Archive for April, 2013

Four of the 34 ‘Doctors” of the Catholic Church just happen to be women:  St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and Hildegard of Bingen, who was recently added to the list last October.  ‘Doctor of the Church’  is a title given to those whose writings are judged to be in line with the doctrine of the Church and worthy to be used as teachings.

So if these women and others such as Mother Teresa, can be held in such high esteem, then why in the world wouldn’t the Catholic Church allow women to be priests.  This was certainly a pressing question for me when I converted to the Catholic Church in 1987.  Back then I was a staunch feminist, and felt the Church was old-fashioned and sexist in the way women were treated.  I felt women are intelligent, knowledgeable, and gifted with many talents, including leadership, and would make excellent priests.

Then in 1993 I read an amazing book called “To Know Christ Jesus”, by Frank Sheed. In it Sheed writes “To know Christ Jesus: if we do not know him as he lived among us, acted and reacted and suffered among us, we risk not knowing him at all.” Many people have explained to me the reason Jesus only had men for his twelve apostles is because it would have caused too much controversy, since their culture was opposed to women in leadership or positions of authority.

After studying the life of Christ and observing Jesus time after time upsetting the applecart, I knew this premise was false.  Jesus caused tremendous strife and tension by many of his actions, especially those concerning women.  He never, ever worried about the opinion of others, or whether they would accept his teachings. He scandalized everyone by visiting with despised tax collectors, healing on the Sabbath, touching lepers and ‘unclean’ women, and advising the rich young man to give up his riches; he even had the audacity to ‘forgive’ a man’s sins!

In Luke 7 “the sinful woman” came, “bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.”

Jesus’ host, Simon the pharisee, and the other guests were scandalized at the sinful woman’s actions; they were shocked that Jesus allowed her to touch him so intimately.  Jesus was unperturbed at their protest and simply proceeded to admonish the guests with a lesson on forgiveness and love, ignoring the trouble he stirred up.

In John 6 after Jesus told his disciples they must “eat his flesh and drink his blood for everlasting life” (and Jesus used the Greek word ‘trogein’, which means to literally gnaw or consume),  many of his disciples were so upset and disturbed by his ‘supposed’ cannibalism, they vehemently argued with him.  Jesus calmly affirmed his teaching saying “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Many of his followers were appalled at his words, and simply deserted him. “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Some scholars believe Jesus lost over three-fourths of his apostles over this one teaching!

You can clearly see Jesus never hesitated to speak his mind, even when his very life was at stake.  And in fact, when facing Pilate and Herod, Jesus remained steadfast and stoic, well aware his turbulent actions would result in his death.  He spoke his mind even when his words went against the culture, or was opposed to conventional wisdom.

Everything Jesus did was deliberate and had a specific purpose, many times indicative of a deeper meaning, such as when he miraculously multiplied the fish and bread and fed 5,000 people (Matthew 14:13).  This was a prefiguring of the extraordinary way he would multiply himself in the Eucharist, and feed millions with his own flesh and blood.

St. Paul absorbed Jesus’ parables and teachings, and was able to affirm Jesus’ deliberate exclusion of women apostles in 1st Timothy 2:12, when he proclaimed “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man…For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  Further, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.  But she will be saved through motherhood, provided women persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

Wow!  Bold words!  Some claim St. Paul was a misogynist, but in reality St. Paul came to know Jesus and his thoughts thoroughly and intimately, giving him special knowledge and insight into the doctrine of the Church Jesus established.  The Church’s exclusion of women as priests has nothing to do with women’s abilities, but everything to do with Eve’s sinful actions, which not only gave us original sin and pain in childbearing, but also consigned women to a lesser role in the hierarchy of the Church forever.  St. Paul explains in Eph. 2:20 the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone”, so he and the other apostles certainly have a special advantage in interpreting Jesus’ words.

But women have definitely had tremendous influence in the Catholic Church throughout the centuries.  In the 1300’s the popes resided at Avignon, France, and St. Catherine of Siena vigorously and repeatedly berated Popes Gregory XI and Urban VI urging them to leave France andCatherine of Siena.jpg return to Rome, which they eventually did.  St. Clare founded the religious order “The Poor Clares”, whose vows of poverty and humility resulted in high levels of  holiness, which became an example for many of the corrupt and immoral clergy during the middle ages.

So if you are struggling with some of the teachings of the Catholic Church, especially those concerning women, delve into the gospels and really come to “know him as he lived among us, acted and reacted and suffered among us”.  Spend time in prayer asking Jesus to give you insight into his actions and words.  I encourage you to read Pope John Paul II’s letter “On The Dignity and Vocation of Women”;  I literally wept as I read his beautiful words regarding the respect and esteem women should be accorded.  In his letter he described the ‘genius of women’, that “from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history. I think of the great line of woman martyrs, saints and famous mystics.”

