As an orthodox Roman Catholic I follow the teachings of the Church, not because I'm brainwashed and unable to escape the evil clutches of the empire; but because reason and life experience have convinced me that when I look closely at Her teachings, they are True.
It is the Church's teachings on womanhood recently that I have been grappling with; what does it mean to be a woman?
If I am to believe modern feminism, womanhood is no more that a construct of oppressive males. The only difference there is between males and females is our genitalia!
If I am to believe what is commonly referred to as liberal Christians women and men are in all ways equal and the Catholic Church's refusal to recognise this is wrong and - that's right, you guessed it - oppressive!
|Mary teaching Jesus|
If God had said that she was not to eat fruit from any of the trees it would have been unreasonable and in fact cruel, having created human beings to require nourishment, to restrict her from taking it. However, this isn't what God has said! It's only the tree of knowledge of good and evil because she will die.
Eve corrects him, but he then challenges God more overtly - "No! You will not die! God knows in fact that the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good from evil."
The same question is put to us today - "Did God really say that women are not equal to men?"
As a Catholic woman I can confidently answer no, He said that it wasn't right for man to be alone, that he needed me to help him. Man and woman become one flesh, it is therefore necessary for woman to exist for humanity to be complete.
Adam and Eve where made naked before each other and felt no shame, but just as the snake's questioning and receipt about God's true intent and love causes Eve to fall and be less than what she was created to be, so it is the same today. Just as the snake focused on the one tree, the restriction instead of the bounty, so does modern culture. "Did God really say you cannot be priests?" "Did God really say you cannot do any work?" As woman stands before man we become ashamed of our differences and therefore try and negate them, either by making ourselves the same as men or making men's qualities lesser.
God has not given us the same physical capabilities as men. We do not have the same form of strength for example, but we have our own strength which is unique to us as women. It is in our differences that in marriage we minister to each other, that is why marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic Church.
This was brought into sharp focus because of two things. Firstly, when I studied more intently the mother's role within Shabbat. It is the mother who welcomes in the sabbath and it is customary for the father to recite psalm 31 (the woman of valor) throughout the evening.
This reminds me of Adam's cry when he first sees Eve; "This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!" When I read this I can hear the joy of Adam in his praise of Eve. It's true that mankind has not always been equally as praising to womankind, but we don't appear to praise who we are anymore. We seem to be making ourselves in the image of man and by doing so humanity looses a vital part of the reflection of God because not only do we become one flesh, but that flesh makes up the image of God together.
The other reason this has been brought so much into focus is that many of my friends, unlike me, have been blessed with the gift of children. I am watching them struggle to try and maintain a career, their family and their sanity all at the same time. I have a very different perspective upon their struggle because, after years of contracepting against children and building a career myself, I eventually found out that I was unable to have my own.
There are aspects of my career that I am very proud of and I am blessed to be involved in the profession that I am (a teacher). What has begun to strike me more and more though is the thought that I thought I needed a career to feel fulfilled, but it is the nature of the work that fulfils me and that I could have done this without the pay packet or title. Yes it's true, I would have looked a bit odd going into a school to do this, but if God has given me the gift to teach wouldn't it have come out in whatever I did?
I've started to understand that what I desired, what I thought I needed, was the recognition. The funny thing is that you never truly feel recognised for what you do, if your looking for outside acclaim to satisfy you you will be left wanting.
This seems to be a lesson we need to learn more than ever as our society seems to have only come to value what women contribute to the workplace. In Genesis Eve eats the fruit to become like gods, but Jesus "being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave......and for this God raised Him high". Eve finds herself separated from God, in conflict with Adam and a slave to sin. Jesus brings the redemption of humanity.
If we follow Jesus and not see equality with men as something to be grasped at, but ours innately given to us by God we can share in the saving work of Jesus more fully. This does mean trusting in God.
Jesus never needed the title of priest to be sure of the authority for priesthood that God gave Him (He was never a Levite), do we need the titles given by mankind to be sure of the authority that God gave us within our calling as women? If we trust in God and accept our womanhood as a unique blessing will it release us from the pressure we place upon ourselves? Will it allow us to live in peace with our male partners in God's work? More importantly, will it enable us to complete this work? When we make ourselves humble God's power shines more completely, time and time again this occurs in the Bible.
These are controversial statements to make, primarily because the majority of them don't believe in God. It is like asking them to trust willo' the wisp for their dignity - why would you?
However, if you do believe God is there and you make Him the judge of your life the earthly titles have less importance and as a result we are liberated from the constraints we place upon ourselves. We can enjoy motherhood in whatever form it takes, we can enjoy our role and strength as nurturers, our compassion in our care of the elderly, our wisdom because it was given to us by God - whether it is recognised elsewhere is a bonus!