Does God Approve the Abuse of Women?

One of the darker passages in Scripture comes just after the fall of Adam and Eve. Announcing the consequences that they have ushered in, God says to Eve,

I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children; yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master (Gen 3:16).

The Hebrew word מָשַׁל (mashal) means “to have dominion, reign, or ruling power over another.” The New Jerusalem Bible (the most widely used Catholic Bible outside the U.S.) translates this final phrase this way: and he will dominate you.

While the text is not absolutely clear, the mastery or dominance spoken of in Genesis does not seem to refer to benign headship by the husband, but rather a relationship marked by tension and easily open to abuse.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains the following commentary on this topic:

The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination (CCC # 400).

Every man experiences evil around him and within himself. This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character (CCC # 1606).

According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman. Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations; their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust … Nevertheless, the order of creation persists, though seriously disturbed. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them (CCC #1607-1608).

In calling Genesis 3:16 a dark passage I merely call to attention to the concern of some that God seems to approve of this domination, that abuse and exploitation by men is meant to be women’s lot, by God’s will.

I do not agree with this interpretation; not everything reported or described in the Bible is approved. Eve’s experience is the result of Original Sin and the poisonous climate it introduced. While God reports the effect and even connects himself to it by way of primary causality, He spends the rest of Scripture addressing and healing the sin and its effects.

Thus, the thought that this passage gives even tacit approval to the abuse of women cannot stand. Some in the past may have invoked it to excuse abusive behavior, and most of the criticism of the passage is based on the possibility of such a misinterpretation.

That said, I have seen the passage strangely and sadly fulfilled in a small number of women I have counseled who suffer from physical and/or emotional abuse by husbands or boyfriends yet remain with them or repeatedly return to them. In this, there is a kind of fulfillment of the text that a woman’s desire will be for her man, but he will (abusively) dominate her. (There are, of course, many other potential factors such as low self-esteem, poor family role models, and financial pressures.)

There is a fine line between passion and anger, between a man who is a virile go-getter and one who turns on a dime to rage and abuse. Powerful men are attractive to some women, but some powerful men are also overly aggressive and hot-tempered. Their strength and their struggle are closely related. Many women know this intuitively, even if they have not consciously worked it all out. What they like in their man is closely related to what they hate and/or suffer from.

So, I am not so sure that every woman who returns to an abuser is simply lacking in self- esteem or is trapped in some way. Some return knowing exactly what they are doing, despite counsel to the contrary; their reasons are caught up in the complicated intersections described above.

I am not reporting this behavior with approval. I am simply observing it and trying to understand it. Like most of you, I would counsel a woman who is being physically abused to stay away unless and until the man has received help to ensure an end to his sinful behavior. Some women in such situations do not, however, and I cannot merely write them off as foolish for it.

Let us be clear: whatever the choice of the woman, to remain or to leave, the one who abuses is guilty of a great sin that the Scriptures cannot interpreted as approving in any way whatsoever.

All of this reminds me of a popular but dark song from 1978, when I was in high school: Jackson Browne’s “You Love the Thunder.” My interpretation of the lyrics is that the man singing is telling the woman that she likes his anger (thunder) and abuse (rain) because they’re worth it given what else he brings.

I remember being quite alarmed by the words and troubled that no one else seemed bothered. (I was and still am very attuned to lyrics, but most of my high school peers never seemed to pay much attention to them; they just liked the melodies.) The lyrics seem at best arrogant and at worst a celebration of anger and abuse.

Consider the darkness of these lyrics:

You love the thunder and you love the rain
What you see revealed within the anger is worth the pain
And before the lightning fades and you surrender
You’ve got a second to look at the dark side of the man

You love the thunder, you love the rain
You know your hunger, like you know your name
I know you wonder how you ever came
To be a woman in love with a man in search of the flame

Draw the shades and light the fire
For the night, it holds you and it calls your name
And just like your lover knows your desire
And the crazy longing that time will never tame …

These lyrics point to those sad words of Genesis: “… your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master,” but the song points to a Genesis 3:16 that is frozen in time, having made no progress out of the climate of sin. Jesus came to heal that and to restore God’s original plan for marriage in which a man clings to his wife in love and out of delight says, “She is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Loving the “thunder” and “rain” is not the way forward but the way backward.

So, no, God does not approve or affirm the abuse of women—or of men, for that matter. God points to it and then sets about healing it.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Does God Approve the Abuse of Women?

A Tribute to the Holy Women of the Mystical Tradition

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC-BY-SA-3.0

This past week, I have been traveling in Europe: Fatima, Lourdes, Avila, and soon enough up to Notre Dame in Paris. What a privilege it is to be in these places so near to the feasts of our Lady of Fatima (10/13) and St. Teresa of Avila (10/15)! Yes, two very important women in my life: Mother Mary and St. Teresa.

