Pope Francis, on his journey back to Rome after World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, took time to answer 21 questions from journalists from around the world. Two of the questions pertained to the role of women. First: What should our position in the Church be? And second: What measures will the Church take, since without women, the Church becomes less fruitful?
While his answers to these questions have been slighted at best due to the media's interpretation of his comments on homosexuality, his thoughts deserve a closer look.
I will summarize his points into three:
To break that down:
Women are women are women are women. They are not men.
What women have to contribute to the Church is an awful lot, the value of which is not defined by whether women are part of the ordained clergy.
The Blessed Mother is the epitome of all women and the icon for what we should strive for.
What the Church needs is more women to take a stand to serve the Body of Christ in a labor of love rather than hijack it for the modern feminist notions of equality. Newsflash: women and men are, gasp, different. A woman does not need a man's dignity or masculinity nor should she seek it out as a means to obtain meaning for herself. What a woman needs instead is to embrace the dignity that is within her—in all of God's creative glory—as woman
What Pope Francis is calling for is a deeper appreciation for and a theology of woman as
woman, not for woman as the culture would have you believe a woman is worth
. To look back a few decades to what Blessed John Paul II—a true feminist, I might add—had to say, we come across this in his Letter to Women:
every woman, for the simple fact of being
a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood, you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic. Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. In this way He honored the dignity which women have always possessed according to God's plan and in His love.”
In other words, what our late Holy Father was asking is for us to be ourselves. We do not need to be anyone else.
Pope Francis affirmed what John Paul stated definitively regarding women’s ordination: that door is closed. It is not closed however in a way of prevention, but rather in a way of guidance and direction, asserting that the value of women is to be found in the life they bring, a life both literal and figurative.
Without women who lovingly sacrifice for the gift of bringing forth new life into the world, the Church would have no future. Indeed, the gift of life is the most significant contribution that any person can hope to give.
Was it not the purpose of Jesus to come so that we may have life, and have it to the full? Then the hope of all the ordained is to bring about this life, to mirror the contribution that women so naturally give. Women then do not need to be priests to serve Christ in the Church! If anything, priests need to turn to women so that they may better know how God seeks to bring new life among his people. I prayerfully find great satisfaction and fulfillment in my role in the Church, but that satisfaction is not derived in some title. It is derived by my contribution as a giver of life, a role that no title can capture.
Pope Francis went on to beautifully describe that “the role of women in the Church is not only maternity, the mother of the family, but it is stronger: it is, in fact, the icon of the Virgin, of Our Lady, the one who helps the Church grow! But think that Our Lady is more important than the Apostles! She is more important!” Again, he is echoing what John Paul stated in his Letter to Women:
“The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the "feminine genius" and She finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the "handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty, yet not easy, vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting herself at God's service, she also put herself at the service of others: a
service of love.”
The more the women of the Church more fully embrace their God-given dignity, the more we can truly look at a more profound theology of women, beginning with the service of love.
Martinek is director of faith formation at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck. She earned her M.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville.