Quotes from the book Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity and The Church – Chapter 1 Even our Feminism Must Be Service written by Helen M. Alvare, JD
Women never achieved in the worlds of work, politics, media, entertainment, and business the sort of humanizing, person-centered influence that some secular feminists claimed women would achieve.
That’s because when given the chance, rather than using feminine influence in the workplace to humanize it, they set out to prove they could be just as tough, ruthless, cutthroat and competitive as un-virtuous men. They had no faith that the gifts that are unique to womanhood have a power all their own to change things for the better for humanity.
But should the Church start down this path of integrating women into more fields of action, it will not only -according to its own theology-make God more visible in the world, but offer a revolutionary model for the world to follow. I won’t go into the details here, of course, but it is easy to imagine that such a commitment will require the Church-women and men together-to figure out how many women can answer their vocational calls to serve the Church while doing what women have continued to desire even over the last fifty years of feminism: assure themselves first that justice is being done at home, to their husbands and children.
I would like to think that first, the Church would need to stress the importance of how women prioritizing their family IS answering their vocation to serve the Church. How could nurturing the bodies, minds and spirits of the ones who make up the Body of Christ be anything but that? In fact, this hidden vocation in the home can potentially have just as, if not more, far reaching effect in service to the Church if we have eyes to see it. It may not give the immediate affirmation as having a paper published, or casting a vote on a Council, or giving legal advice to a board, but it is such a necessary and foundational service, that if the family falls, then everything falls. I would say we are in danger of that happening right now.
It is a good thing that more and more women are holding positions in the institutional Church as their voices should be expressed and heard, but for the individual woman she must get the message that her prioritization of the family, of which she is truly the heart, is invaluable all on it’s own. From there, if there are highly educated and qualified women who feel called by God to offer their service to the institutional Church at any level, then the Church, being an employer of these women, should take the lead in finding a way in which they can can serve but not to the detriment of their families.
If the Church can find an acceptable way to model this then perhaps the secular world would catch on as well. This is with the understanding that the message is made clear that this is not about finding a way that all married women with children should be coerced into the workforce because it’s been made easier or more possible but that for those who must work or those who have a secondary calling to their primary vocation of wife and mother, can contribute the talents and gifts she believes God is calling her to give.
Overall, the vocation of motherhood (and fatherhood) should be held up in the workplace and in the Church, as primary to all other work.
I became aware of a lovely poem titled Back Home by Margaret McCarty today. It’s about looking back and wishing you could start over by listening to your parent’s advice (and taking it) a little more than you did and appreciating their love and care more a second time around….if only you could go back. I can think of countless things my parents told me that I wish I would have listened to but even so, they raised me well and my life turned out pretty good with a 19-year marriage, the 3 beautiful daughters we’re raising, and my Catholic faith firmly intact.
I’m glad my parents are still here, both about to turn 70 soon, so I can let them know that all the things they taught me were heard and are appreciated now, much more in mid-life, than they were in my youth. It also gives me a bit of peace when my daughters seem to not really hear or take to heart the life lessons I’m trying to teach them. I have more faith that even though the evidence seems to the contrary, that the seed is indeed well planted and will serve them well in their journey.
Lastly, this poem brought to mind that although I have gained wisdom and grace, there is still more growing to do. There are still ways I can apply what I know even better in order to merit children who will be able to look back at their mother as fondly as the author of this poem was able to look back at hers.
If I had the power to turn back the clock,
to go to the house at the end of the block,
The house that was home when I was a kid,
I know I would love it more than I did.
If I could be back there at my fathers knee,
and hear once again all the things he told me,
I’d listen as I never listened before,
for he knew all too well just what life had in store.
And all the advice that dad used to give,
His voice I’ll remember as long as I live,
It didn’t seem very important then,
What I would give to live it all over again.
But what I would give for the chance I once had,
to do something more for my mother and dad,
I’d give them a little more joy and a little less pain,
a little more sunshine and a little less rain.
The years roll by and we cannot go back,
Whether we were born in a mansion or in a shack,
But we can start right now in the hour that’s here,
and do something more, for the ones we hold dear.