Pope John Paul II goes on to advise us “But I am convinced that the secret of making speedy progress in achieving full respect for women and their identity involves more than simply the condemnation of discrimination and injustices, necessary though this may be. Such respect must first and foremost be won through an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women’s life and beginning with a universal recognition of the dignity of women. Our ability to recognize this dignity, in spite of historical conditioning, comes from the use of reason itself, which is able to understand the law of God written in the heart of every human being. More than anything else, the word of God enables us to grasp clearly the ultimate anthropological basis of the dignity of women, making it evident as a part of God’s plan for humanity.”

To paraphrase Proverbs 31:1, a “woman is a precious jewel to be treasured”.  The Hebrew word for jewel is ‘treasure’; treasure is comprised of gold and other valuable and precious objects, meaning that in God’s eyes, and in the view of the Church, women are to be valued, cherished, prized and treasured!


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In the Garden

“For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.” (From an ancient Holy Saturday homily).

I love to garden; I love kneeling in the warm soil planting hot pink double impatiens or ruby red geraniums, while gazing at the clear blue sky and admiring the lush, verdant lawn.  Filling the earth with new growth gives me with a sense of accomplishment and well-being, and makes me acutely aware of  God’s presence.  As I water and fertilize my budding plants, I have a deeper sense of God’s power and majesty, knowing that everything is dependent on His grace and mercy, even the successful cultivation of my flowers.

The mundane task of weeding is even enjoyable as I bask in the warm sun and enjoy the magnificence of God’s creation.  Yesterday I transplanted around 20 Lenten Rose seedlings into a new garden area and I felt such a thrill to participate with God in creating a pallet of beauty.  It is incredibly rewarding to plant tiny seedlings in the fertile ground, and observe them blossom into vivid, magnificent blooms.  Afterwards I wandered around my different flower beds, rejoicing at the dazzling array of colors before me; amethyst phloxx, fuchsia azaleas, candy apple dianthus, bright yellow and white daffodils, and the violet blooms on the redbud tree.  My garden is where I feel the most intimacy with God, and where I experience extraordinary peace and joy.

But it wasn’t until Good Friday last year, that I fully realized the significance of ‘the garden’ in Jesus’ life.  After the Last Supper, on Holy Thursday,  “as was his custom” Jesus went to pray with his disciples in the ‘Garden of Gethsemane’.  Jesus often spent long nights absorbed in prayer in ‘the garden’ with his heavenly father; after all, only his father truly understood him.  Most of the time his disciples were befuddled by his words; his own mother was unable to fully grasp his divine nature.

So while his disciples slept, Jesus contemplated taking on the sin of all mankind upon himself and asked Christ in Gethsemane Giclee PrintGod, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; still not my will, but yours be done”. (Luke 22:42)  Anticipating the excruciating pain to come, “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.”  Then Judas was there, “betraying the Son of Man with a kiss”.  Jesus was then arrested by the chief priests and temple guards, and taken to the High Priest.  I can’t even begin to conceive the absolute agony it would take to sweat ‘drops of blood’.

Jesus’ cruel passion continued, and he was crucified.  “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.  So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day, for the tomb was close by.” (John 19:41)  After his resurrection, when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in ‘the garden’, poor Mary was so distraught that she didn’t recognize her newly resurrected savior; she thought he was the gardener!

Last year on Good Friday, I woke up early and decided to clean my two birdbaths and fill the bird feeders.  As I was scrubbing out the birdbaths, I looked around my beautiful garden and had the eeriest sense that I was preparing ‘the garden’ for the resurrection.  Suddenly I felt immense sorrow at Jesus’ impending death, knowing he would soon be laid in the nearby tomb.  But I felt an indescribable joy knowing the first image he would have after he was resurrected was similar to the scene before me:  dew glistening on the wet grass, birds chirping happily as they busily built their nests, and the sunlight dancing on the jade green leaves of the bushes and trees.  I realized I was given an amazing glimpse into the mixed emotions Mary Magdalene must have experienced during those tumultuous three days!

So ‘the garden’ is special to the heart of God; after all, he created man in the Garden of Eden; a luxurious paradise we were meant to reside in forever.  It makes sense that Jesus’ act of obedience would take place in a garden, since Adam’s disobedience occurred in a garden.  God created man in a garden, but through Adam’s sin, we lost everlasting life, and instead inherited original sin.  In ‘the garden’ Jesus became the ‘new’ Adam, restoring us to eternal life (1st. Corin. 15:22)  No wonder I have such a powerful awareness of God’s omnipresence when I am in ‘the garden’.

Story of Song ‘In the Garden’

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