual abuse issue destroyed much of my faith in the Church. I'd talk to other Catholics about it, and their reaction was rather universal: "meh, the priests have been doing that for a long time, and it's never been that big of deal."
Yea... have problems buying into that....
Ray Joseph Cormier Added Nov 6, 2017 - 8:50am
I consider it significant Christ appeared to the Women 1st after the Resurrection, before he appeared to his male Disciples.
The Church wastes time on the absurd question of how many angels can dance on the point of a needle, when there is something in the Bible much more relevant to our Times that is not being discussed.
For instance, the fact of that Bible record should cause a debate on the ordination of Women in the Catholic Church and married priests.
 
Jesus could be considered the 1st Feminist as the Bible records his interactions with Women considering the Cultural attitudes toward Women at the Time.
 
Who can forget his attitude when the "religious Establishment" came to him with the Woman caught in the sexual act of Adultery?
 
They said to him "The Law" a.k.a. "The Bible" demands she should be stoned to death. His answer paraphrased, essentially was, 'because it's written in the Bible doesn't mean you have to act on it.'
 
This world is full of sinners ignoring their own sins, throwing stones at the other sinners totally contrary to the teachings of Christ..
 
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
But if you don't forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
 
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 6, 2017 - 11:16am
Flying Junior- thank you for your insights and reflections- well said
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 6, 2017 - 11:17am
Ray Joseph Cormier- exactly
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 6, 2017 - 11:27am
Dr. Rupert Green-Yes, it is true that people quote verses to support terrible actions. AND- from your position, from your personal experience, a spiritual worldview seems ridiculous. That is the difference between someone who has experienced the spiritual dimension of life and one who has not.
Some religious people do not live in reality, are not truly spiritual but merely following what they have been taught without reflection, without personal experience.
 
Others have us have been surprised by joy and unconditional LOve, with a door opening to a whole other reality after experiencing the Divine.
 
But our experiences, beliefs, and viewpoints are incomprehensible from a wordly point of view
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 6, 2017 - 11:28am
Michael Cikraji- yes, the Church has often promoted negative attitudes towards women.
Steve Bergeron Added Nov 6, 2017 - 5:19pm
Melanie Jean, you're a sharp cookie!  It's interesting to see the array of answers, all the way from the pseudo-intellectuals who fancy themselves anti-Catholic, to those who actually are Catholic.
Ray Joseph Cormier Added Nov 6, 2017 - 5:44pm
Melanie it is True Some religious people do not live in reality, are not truly spiritual but merely following what they have been taught without reflection, without personal experience.
 
I think John is saying the same thing in other words with these words:
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 6, 2017 - 6:07pm
Steve Bergeron- laughing; I cannot wait to tell my adult kids that I am sometimes a sharp cookie. Yes, the array of responses are fascinating.
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 6, 2017 - 6:10pm
Ray Joseph Cormier- and what a marvelous, but at the same time humbling feeling it is to realize I have been born of God. It is almost unfathomable.
Utpal Patel Added Nov 7, 2017 - 1:20pm
Who are you speaking about when you say “we’ve forgotten…?”  Is it not as great to be a Jewish woman?
 
It bothers me when anyone is as obsessed with gender as you.  My intuition was proved right when you said you tried to draw out the feminine side of your son.  Your son should be free to be whatever he wanted to be, he doesn’t need you to push him anywhere.  After all, did you attempt to draw out the masculine side of your daughter?
 
Man or woman, anyone that’s celibate is a little strange.  It’s certainly not what God intended us to be.
 
I would also argue that women who don’t become mothers, feel more dismissed and ridiculed than those that do become mothers. 
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 7, 2017 - 4:02pm
You bring up excellent points. This article was first written for Catholic women readers...so yes, it IS great to be a Jewish woman or any other person, in any culture.
As for mothers not feeling marginalized, with their voices not heard by those who wield power and influence, just ask any full-time mum- you might be surprised by their responses.
John Minehan Added Nov 7, 2017 - 7:16pm
"Secondarily, I also never understood why priests couldn't marry. If marriage is such a holy thing, why can't priests do it? Saint Peter, THE FIRST POPE, was happily married, and evidently was a great father...."
 
Well, Priests of the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church are allowed to marry if they marry before they are ordained as Deacons. 
 
In the same way, married Orthodox and Episcopal Priests and Lutheran Pastors who "come over to Rome" are (obviously) still married (but can't remarry if their wife dies).
 
Before the 11th Century or so, most Diocesan priests were married, although obviously Monks were not.  Clerical celibacy was more a way of insuring benefices did not become heritable property.   
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 7, 2017 - 8:20pm
Yes, everything you mention is true. The Church was a thousand years old before it favoured celibacy at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139 when a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry.
 