Indeed, I have come to realize my need for and indebtedness to the holy women of God’s Church, to those who are living and those who have gone before and set forth a glorious testimony of the feminine genius and mystique of deep, mystical prayer.

Ah, the Holy Women! To be sure, there are also men: St. John of the Cross and St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose towns I am also visiting. They, too, have set forth the great mystical vision. But I must say, I am particularly indebted to the great women, to the mystics and Doctors of the Church such as St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Rose of Lima, St. Therese of Lisieux, Sister Faustina, and others who ventured into deep, contemplative, and spousal union with the Lord.

How their deep love, their intensity, and their union with God has inspired me in my own journey toward contemplative prayer! Though I cannot access their spousal love for the Lord, I am able to transpose their experiences to a deep spiritual experience of sonship with God the Father, for He is Abba and I am a son of His.

Ah, the great Catherine of Sienna: her love for the Lord and her wisdom, rooted in both suffering and affliction, joy and ecstasy! She personally met the Lord. What a witness! What a glory! What a testimony the mystics gave us! St. Teresa of Avila: she who encountered the Lord and yet suffered greatly. She was even suspected of heresy and her visions and experiences submitted to the Inquisition.

Alas, Lord, spare us for our suspicious rejection of the normal Christian life! St. Rose of Lima, St. Margaret Mary, and Sister Faustina were considered by many of their contemporaries to be strange, excessive—even possessed! Yet, they knew Him whom they had encountered. They knew His love for them and were willing to suffer with Him and for Him.

Spare us, O Lord, for our obtuseness, our doubt, and our lack of faith in assigning to them, who experienced a normal Christian life, the label of insanity, oddness, extremeness, mental unbalance, and even possession!

They encountered you. They had met you and experienced you. Yet so many of us thought them strange and unbalanced. Forgive us, Lord. Too often have we substituted extreme rationalism for the mystical vision of you, who go beyond mere words and human descriptions.

Forgive us, Lord, for while our intellect is our crowning glory, sometimes we forget that you cannot be reduced to the limits of human concepts.

The mystics remind us of God’s transcendence and we often made them suffer for this.

Yes, Lord, while it is surely our obligation to submit all things to your holy Magisterium, forgive us, Lord, for the times when we have been too slow or skeptical to accept the bold testimony that the mystics gave us: that you are Other and that you draw us beyond what is comfortably understood by us.

Thank you, Lord, for the mystical tradition, for the holy women and men, beginning with John the Apostle, who have testified to us of you, who may have encountered you in ways more deep than words. They suffered much, often at our hands, for their visions, but they knew and would not deny you, whom they encountered.

The intellectual tradition of the Church is magnificent and necessary, but so is the mystical tradition, a tradition not opposed to, or really even distinct from, the intellectual tradition. For the same God is experienced and speaks in both ways. And while all things must be submitted to the sacred Magisterium of the Church, the intellectual and the mystical traditions should both be appreciated and respected.

In particular I must say that as a man, so relentlessly male, I must, despite my gifts as a man, be balanced and completed by the holy women of the Church. Indeed they have been my teachers, especially in the ways of prayer.

Thanks be to God. Some of the most beautiful women I know hang out at the basilica here in Washington D.C. Here is a video I have compiled in gratitude to some very important women in my life:

What’s a Woman to Do in a Culture Gone Mad? Perhaps "Good Girls DC" has an Idea

We have discussed at length on this blog the sad state of our culture, particularly when it comes to questions of dating, sexuality, faith and marriage.

For example, huge numbers of Americans, are postponing marriage, or never marrying at all. A recent article in Our Sunday Visitor presents stunning statistics about marriage:

The number of marriages celebrated in the Church has fallen from 415,487 in 1972 to 168,400 in 2010 — a decrease of nearly 60 percent — while the U.S. Catholic population has increased by almost 17 million. To put this another way, this is a shift from 8.6 marriages per 1,000 U.S. Catholics in 1972 to 2.6 marriages per 1,000 Catholics in 2010…

[In this Catholics reflect the general social trend]. In 2010, 53 percent of Catholics surveyed in the General Social Survey (GSS) indicated that they were currently married. By comparison, 51 percent of non-Catholics surveyed were married. [But this an astonishing drop from 1972 when 79% of Catholics were married. Among younger adults 18-40 the number is even more shocking: Only 38% are married]!

Some of [the low numbers]  can be explained by Catholics waiting longer to marry, but the shift here has been slight. In 1972, the average age at first marriage reported in the GSS for Catholics ages 18 to 40 was 20.9. In 2006 (the last time this question was asked), it was 23.9.

