All posts tagged: women

The Virgin Mary as “Eternal Woman”

The holier a woman, the more she is a woman. —Léon Bloy To call the Virgin Mary the “Eternal Woman,” as I do in the title of this essay, is, of course, to allude to the title of Gertrud von Le Fort’s famous book, The Eternal Woman, first published in German as Die Ewige Frau in 1933. In Sister Prudence Allen’s magnum opus, The Concept of Woman, she devotes two pages to a brief discussion of Le Fort (1876−1971), highlighting her personal and intellectual kinship with Edith Stein (1891−1942), whom Le Fort visited in the Carmel in Cologne and with whom she exchanged letters. Sr. Allen excerpts the following passage from one of Stein’s five extant letters to Le Fort, dated January 31, 1935: Dear Baroness, Our retreat ended this morning. A retreat in Carmel—all that’s lacking to make it heaven is one’s own holiness. My spiritual reading those days was your new book. I could not get to it earlier. Now at last I can thank you for this beautiful Christmas gift. I would …

Fertility is Not a Disease

Managing a couple’s fertility to regulate their family size does not require removing said fertility from the woman’s or the man’s body. This is not primarily a religious issue. Some years ago a psychologist from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who had no religious affiliation came to me for instruction in the Billings Ovulation Method of natural family planning. She had already used mechanical and hormonal contraceptives, but, responding to a comment I had made at an NIH meeting, she decided to seek a natural method. After using the method for three months she told me, “This method is so different—now I can be all there, now I am not holding anything back.” The contrast between contraception and fertility acceptance methods has never been explained more simply. Today, hormonal contraceptives and sterilization are marketed aggressively and exclusively. While the physical side effects of contraceptive steroids on every organ system have been described in the medical literature, the personal, social, and spiritual effects of contraceptive steroid hormones, in fact of any blocking of the total …

Man, Woman, and the Mission of the Laity

Many of us living through this period of history look on with confusion and concern as we watch while our culture appears to unravel before our very eyes. It is becoming increasingly difficult to gain any traction for our efforts to defend our families and our communities from forces that seem determined to undermine the traditional understanding of the moral life that has governed Western culture for centuries. We find ourselves increasingly marginalized in public discourse about issues that cut to the heart of what it means to be human, let alone Christian. The controversies extend across many fronts, from religious liberty to women’s “rights,” from the breakdown of the family to same-sex unions, from local economic realities to the sometimes dubious benefits of globalization. As lay Catholics, we rely on our faith in the promises of Christ in the face of this situation, and rightly so. We renew our commitment to prayer and regular reception of the sacraments. We keep our families close and do our best to guard our children from the toxic …

The Crucible of Motherhood

Several months ago, Jessica Keating, Program Director of the Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives at Notre Dame, delivered a lecture in the Institute for Church Life’s Dante lecture series in which she used the phrase “the crucible of motherhood.” This phrase struck me as singularly important and true. The image of refinement by great heat and intense struggle seems apt for a vocation initiated by excruciating pain and physical endurance—well beyond the actual act of giving birth. I’ve also come to see, particularly in this election season, that words matter. A LOT. After three long pregnancies and three natural births of three very large children, I’d like to see those defending the lives of innocent children in the womb use more language empathizing with the mother herself. Women need to be able to say in one breath how difficult and even awful parts of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood can be while also affirming the infinite value of the prenatal child and his or her absolute right to life. The dignity of the person …

Don’t Make Gender Platonic

According to a wise theology professor, heresy is “trying to find a simple solution that squashes the frustrating nuances and baffling complexities of the truth.” It is fitting that something so personal and holy, such as our gender, our very mode of operation in this world, would be buried under centuries of heresy, error, and social taboos. Certainly, we seek to understand something so mysterious and sacred as the gender of the human person, and it is doubly certain we fall miserably short of comprehending it. Recently, a friend shared with me a blog piece with the provocative title: “Why Man and Woman are Not Equal,” which perfectly captured one of the most common gender heresies (especially among conservatives and the neo-Victorians dwelling among us): the Sentimental Heresy. This piece posits: Women create, shape, and maintain human culture. Manners exist because women exist. Worthy men adjust their behavior when a woman enters the room. They become better creatures. Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them. As I …

Review: “The Gift of Birth” by Susan Windley-Daoust

“They were ‘doing birth’ to me rather than helping me ‘give birth,’” writes Susan Windley-Daoust of her first experience of childbirth, which she had hoped to do naturally but that instead resulted in “failure to progress” and a C-section. “That birth experience ended up being spiritually abusive by the ongoing treatment of me as an object (and not just an object; close to an object of ridicule). My experience may have been worse than some, but it was not that unusual” (14). So many women are terrified at the notion or scarred by the past experience of giving birth in the U.S. today. In The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth, Windley-Daoust speaks to the need for healing and also for truth: for women to recognize and reject the culturally accepted, destructive lie that “childbirth will break you: you can’t do it without the drugs; that’s just life and it needs to be this way” (14). Her first birth gave her the impetus to be “extremely intentional and attentive” to her three subsequent …

An Invitation to Lead: Women in Lay Ministry

There is an extra spring in my step this morning knowing that today has been reserved, indeed set apart, to spend with both some of the youngest and oldest members of this parish community. After opening prayers they bound forward, from the left and right, towards the bright red book of the Gospels that I am holding and head to the lower church for children’s liturgy. This is indeed their community, one that the over 50 gathered have come to joyously participate in. With hands held together, in lieu of uncomfortable boredom, there are instead small voices raised and petitions uttered as the prayers of the faithful are spoken. Pausing momentarily, in the back of the sacristy after Mass, I am instantly reminded to thank the altar servers whom I personally helped train and scheduled to serve that day. A hoped-for beginning to a life of service and love, their gift can easily go unnoticed. Many of these altar servers (a large percentage of which are girls), I have seen “graduate” on to Eucharistic ministry, …

Called to Serve, Called to Lead

On a recent weekend I was called to fill in as cantor at a local parish. I arrived about twenty minutes before Mass, got the list of music from the organist, asked clarifying questions about the community’s worship style, met the priest, confirmed how to pronounce his name when I announced him, answered his questions about what parts of the Mass would be sung, and took my place at the front of the assembly. A few of the songs were unfamiliar to me, and I silently thanked my college sight-singing professor as I balanced reading the notes and words with making occasional eye contact with the assembly and raising my hand to encourage singing at the beginning of each verse. This particular congregation didn’t need much guidance; they were obviously used to singing, so I backed off from the microphone a bit and let them hear their own voices rather than mine. A few of the songs were quite familiar, the same as those I had sung with my students at a prayer service earlier …