Verses used to support celibacy come from St. Paul-
 
Paul makes it very clear that remaining single allows one’s attention to be undivided in serving the Lord (1 Cor 7:32–35). He recommends celibacy to all (1 Cor 7:7) but especially to ministers, who as soldiers of Christ he urges to abstain from "civilian affairs" (2 Tm 2:3–4).
and 
Jesus said: "And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life" (Mt. 19:29).
 
Celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma. This means that the Church could change the rule.
However-
 
Priests serve in the place of Christ. Christ was not married. By remaining celibate and devoting themselves to the service of the Church, priests more closely model, configure themselves to Christ.


It leaves the priest free to more fully commit his life to the service of the Lord and the laity. 
 
It enables the priest to be a "spiritual father" to more people than he would as a married man (1 Cor. 4:15). 
 
It allows the Church to put the hundreds of millions of dollars it saves in priestly salaries to the evangelization and charitable assistance of a needy world. Although priests do receive salaries, they are much lower than they would have to be if they had families to support. 
PaganTeaPartier Added Nov 8, 2017 - 3:57am
While celibacy is certainly a daunting prospect for some, it would not be a real impediment to one who has a genuine calling.
 
Eliminating that won't actually change the manpower issues within the Catholic Church. Addressing that would probably require much more radical changes, but in matters of structure not doctrine.
 
The problem is that the world has changed, and a vocation within the RCC is no longer as attractive as it once was.
 
The Church used to be a haven for those with few other options. Its structures were molded at a time when there was a continuously refreshing population of Noblemen's sons who stood to inherit little, and commoners for whom the Church was their only chance for an education.
 
As things changed, there was still a great deal of residual cultural respect, thus while the total volunteer pool was contracting, the concentration of quality volunteers increased, because those who were drawn to it did so based upon it being viewed as honorable.
 
But now that the reputation has become sullied with scandal, and the socioeconomic factors having changes so much that they have become completely meaningless, the format is no longer compatible with reality.
 
Adapting to the modern world would probably be better accomplished, by adopting a structure which relies on a pool of volunteers for terms of service, rather than choosing a lifetime career in the Church.
Steve Bergeron Added Nov 8, 2017 - 8:30am
It may be of interest, but the Catholic Church today has some married priests.  Mostly those who converted from the Anglican or Episcopalian denominations.  They are validly married and allowed to be priests within the Church.  As Melanie Jean said, it's a discipline, not a doctrine.   That means it "could" change.  However, there is absolutely no reason for it to change.  It is part of the sacrificial nature of the priesthood, and they are able to live that way through a special grace of God.  Vocations are a gift from God to faithful congregations and dioceses.  One sees far more vocations in faithful dioceses than those that have become heterodox.  
 
Priests have never been allowed to marry, however.  Married men, have, and on occasion, been allowed to be ordained priests.  However, once married, that's it.  They can never remarry.  
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 8, 2017 - 12:39pm
Steve Bergeron- well said- I really don't have much to add to your comment. 
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 8, 2017 - 12:41pm
PaganTeaPartier- God DOES still call men to the priesthood, as it is now, embracing celibacy. When people are humble and open to God, they can choose to say yes to His call and are inspired, strengthened and filled with the Holy Spirit. And priests also have the freedom to struggle in their own strength and fail and sin.
PaganTeaPartier Added Nov 8, 2017 - 8:18pm
I'm not suggesting that it doesn't happen, I'm saying that its not happening frequently enough to cover the Catholic Church's manpower needs.
 
All that I am saying is that an officially recognized auxiliary pool is needed to overcome the shortfall.
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 8, 2017 - 8:19pm
ahhh- good point
 
PaganTeaPartier Added Nov 8, 2017 - 9:39pm
I just think that giving your priests more back up, would be a much better solution than lowering your standards.
 
Now exactly what all would be needed in order to be effective in shouldering some of the workload for the priests, would be a matter to be worked out within your own doctrines.
 
However, some cases would be quite straightforward.
 
How many full priests are there in the Vatican and regional centers right now, who are serving in administrative roles? Surly a group of volunteer secretaries could free up a lot of them.
Melanie Jean Juneau Added Nov 8, 2017 - 10:52pm
agreed
Steve Bergeron Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:40am
PaganTeaPartier, that's a great point!  I've said that for a long time.  Priests should have the Sacraments as their first priority, not endless meetings.  Perish the thought that I'm dying in the hospital and need the Sacraments, but Father can't come because he has a meeting!

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