Thus, the decline in Church marriages is more about not marrying at all than marrying older. [Our Sunday Visitor 6/26/2011]

Of course, despite this, most younger adults are quite sexually active. And the lack of marriage, and promiscuous sexual activity is a very poisonous environment for you people. There is no need to here recite all the terrible statistics of STDs, abortion, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fatherhood), cohabitation, poverty, broken hearts, broken homes, and children raised in less than ideal situations, with often terrible conflicts they have to grow up in.

And in these promiscuous conditions, and conditions of low marriage rates, women suffer a lot more than men, since (fair or not) the consequences of the sexual revolution have fallen much harder on them. Too often men “play the field” with few social consequences, while women end up used and abused, often pregnant and with little support. Many end up unmarried with children to raise or, tragically, haunted by the aftermath of abortions.

One may ask, “In this poisonous climate, what is a woman to do?” It is easy to say that women, who usually set the limits and boundaries in a relationship, should just be chaste. But the expectations on women to be unchaste are very strong. Further women are not a monolith and there are many different points of view among them as to questions of sexuality, family, priorities, careers, faith, and any number of other issues. Women who do seek to remain chaste and also to live an active Catholic life face many challenges in doing so.

So again the question, in a culture gone mad and dysfunctional, “What is a woman to do?”

One answer is given by a new group here in Washington DC called “Good Girls DC.” These women, most of them college graduates, most of them single, but some married, have gathered to support and encourage one another in living their Catholic faith in a world often poisonous to it. At their website, their vision is stated as follows:

We are a network of trendy young adult Catholic women who welcome all woman of faith. We seek to renew society through living out our dignity as daughters of God. We aim to create a place where like minded women can find fellowship, friends, and networking opportunities while encouraging each other to live up to their God-given potential.

The group sponsors luncheons, rosary and holy hours, book clubs, and other social functions in which women gather to give each other support in living their Catholic faith and to not give way to the often poisonous social culture of today. They also sponsor co-ed events that encourage Catholics and others of like mind to meet. Their website and Facebook page feature encouraging articles, of many topics focused on faith, uplifting stories, significant events, and helpful links. In the video box below is a Radio interview with Jessica Lanza, the founder of Good Girls DC that supplies a lot more information.

In effect, what are these women doing? They are, by God’s grace, forming a faithful remnant and seeking to become a leaven in society; or, if you will, a spark that will ignite a refining fire. This is, most often, how God reforms his Church and the world. It usually begins with small groups of the faithful, the spark God ignites. And fanned by the Spirit of God’s love, the spark becomes a fire, a refining fire that begins a purifying process in the Church and the world.

Something tells me that Good Girls DC is a spark of God and He wants to fan it into flame. Why not become part of it? While the group is for women only, Men to ought to form similar groups. (Here in DC I am aware of the St. Lawrence Society, a men’s group with a similar purpose). And men ought to support groups like Good Girls DC and encourage women to join. There is a hope that other chapters will begin soon in other cites.

We all need to be strong in a culture gone mad. To use a gloss on a scriptural text we might say Woe to the solitary woman! For if she should fall, she has no one to lift her up. (cf Ecclesiastes 4:10). The same scripture also says, Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecc 4:12).  Here are strong women, unwilling to compromise with the madness of modern times. Here are women who are standing together and insisting on what is right. Here are women who seek others of like mind. Here are women who seek their vocation, whether to marriage or religious life and want to seek it untainted by the often bitter waters of modern culture.

To remain chaste, faithful and focused, we need as Catholics to support and encourage one another. Thank God for Good Girls DC.

What is a woman to do? Find other women and stand together, grow in numbers and through this spark, let God send a purifying fire upon the Church and the whole earth.

Photo above: A recent gathering of some members of Good Girls DC.

Here’s an interview with founder Jessica Lanza on the Sonrise Morning Show:

How to Handle a Woman

When I speak on marriage or do marriage preparation work, I sometimes get accused of being tough on men. I plead guilty, with an explanation, or two.

First of all I am a man and it’s just easier for me to speak firmly  to men. I tend to be more polite with women. Secondly, I think most men are encouraged when they are summoned to duty. A lot of men I have talked to are a bit sick of all the hand holding that goes on in Church, literally and figuratively. Most men I know are more interested in hearing of their duty and being summoned to it in a manly way. (However, I must say I have experienced some very definite exceptions to this rule. Some men especially react with great bitterness that I do not better articulate women’s shortcomings when it comes to marriage. I suspect there is a personal dimension to this story). Finally, I believe in male headship when it comes to marriage. Some call me old fashioned, some call me misogynist. I just prefer to call myself  “biblical”  (Eph 5:19ff; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1). But headship in the Scripture means responsibility rather than privilege. Hence the husband has the first obligation to love, to sacrifice, to anticipate and fulfill the needs of his wife and children. So yes, I am tough on men.

