You’ve heard the whining: The Catholic Church oppresses women. The complaints likely center on two specific Church teachings: the all-male priesthood, and the sanctity of human life.
Stretching credulity, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd equated the suffering of women under radical Islamic law with being a Catholic woman in America. (Fact check: Under Sharia law women cannot drive cars, get jobs, choose their own fashions, vote, speak in public, get a divorce, prosecute a rapist, travel abroad without permission, or prevent their husbands from beating them. Does that sound like the plight of the Catholic woman?)
If you think that adult Catholic women are somehow oppressed because they can’t kill small, helpless baby women in utero, then it’ll be hard to convince you by the usual logical arguments.
It’ll be just as hard to persuade you if you’re wedded to the idea that the ordained priesthood—instituted by Christ and intended as a model of the nuptial relationship between Christ and His Church—is about power rather than about service.
But here’s the thing: While women and men are equally important, equally loved, equally imbued with dignity, their roles are necessarily different.
We don’t lambast God for denying to men the most significant of all gifts: the ability to share in a special way in His creation, to nurture and give birth to another human being, destined to live for eternity. And we accept that the Church gives the highest possible honor (hyperdulia) to a woman—that is, to Mary the Mother of God.
If the feminists and the Church-haters will take a deep breath and look again, they’ll have to admit that this is a pretty darned good week for women of faith! On the official calendar of the Church, this week we remember and celebrate the sanctity of not just one, but FOUR women who have gone before us in the sign of faith, and who each embodied, in very different ways, what it means to be a Christian.
ST. MARGARET OF SCOTLAND – Optional Memorial, November 16
Charism: Charity, Almsgiving
St. Margaret was born in Hungary, where her father was living in exile, and was an unusually devout and pious girl. The family eventually returned to England, where her great-uncle King St. Edward III had appointed her father to serve in high office. Her father died suddenly, though, and she again left England; but a fierce storm brought the ship to the shores of Scotland, where she was married to King Malcolm III. She raised eight children in the faith, and was beloved by her subjects for her holiness and charity. She lived a life of prayer and almsgiving, providing food and personal care daily for 300 unfortunates.
Margaret was canonized in the year 1250 by Pope Innocent IV.
ST. GERTRUDE THE GREAT, Virgin – Optional Memorial, November 16
Charism: Spiritual Writing
Gertrude, a Cisterian nun, is one of the most beloved German saints from medieval times. At the age of five, she was taken to the convent, where she grew in faith and love of God.
When she was twenty-five years old, she began to experience visions of Christ, who directed her to write about the secrets of mystical union. Her best known work, Legatus Divinae Pietatis (The Herald of Divine Love), is distinguished for its depth of theological understanding, its sublime poetry, and its clarity.
ST. ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY, Religious – Optional Memorial, November 17
Charism: Love for the Poor and Suffering
In her short life, Elizabeth demonstrated such great love for the poor and suffering that she has become the patroness of Catholic charities and of the Secular Franciscan Order.
The daughter of the King of Hungary, Elizabeth was married to Louis of Thuringia at the age of 14. She loved Louis deeply, and bore three children. However, after only six years of marriage, her husband died in the Crusades. Grief-stricken, Elizabeth eventually joined the Secular Franciscan Order, spending the remaining years of her life serving in a hospital for the indigent which she founded in honor of St. Francis. She died before her 24th birthday.
ST. CECILIA, Virgin and Martyr – Memorial, November 22
Charism: Purity, Preaching
Cecilia is among the seven martyrs named in the canon of the Mass. A beautiful young woman, was given in marriage to a youth named Valerian. She had vowed to remain celibate in the service of God, however; and so she prayed and fasted, asking the saints and angels to help preserve her virginity. She explained the situation to her betrothed, Valerian, who, after his baptism, saw Cecilia praying and saw an angel with flaming wings, holding two crowns of roses and lilies, which he placed on their heads before vanishing.
Tibertius, brother to Valerian, saw the beautiful flowers and wondered how they had obtained them during the winter season. When Valerian explained, Tibertius was also baptized. The two brothers devoted themselves to burying martyrs slain daily by the prefect of the city. They were brought before the prefect and, refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods, they were slain by the sword.
Cecilia had meanwhile converted four hundred persons to the Christian faith. She was arrested and was sentenced to death. She survived an attempt at suffocation; a soldier attempted to behead her, but three times the sword did not sever her head. Severely wounded, Cecilia died three days later. At her death, she bequeathed all her goods to the poor, and her house to the bishop to be used for a Christian place of worship.
Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians and Church music, because as she was dying she sang hymns to God.