December 28, 2018
Today’s solemnity begins a new year (2019) and this highlights its importance; it is a good way to begin our new year! Today’s feast is very beautiful but it also gives rise to many important questions for us as modern Catholics and Christians. Let us briefly reflect, in God’s grace and great love, some of these questions so that we may be bearers of God’s light and gifts to all people.
If we take even a quick glance at Church history, we need to acknowledge that this history is a mixed bag. There are many items and events that are good but if we are honest and truthful there are many that are not, and unfortunately there are more of these latter than the former. Look today at your own experience, theology, thinking and actions/ministry and ponder this whole situation honestly.
Patriarchy still remains strong in today’s Church. Historically, how many women’s moves/movements towards liberation and positive acknowledgements were led by the Church? Very few! And why?? My hope here lies not so much with those in today’s Church as leaders and workers as it does with Pope Francis and his gently life-giving proclamation of the Gospel that moves us to equality, acknowledgement, and the true make-up of Christ’s Church. This reflects our psychological make-up very well. All of us men fit somewhere on the psychological spectrum “male to female” (or vice versa, if you prefer). (The women’s spectrum runs “female to male”.) What is important to note here is that all of us men and us women have been created with male or female preponderance and some elements of the other sex! This calls for equal acknowledgement of both women and men in their fullness before God and before humankind.
So let us thank God for all the strong women (and saints) in our Faith’s history that challenged patriarchy and male domination – here we go from Mary the Mother of God and Phoebe and Saint Monica to Julian of Norwich and Saint Joan of Arc and Saint Teresa of Avila and good Catholic women today who are strong feminists. Today’s Church needs a strong #metoo Catholic movement.
Let us look to the clear example of Our Risen Lord in the Gospels. Christ, in every encounter recorded in the Four Gospels, was very gentle and accepting and recognizing the women He encountered. He is our model and leader here.
There is another aspect of the Church’s history in this area that we should consider briefly. Note that in the male-dominated Church (hopefully, in the past) there seemed to be a psychological compensation generally to make one woman – the Blessed Virgin Mary – so important that she almost became a member of the Trinity! I vividly remember as an Italian child growing up at how exalted “la Madonna” was – I knew much more about Her than the Holy Spirit! Many in today’s Church also have had that experience! Was all this the result of some subconscious recognition that the Church was too much Male and not enough Female? I still wonder.
I very strongly urge you to go to Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) and read Chapter VIII dealing with Mary. It is the best explanation/exposition on Mary that we have in the Church. In the scheme and structure of religious things, it locates Mary on the side of the Church instead of trying to assimilate her to the Blessed Trinity. It beautifully has a proper regard for Her. This Chapter VIII clearly distinguishes Christ’s role in salvation and Mary’s role and it urges us not to marginalize Christ’s role by magnifying Mary’s role too much. A good exercise for today would be to read Chapter VIII before you look at today’s scriptural readings and then read them. You will be surprised at how powerful today’s readings are if you have this background!
In light of the above, our education of ourselves and others (especially our children) needs to change regarding Mary who truly remains OUR Mother. So what are we going to do about this? What do we need to change in our regard for Mary if it does not square with Vatican II? May I end today’s reflections with some simple advice for this to come about?
Let us change the language by which we refer to God. My experience and my ministry (50 years) shows we make God male by using male language which is incorrect because God is way beyond the male/female distinction. So what to do? In our language about God, we can always replace He, His, Him, etc. with “God”. Sometimes this makes matters more cumbersome but that is a small price to pay; in any case, this being cumbersome reminds us to be humble before a loving God Whom we tend to “tame” for our purposes! Some people use “He/She”, “Him/Her,” etc. which is also good. Think about this challenge of calling God “something” by our word-limitations and stand before this God in awe!
Happy New Year and God bless your new year! Amen.