In that vein allow me a moment to extend some old advice to men, especially those who are husbands. Women are surely invited to listen in and to apply some of this to themselves too! For although men have the first obligation, women are not thereby passive or without duty in this regard.

And here is the central question for a man: “How to handle a woman?”  An old song from Camelot answers the question well, and biblically I might add:

 How to handle a woman? There’s a way,” said the wise old man, “A way known by every woman Since the whole rigmarole began.” “Do I flatter her?” I begged him answer. “Do I threaten or cajole or plead? Do I brood or play the gay romancer?” Said he, smiling: “No indeed. How to handle a woman? Mark me well, I will tell you, sir: The way to handle a woman Is to love her…simply love her… Merely love her…love her…love her.”

Alright men, It’s not that complicated is it? Love her. Simply love her, love her!

In marriage counseling I will sometimes ask the husband privately, Do you love your wife…Honestly now, do you really love her?  The answer is not always obvious. Many people confuse mere toleration with love.  Because I put up with you means I must love you, somehow.

But my question goes deeper: Do you have a deep affection, a warmth, a compassion and desire for your wife? Do you like her? Some of the men who are more  honest with themselves realize that many of these qualities are no longer operative and that, at best, they have a tense toleration for their wife. And there are often protests as well:  Father, you don’t know how my wife can be!….She’s hard to love. (Actually I do have some idea. We priests are not mere bachelors and we too are called to love some people who are difficult to love). Love remains the answer. And so I inevitably invite the husband to pray for a miracle:  

When you go home, get on your knees and pray for the miracle to really love your wife. Pray for the miracle of a tender and humble heart that will love her with a deep, abiding, compassionate, and passionate love. Pray to love her unconditionally, not because she deserves it, or has earned it, not because she feeds you or sleeps with you. Pray to love her “for no good reason.” Ask God to give you the same love he has for you. You and I are not easy to love, we have not earned God’s love and don’t really deserve it. But God loves us still the same. Yes, pray for a miracle. Your flesh may  think of 50 reasons to be resentful and unloving  toward your wife. Pray for the miracle to love her any way, deeply and truly. Pray for a new heart, filled with God’s love.

In the end, the only way to “handle” a woman is to love her.

I can hear the fear talking as well: Are you saying I should be a doormat?  No, love speaks the truth and insists upon it. But only love can distinguish between respect for the truth and mere power struggle. Only love can distinguish properly between reverence for the good of the other and merely insisting on my own preferences. Love can speak the truth but it does so with love.

As a priest I have found that the more I love my people the better equipped I am to lead them to the truth. And when they know and experience that I love them, there is trust and they can better accept the truth I am summoned to preach. But it is love that opens the door.

Advice to husbands, How to handle a woman? Love her.

In case you’ve never heard the song from Camelot here it is. The Scene begins with Arthur furiously lamenting the short-comings of the Queen  and then reacalling some old advice given him by Merlin:

Now, you will say, “Camelot ended badly.” Yes, but in the end we do not love merely with good results in mind, we love unconditionally, as God does. God loves because God is love and that’s what Love does, He loves. And so to for us, called to be possessed of God’s love, we love. We risk  to love. The Lord was killed for the love he had for us. We do not love merely to get something from it, we simply love. Others may accept or refuse our love, but as for us we love. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:16).

Simply love her, love her, love her.

Here’s another video clip that says it better than I. This is clip from the movie “Fireproof” wherein a husband struggles to love his wife. This scene is the turning point of the move, the breakthrough:

Should Women Cover Their Heads in Church?

Now be of good cheer. This blog post is meant to be a light-hearted discussion of this matter. The bottom line is that the Church currently has NO rule on this matter and women are entirely free to wear a veil or a hat in Church or not.

I thought I’d blog on this since it came up in the comments yesterday and it occurred to me that it might provoke an interesting discussion. But again this is not meant to be a directive discussion about what should be done. Rather an informative discussion about the meaning of head coverings for women in the past and how such customs might be interpreted now. We are not in the realm of liturgical law here just preference and custom.

What I’d like to do is to try and understand the meaning and purpose of a custom that, up until rather recently was quite widespread in the Western Church.

With the more frequent celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, the use of the veil is also becoming more common. But even at the Latin Masses I celebrate, women exhibit diversity in this matter. Some wear the longer veil (mantilla) others a short veil. Others  wear hats. Still others wear no head covering at all.