Since time in it’s flight is speeding so fast,
there’ll be no time spent regretting what’s past.
Let’s make tomorrow a happier day,
by doing our good unto others today.
The following quote is one I read on facebook this morning…..
Cardinal Scola of Milan argues that the major challenge the contemporary woman faces today is not equality but rather identity. Women will always fall short of the mark if they only compare themselves to men’s essentially masculine achievements. Women will never realize what their own unique feminine contributions to family, society and Church may be if they continue to measure themselves only by the standards men have achieved. Women must look into their own minds, souls and bodies to discover what contributions that they, and they alone, can offer to society. Someone asked Napoleon who was the greatest woman in history. Bonaparte answered, “The one with the most babies.” The emperor might have given this answer with his tongue in his cheek but his response is absolutely correct. Motherhood is the unique female contribution to society, family and Church. Women must look first to those roles in world history that no man can ever fulfill. Others note that daughter, sister, wife and mother are clearly roles unique to women. Such roles must not be ignored even while women pursue wider careers. The alert daughter and the aware sister have gifts to offer a family and a neighborhood that sons and brothers cannot. The observant wife and attentive mother have talents not found in the best of husbands and fathers. Femininity, unique to womanhood, is a divinely instilled response to life that only a woman may discern. Feminism ignores womanhood, bent only on remaking women in the image of men, robbing females of their distinctive destiny that goes back to Eden.
In stressing equality over identity modern society manages to distract women from the ongoing attack on the very nature of womanhood, on the very essence of femininity. Abortion, contraception, sterilization, surrogacy are plainly attacks on motherhood. Divorce, cohabitation and single motherhood are obviously assaults on the dignity of woman as wife. Pornography certainly exploits women who are daughters and sisters. Women truly have to ask themselves what particular vocation, what special role in society, what exceptional contribution to the human race, can they make through their feminine gifts that no Boy Scout or male CEO or heavy-weight athlete could consider or achieve. The era when educated women could expect only to be school teachers, nurses, or secretaries is still within memory. Since then women’s contribution to science, medicine, technology, education, business and athletics has been greatly enhanced. But progress must not be at the expense of true womanhood. Scouting badges, social advancement, and vocational success must be achieved by a deeper appreciation of one’s true self not by the imitation of someone else’s accomplishments.
My thoughts –
There is nothing wrong with women pursuing traditionally masculine pursuits IF they are so inclined. There always has been and always will be outliers and those on the fringe who live in a way that doesn’t conform to social norms. BUT what we have today is a push to strongly encourage all girls and women to reject the gifts and talents that are uniquely feminine in favor of tradtional masculine pursuits and that must stop. Young women shouldn’t feel ashamed to reveal their desire to marry and raise a family. It used to be acknowledged that motherhood had tremendous influence in moving society in the right direction simply by raising children with well-defined character and values who grew up to be valuable, contributing members to society themselves. Now, being a mother is denigrated by being “just a SAHM.” It’s believed that the power to influence society is “out there” somewhere rather than in the home. The real truth is that home life and family has tremendous power and influence for good if the task of upholding it is undertaken as the sacred duty that it surely is. While women shouldn’t be relegated to the home by law, it should still be seen as THE most influential domain in terms of it’s value rather than the least. It should be a mark of honor for women who choose to spend a portion of their life serving the family at home.
It will take both men and women to acknowledge that the uniquely feminine contributions are important or even MORE important in shaping the character of our nation and neighborhoods than what goes on in the wider world. It is a much forgotten idea that government, business, education, science, technology and medicine are all meant to be at the service of the most fundamental unit of society, the family and the individuals that make it up. Unfortunately, what we see today is that the individual is seen as not a member of a family unit that must be protected but as a unit of production that is meant to serve industry as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible. Very little to no thought is given to that person’s responsibilites and obligations to the family in which they belong. The individual is at the service of the state or corporation rather than the other way around. We need more women and men who will speak out about the family being the center around which decisions and policy are made. We need men and women to value family and to see that the work done there is of the utmost value to both the individual and society. It is then that women will value their identity as women and all of society will operate in service of the family which always was and always will be women’s unique domain.
