Karen House Catholic Worker
Women and the Church
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Why This Issue:
We asked Dorothy--wife, mother and recipient of last year's Msgr. Shocklee Award for human rights work --to write her reflections about women and the Church. When they arrived, we decided they would serve well as an introduction to the theme of this issue.
In one sense I'm proud to be a Roman in the Church...as I look around me at the women who have in the past, and who continue to inspire and encourage me in the understanding and living out of the message of Jesus. For example, there are the women in religious orders who were in the forefront of implementation of Vatican II statements.
I don't normally like comparisons to the past. We usually see things with some distortion. Nevertheless, I think it's accurate to say that prior to the Vatican Council, there was a tension, a competition, between the various religious orders.
It's been beautiful to see that attitude disappear, and to see the mutuality
that has developed between the women religious and then between them and those of us who fall under the heading of lay women . We have all benefited from these altered relationships...and have become more accurately "followers of and in Christ."
For many years now the people most responsible for my spiritual direction and enrichment have been women...through their perceptions and sense of values, and their lived-out examples. This does not negate the male influence, because indeed there have been some wonderful men who have responded to the Spirit in their lives and have passed along in a give-and-take fashion their insights and struggles, as we continue on our spiritual journeys. And then, beyond a personal level, has been the courage and humility with which some of the Bishops have acted and spoken. . . if only this could sift down to our every day experience.
The consistent male image in the liturgy is alienating to me, and I'm very discouraged that there seems to be such a hard line drawn against the possibility-of women's ordination, particularly when the strongest reasons against it seem to be "tradition" (as was slavery) and because Jesus was a "man." It seems to me that the outstanding attributes of Jesus were precisely those that are characteristically labeled "feminine": compassion, gentle strength, patience, humility. Ironic that we should try to mirror his physical image rather than his spiritual one. At any rate, I find the pew uncomfortable as a woman in today's Church. And I think I hear Mary saying quietly, as she gives birth, "This is my body, this is my blood. How can Christ be wholly male, when he was born of woman?
And this all ties in, I think, with the lack of support of ERA that predominates in the official male Church (again, except for some courageous priests and bishops...hooray for them and God bless). It's a real paradox that at the same time we're insisting that women not opt for abortion (and, incidentally, I consider abortion a tragedy in which we all share responsibility), we're allowing women to be denied the economic and psychological strength they could have with an Equal Rights Amendment. We're not creating an environment that is supportive for women with children. And yet we hear, particularly around Mother's Day those pap sermons that make me, a mother, squirm in my seat. How can men, or how can anyone with the stratified mindset we've lived with, talk to us about motherhood in traditional terms? The possibilities of mothering have barely been tapped.
So as a woman in the Church, I struggle... and yet, through the eyes, the hands and the voices of others who struggle, I feel it's worth it.
- Dorothy Armbruster
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