History – the wearing of a veil or hat for women seems to have been a fairly consistent practice in the Church in the West until fairly recently. Practices in the Eastern and Orthodox Churches have varied. Protestant denominations also show a wide diversity in this matter. The 1917 Code of Canon Law in  the Catholic Church mandated that women wear a veil or head covering. Prior to 1917 there was no universal Law but it was customary in most places for women to wear some sort of head covering. The 1983 Code of Canon Law made no mention of this requirement and by the 1980s most women, at least here in America, had ceased to wear veils or hats anyway. Currently there is no binding rule and the custom in most places is no head covering at all.

Scripture – In Biblical Times women generally wore veils in any public setting and this would include the Synagogue. The clearest New Testament reference to women veiling or covering their head is from St. Paul:

But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head.  But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved.  For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil.  A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man;  for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God.  Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given (her) for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God. (1 Cor 11:1-11)

This is clearly a complicated passage and has some unusual references. Paul seems to set forth four arguments as to why a woman should wear a veil.

1. Argument 1 – Paul clearly sees the veil a woman wears as a sign of her submission to her husband. He also seems to link it to modesty since his references to a woman’s  hair cut short were references to the way prostitutes wore their hair and his reference to a shaved head was the punishment due an adultress. No matter how you look at it such arguments aren’t going to encourage a lot of women to wear a veil today. It is a true fact that the Scriptures consistently teach that a wife is to be submitted to her husband. I cannot and will not deny what God’s word says even though it is unpopular. However I will say that the same texts that tell a woman to be submitted tell the husband to have a great and abiding love for his wife. I have blogged on this “difficult” teaching on marriage elsewhere and would encourage you to read that blog post if you’re troubled or bothered by the submission texts. It is here: An Unpopular Teaching on Marriage. That said, it hardly seems that women would rush today to wear veils to emphasize their submission to their husband.

2. Argument 2 – Regarding the Angels– Paul also sees a reason for women to wear veils “because of the angels.” This is a difficult reference  to understand. There are numerous explanations I have read over the years. One of the less convincing ones is that the angels are somehow distracted by a woman’s beauty. Now the clergy might be 🙂 but it just doesn’t seem likely to me that the angels would have this problem. I think the more convincing argument is that St. Paul has Isaiah in mind who wrote: I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft.(Is 6:2-3). Hence the idea seems to be that since the angels veil their faces (heads) it is fitting for women to do the same. But then the question, why not a man too? And here also Paul supplies an aswer that is “difficult” for modern ears: A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. In other words a man shares God’s glory immediately whereas a woman does as well but derivatively for she was formed from Adam’s wounded side. Alas this argument too will not likely cause a run on veil sales.

3. Argument 3 – The argument from “nature” – In effect Paul argues that since nature itself veils a woman with long hair and this is her glory that this also argues for her covering her head in Church. What is not clear is that, if nature has already provided this covering, why then should she cover her covering? I want to take up this notion of glory in my conclusion.

4. Argument 4-  The Argument from Custom–  This argument is pretty straight-forward: Paul says it is customary for a woman to cover her head when praying and, other things being equal, this custom should be followed. Paul goes on to assert that those who insist on doing differently are being “argumentative.” In effect he argues that for the sake of good order and to avoid controversy the custom should be followed. However, in calling it a custom, the text also seems to allow for a time like ours where the custom is different. Customs have stability but are not usually forever fixed. Hence, though some argue that wearing veils is a scriptural norm that women “must” follow today, the use of the word custom seems to permit of the possibility that it is not an unvarying norm we are dealing with here. Rather, it is a custom from that time that does not necessarily bind us today. This of course seems to be how the Church understands this text for she does not require head coverings for her daughters.

Conclusions –

1. That women are not required to wear veils today is clear in terms of Church Law. The argument that the Church is remiss in not requiring this of her daughters is hard to sustain when scriptures attach the word “custom” to the practice.

2. I will say however that I like veils and miss women wearing them. When I was a boy in the 1960s my mother and sister always wore their veils and so did all women in those days and I remember how modestly beautiful I found them to be. When I see women wear them today I have the same impression.

3. That said, a woman does not go to Church to please or impress me.

4. It is worth noting that a man is still forbidden to wear a hat in Church. If I see it I go to him and ask him to remove it. There  a partial exception to the clergy who are permitted to wear birettas and to bishops who are to wear the miter. However, there are strict rules in this regard that any head cover is to be removed when they go to the altar. Hence,  for men,  the rule, or shall we say the custom, has not changed.

5. Argument 5 – The Argument from Humility – This leads me then to a possible understanding of the wearing of the veil for women and the uncovered head for the men that may be more useful to our times. Let’s call it The Argument from Humility.