The woman’s task is not easy–no task worth doing is easy–but in doing it, and when she has done it, there shall come to her the highest and holiest joy known to mankind; and having done it, she shall have the reward prophesied in Scripture; for her husband and her children, yes, and all people who realize that her work lies at the foundation of all national happiness and greatness, shall rise up and call her blessed. ” – Theodore Roosevelt
My oldest daughter received the Sacrament of Confirmation last week. She chose St. Therese of Lisieux as her Confirmation name so we got her a pink leather bound St. Therese Bible that has a quote by the saint and my daughter’s first and middle name (Rose) engraved on the front. St. Therese said “When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.” My Grandmother introduced me to this saying when she advised that I should pray to The Little Flower, as she is affectionately referred to, and said that she has often received answers to her prayers accompanied by a rose from this saint’s intercession .
When I was pregnant with my oldest, my mother told me she knew I was going to have a girl because that morning she saw 1 pink rose blooming on her rose bush after all the other roses had died and the season was over. I had already picked my girl name with Rose as the middle name since that is a family name on my husband’s side, so she took that late-blooming rose as a sign that surely she would have a granddaughter.
About ten years ago we had to travel out of state for the funeral of my cousin’s 12 year old daughter who passed away in an auto accident. At the time, neither my cousin (Catholic) nor his wife (Christian, from I’m not sure what denomination) were practicing their faith. I spent my time in the car on the way home praying the Rosary for their dear daughter and for them as well. One of the things I requested was that they would find their way to practicing their faith again and that my cousin’s wife would convert to Catholicism so they could have a shared faith together along with their son. I remember as I was praying that I smelled the overwhelming scent of fresh flowers. So much so that I had to ask if anyone else in the car had brought some with them from the funeral. The strong scent lasted about five minutes and then faded away. It was then that I knew that my prayers had indeed been heard. It was only a few years later that we received the news that my cousin’s wife had been received into the Church.
What I experienced was not a new phenomenon. It’s actually pretty common. Here’s a link to an interesting discussion of the topic by ordinary folks. The Catholic Church calls it the odor of sanctity when the scent is associated with living or deceased saints.
I’m bringing all this up simply because I came across this lovely poem today that speaks of how doing our duty well will remain after we are gone like the scent of the rose remains after the flower has died. It’s comforting to know that our works can live on and “scent” the future of those touched by our faithfulness. I think God has allowed us this occassional grace of these heavenly scents to remind us of the real beauty contained in all that is good even when it’s not immediately visible to us.
How fair is the Rose! what a beautiful flower!
The glory of April and May:
But the leaves are beginning to fade in an hour,
And they wither and die in a day.
Yet the Rose has one powerful virtue to boast,
Above all the flowers of the field!
When its leaves are all dead and fine colours are lost,
Still how sweet a perfume it will yield!
So frail is the youth and the beauty of man,
Though they bloom and look gay like the Rose;
But all our fond care to preserve them is vain,
Time kills them as fast as he goes.
Then I’ll not be proud of my youth and my beauty,
Since both of them wither and fade;
But gain a good name by well doing my duty:
This will scent like a Rose when I’m dead.
“Too much in our modern society encourages us to indulge the illusion of individual autonomy. This illusion is fostered by, among other things, modern “social contract” theories. A man can only assert something as foolish as an original “state of nature” where men come together to form themselves into a community if he forgets his own mother. But with all due respect to Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, we do not enter the world as fully formed, rational, self-interest maximizers.”
“We are dependent rational animals who become who we are because people cared for us. At least one person cared for us enough to carry us in her womb for nine months and go through the painful labor of giving us birth. No one — not even God incarnate — came into this world without a mother. We are beings who draw our existence from others, and so we are called upon to learn to exist for others. Such is the life of a mother. And such should be our life, whether we are mothers or not.”
“We live in a world that values and valorizes strength, capability, and domination. That world, valuing the things it values, has often enough dismissed women as weak and worthless. And yet, the absurdity of this view is obvious:Where would we be without women — and not just women, but women with the strength to allow themselves to be more vulnerable for nine months, and sometimes for years afterward, so that we can be strong? We would not exist without them.”