For both men and women, humility before God is the real point of these customs. In the ancient world as now, women gloried in their hair and often gave great attention to it. St. Paul above,  speaks of a woman’s hair as her glory. As a man I am not unappreciative of this glory. Women do wonderful things with their hair. As such their hair is part of their glory and, as St. Paul says it seems to suggest above  it is appropriate to cover our glory before the presence of God.

As for men, in the ancient world and to some lesser extent now, hats often signified rank and membership. As such men displayed their rank and membership in organizations with pride in the hats they wore. Hence Paul tells them to uncover their heads and leave their worldly glories aside when coming before God. Today men still do  some of this (esp. in the military) but men wear less hats in general. But when they do they are often boasting of allegiances to sports teams and the like. Likewise, some men who belong to fraternal organizations such as the various Catholic Knights groups often  display ranks on their hats. We clergy do this as well to some extent with different color poms on birettas etc. Paul encourages all this to be left aside in Church. As for the clergy, though we may enter the Church with these ranked hats and insignia, we are to cast them aside when we go to the altar. Knights organizations are also directed  to set down their hats when the Eucharistic prayer begins.

I do not advance this argument from humility to say women ought to cover their heads, for I would not require what the Church does not. But I offer the line of reasoning as a way to understand veiling in a way that is respectful of the modern setting, IF  a woman chooses to use the veil. Since this is just a matter of custom then we are not necessarily required to understand its meaning in exactly the way St. Paul describes. Submission is biblical but it need not be the reason for the veil. Humility before God seems a more workable understanding especially since it can be seen to apply to both men and women in the way I have tried to set it forth.

There are an amazing number of styles when it comes to veils and mantillas: Mantillas online

This video gives some other reasons why a woman might wear a veil. I think it does a pretty good job of showing some of the traditions down through the centuries. However I think the video strays from what I have presented here in that it seems to indicate that women ought to wear the veil and that it is a matter of obedience. I do not think that is what the Church teaches in this regard. There can be many good reasons to wear the veil but I don’t think we can argue that obedience to a requirement is one of them.

Marriage and Womanhood

This blog is a complement to Msgr. Pope’s January 4th blog, Marriage and Manhood. There, he laid out some ground rules for men concerning marriage. Fabulous blog, in my opinion!

As a follow-up, I felt the need to encourage women to do their part as well. So with my own experiences and the input of a single marriage-minded man, I’ve compiled this list.

1) If you are interested in attracting a man, look the part: choose feminine dresses over androgynous pants; fitted contours over ill-fitting clothes; enhancing colors over plain blacks; natural, youthful makeup over heavy, concealing makeup; and always choose a smile over a blank stare or a scowl.

2) Never ask a guy out! If he is interested and is a real man, he will ask you out. If he doesn’t ask you out, he either isn’t interested or isn’t a real man. This point could not be more clear or more important.

3) Do not have an intimate friendship with a man who is not dating you. If you are hoping that someday he will date you, it’s very unlikely. (Sorry, Taylor Swift.) This can also be a red flag that this man does not have intimate friendships with other men. This is a problem since men need other men to be real men.

4) Ok so you’re on your first date, and this guy starts sounding an awful lot like your ex…give him a chance! If you start projecting your ex’s worst characteristics on this new guy, you are inviting your own disappointment. Each man is unique, so give him the respect he deserves. It has been said that a man’s desire for respect is comparable to a woman’s desire to be cherished.

5) Once a man initiates a friendship, continue letting him pursue you as you get to know each other. Let him plan the dates. Let him pick you up. Let him pay. Let him set the pace. Let him be the first to use the words relationship, dating, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Follow his lead, and don’t make assumptions.

6) Dress modestly and act chastely. Despite what television and commercials tell you, seduction is entirely unnecessary! Your beauty and the fact that you are a female is enough.

7) If a relationship doesn’t work out, don’t let that affect your relationship with God or your appreciation of yourself as a woman. (I just got on a proud-to-be-a-Catholic-woman kick. Above my bed is a recently-purchased painting of the Blessed Mother and baby Jesus, and on my bedside table is my rosary and my current pile of books: “The Privilege of Being a Woman” (von Hildebrand), “Woman” (Stein), “Theology of the Body for Beginners” (West), “Graced and Gifted” (Hahn), “Introduction to the Devout Life” (de Sales), and “The Soul of Elizabeth Seton” (Dirvin). This is new venture for me, but I can tell you that so far it’s been entirely enriching!)

Try all 7 of these guidelines, and let me know how it works for you! And if you’ve been grazing in one pasture for a while, try a new one! God never promised that your future husband would live within a 20 miles radius.

God bless your journey toward marriage!

“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.” Proverbs 31:10

Guest Blog – What it Means to Be a Woman – Sr. Maria Theotokos, SSVM

Sr. Maria Theotokos is a Religious Sister of the Congregation of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. She resides with 25 other sisters in the Convent of my parish (See photo at right). This is a wonderful new order (founded 1988) of Religious Sisters who love the Lord, our Lady and the Church. They are blessed by many young vocations and have a very good formation program. I have encouraged Sister to write from time to time so that we might have the perspective of Women Relgious here. In this post Sister writes a book review and also provides a critique of Feminism.

“An Unusual Little Book” 

Sister Maria Theotokos Adams, SSVM

Recently a friend of mine lent me an unusual little book with the pointed comment that she thought I really should read it.  As a religious sister, I typically focus first on my spiritual reading: scripture, saints, classic authors of the interior life, patristic commentary on the Scriptures.  Then, there is always academic reading, new magisterial documents, and news.  So where does this new book fall?  And to what does it owe this particular treatment?

Suspicious Title!  – Priesthood of the Heart: The Unique Vocation of Women(original publication in French 2003, Eng. 2007) by Jo Croissant has a title which threw me off the first time I heard it.  As a young woman religious in my early 30’s I love my vocation as a spouse of Christ and a mother of souls—simply put, I know that don’t want to be a priest.  Furthermore, like so many young women my age I passed through a period of academic feminism in high school which gave me a heavy enough dose of feminist writings to leave me thoroughly disenchanted.  I remember reading in my teens the classic texts which revealed the “true condition” of women’s lot: Kate Chopin, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoire, Virginia Woolf.  A Room of One’s Own attuned my vision to what would lay ahead if I were to pursue academics and writing in particular.

Problems with Radical Feminism – In all these readings, essential roles of identity—daughter, wife, and mother—were all devalued since they depended on others and therefore left woman in an endless cycle of subordination.  When in college, I rebelled against this feminist model, and began to investigate Catholic teachings on women, marriage, and love as “gift of self.”  We are relational beings by nature.  It is a lie to tell women that only by being autonomous from all others are they free.  And, so there ended my “orthodox” feminist perspective and began my searching into JP II’s “Theology of the Body” and the figure of the Virgin Mother of God.    During my years at college in the late 1990’s, conversations among friends revealed again and again that many in our generation—raised by baby-boomer mothers deeply shaped by the feminist movement—were sad to have missed out on fathers and mothers who worked together as a family.  Whether due to conditions of divorce, actively chosen single motherhood, or professionalism that produced total autonomy between husband and wife, our families had all suffered, we had all suffered something intangible and seemingly inevitable. A month after graduation from college I entered religious life, and so my attention has been more and more focused on the particular virtues and gifts proper to the consecrated woman.

A Genuine Catholic Thinker! Recently then, my first glance at Priesthood of the Heart  was mixed with disinterest (“more feminism?”) and suspicion (“more Catholic feminism!?!”). Thirteen pages into the book, the reader will find what is so appealing about Croissant’s work: its strikingly contemporary voice.  In a flash both my disinterest and suspicion were vanquished by the humor and intensity of this genuine Catholic thinker.  Jo Croissant, the wife of Ephraim, founder of the Community of the Beatitudes, is a French woman who has lived through the hopes and disappointments of the women’s movement and now speaks to the conditions of today.  To read a Catholic book about the vocation of women in the light of the feminist movement and of the contemporary crisis of family, society, and the world has offered me a renewed interest in these critical issues.  It is not enough to proclaim the “inherent dignity of women” and to sigh for a past time which will never come again—and which may have had its own problems anyway.  As young Catholic women of today, whether lay women or religious sisters, we are children of our age.  We cannot easily embrace the depth of Catholic teaching without acknowledging what injustices women have suffered in the past, what confusion women have suffered as a result of feminism and what active role we are called to in the world today.

The Identity Crisis afflicting many women –  In Priesthood of the Heart, Croissant first unveils the identity crisis and complex sorrow afflicting many women.  Through short testimonies, she draws on the experiences of women who have tried to live as “liberated” or “autonomous” women, only be crushed over and over by the conflicts of identity in broken relationships.  She then rebuilds a vision of woman through a study of the essential feminine vocation to love: as daughter, wife, and mother.  Only as a relational being is woman complete.  These relations must begin first in the light of God, so that woman as “daughter of the Father” can find her confidence and first identity outside of herself.  When a woman tries to deny or manipulate these elements of her person in an attempt to grasp absolute freedom and independence, she looses herself.