“A society that resists the temptation to celebrate only strength and achievement, and that recognizes the need we have for those who work selflessly year after year to make possible so many of the things we take for granted — our life, our health, our ability to speak, our virtues, our knowledge of the faith — is helping to spread the leaven of Christ.”
“Societies that preach the “state of nature” and think that we can depend upon some form of social contract often produce what they most fear: a society in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Begin with the wrong view of the human person, and you end up with an inhumane society of irrational self-interest maximizers and a dog-eat-dog world. A society that protects and values mothers, on the other hand, is sowing the seeds of charity. God help us if we forget mothers.”
I came across this article today titled Autonomy and Interconnectednessat Catholic Education.orgon the scientific field of the study of microchimerism in which mothers were found to have cells of their children running through their blood, their brains and other organs. Children may also carry cells of their mothers and even older siblings that have crossed the placenta or through breast milk. This discovery brought to my mind the fact that this seems to give deeper meaning to the virgin birth. The Catholic Church has long taught that the Blessed Mother was born sinless, having been saved from original sin since her conception in her own mother’s womb. The saving power of the cross was able to be applied to Mary because God, being outside time and seeing all from beginning to end, could foresee the accomplishment of our salvation in time, while being able to apply that merit to the Mother of Jesus at the time of her conception and saving her from the stain of original sin. Jesus, being the perfect unity of fully human and fully divine, would have had his own cells cross the placenta to circulate in the body of his Mother and hers in His. The question has to be asked, “Would these cells of the fully human/fully divine Savior been able to be tolerated in the normal human body, stained by original sin?” Further, ” Would the human cells of the Blessed Mother been able to be received within the body of Christ if they were carrying the stain of original sin? Could that which contains sin be a part of that which was divine?” It’s quite the food for thought for those who might doubt the Catholic doctrine on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We also believe that Mary was taken body and soul into heaven. She is already in her resurrected body, as is Christ, and as we all will be at the end of time. Could the presence of fetal cells, fetal cells that were the perfect fusion of the humanity and divinity of the Son of Man, been a factor along with her sinlessness in Mary’s assumption? Of course, this is all speculation but the questions do have merit in that the Catholic Church rather than shying away from science has always pioneered, supported and even participated in research and study. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states
“Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”
This interconnectedness of cells among mothers, children and siblings (and possibly grandmothers) does seem to leave one person out of the equation, the father. It seems that while a husband can carry his own mother’s cells, he doesn’t carry any cells within him of his children or his wife. He is biochemically “other” than the other members of his nuclear family. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about God’s transcendence and immanence and how human fatherhood emphasizes God’s transcendence while motherhood emphasizes His immanence.
By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood,62 which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard:63 no one is father as God is Father.
The science of microchimerism seems to support this view in which the body itself speaks of these spiritual realities. St. Pope John Paul II also speaks of this “otherness” of fatherhood.
In the light of the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude toward human beings—not only towards her own child but every human being—which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man—even with his sharing in parenthood—always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother…
The wonderful thing is that husbands/fathers as head deeply desire to share and connect with their wife and children despite this characteristic of being “other.” They share that sacramental one-flesh union with their wives which results in his children receiving his DNA. I often wonder if the generally stronger sex drive of the male is a driver that serves to foster his interest in connecting to his wife (and his children in and through her), due to this “otherness” that is not shared biochemically.
Wives/mothers, for their part, seek to make room for and foster the diverse familial relationships as the heart of the family. They openly and actively welcome and receive the husband/father in cooperation with the sacramental union they share to truly unite the family as one-flesh. They also often are the keepers and drivers of cultural traditions that serve as vehicles that bind families and communities together.
This, of course, is the ideal we are called to but the effects of original sin run deep and we often fall short. It takes forgiveness and cooperation with grace to overcome these effects by striving always to attain holiness.
While much is not conclusive yet, this field of microchimerism is certainly one to watch in coming years as the implications, not only from a theological viewpoint but also from a physical viewpoint, comes more into focus. In the meantime, we can continue to wonder in awe at the thoughts and actions of God that are already so far above our own.