God-Given Feminine Characteristics –  Croissant points out that the natural desires to soothe, to nurture, to love through self-sacrifice are not “socially reinforced patterns of repression” but God-given feminine characteristics.  By developing these virtues in a life of sacramental grace, women can fulfill the depths of spousal love, harmonize family life, and raise happy healthy children.  God has assigned women a key role in building up marriage and family which are the foundations of society and of civilization.  Never missing a chance to apply these true feminine gifts in all states of life (single, married, religious), Croissant has drawn out foundational Catholic teachings on the vocation of women with a fresh voice.

The Priesthood of the Baptized is distinct from the Ministerial Priesthood but supports it –  In her final chapter on the “priesthood of the heart,” Jo Croissant builds on the common priesthood of the baptized.  She develops the spirituality of intercession and sacrifice through which women perform a “priestly” role between God and humanity.  Far from being any innovation on her part, Croissant is in line with the scriptural and magisterial teaching, expressed in #87-90 of Pius XII Mediator Dei (1947) and Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium  (1964), #10-11.   Especially helpful during the Year for Priests, the appropriate and complete understanding of women is for us to hear the call: “like living stones [to] be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:4-5).  Women can engage fully in this papal initiative of the Year for Priests by turning our prayers and attention to the unique gift of the ministerial priesthood in the Church, and understanding better the subsequent distinction between their role of Alter Christus (“another Christ”) and ours of the “priesthood of the heart.”  The natural outcome will be praying for priests, committing to spiritual maternity, and learning how to offer up to God the needs of our families, communities, and our world.

A Gift to the Present – Now I can understand why this unusual little book struck such a chord with my friend, and why she thought it would with me too.  We all must face the reality of being “children of our age” even within the walls of a convent and clothed in long flowing habits.  There is no “going back” to some other time, but rather Catholic women in all states of life have a gift to bring once more to the world.  We must learn again how to love through sacrifice, fruitfulness, and silent strength.  Imitation of the Virgin Mother of God is forever timely and forever fresh.  We must help to build up our families, our parishes, our places of work, and the children entrusted to us by living fully as the women God made us to be.  The needs of the world are urgent, and authentic change begins with the conversion of one child at a time, one family at a time, one woman at a time.  For women in all states of life or discernment there is something of interest for you in this unusual little book.

 Priesthood of the Heart: the Unique Vocation of Women (2007) Jo Croissant, Alba House, 152 pages, original French title: La Femme Sacerdotale, Ou Le Sacerdoce Du Coeur (2003).

Essential Reading: -Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem (1988)

Further Reading: -St. Edith Stein, Essays on Woman (ICS Publications);  -Alice Von Hilderbrand, The Privilege of Being a Woman (Sapientia Press);  -Maurc Hawrke, Women in the Priesthood? (Ignatius Press)

Saints to Get to Know:  -St. Catherine of Siena: consecrated virgin, international ambassador, Doctor of the Church;  -St. Teresa of Avila: consecrated virgin, reformer, author, Doctor of the Church  -St. Therese of the Child Jesus: Carmelite at 15 years of age, playwright, author, Doctor of the Church  -St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, wife, mother, Episcopalian convert, foundress, religious sister, American saint  -St. Edith Stein, philosopher, Jewish convert, Carmelite contemplative, martyr -St. Gianna Beretta Molla, physician, wife, mother, martyr for life -Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, religious sister, foundress, Nobel Prize winner, true friend of Jesus in His distressing disguise of “the poorest of the poor”

The Following Video depicts the History of the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word of which The Servants of the Lord are the women’s branch:

No door will ever close.

maids with oil lamps

This is the screen saver on my computer at work. It is the facade of the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome. It depicts the women from Matthew’s Gospel and the story of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25).  The church sits in the middle of a bustling piazza and so it looks as if the women are carrying is right into the middle of life in the piazza. The Gospel story has an Advent feel to it because it reminds us that we know not the day or hour when our Lord will return and so we need to be alert and ready, looking for  to walk right into the midst of our lives–here and now!

Limits and Promise

A few years ago I came across this poem by someone called T.J. O’Gorman of whom I know nothing other than this work which is an Advent favorite of mine.

  • Face to face with our limits,
  • blinking before the frightful
  • Stare of our frailty,
  • Promise rises
  • Like a posse of clever maids
  • Who do not fear the dark
  • Because their readiness
  • Lights the search.
  • Their oil
  • Becomes the measure of their love,
  • Their ability to wait–
  • An indication of their
  • Capacity to trust and take a chance.
  • Without the caution or predictability
  • Of  knowing the day or hour.
  • They fall back on that only
  • Of which they can be sure:
  • Love precedes them,
  • Before it
  • No door will ever close