Category: Religion

Don’t Make The Church A Stepford Wife

Fr. Dwight Longnecker set me up for one of my soapboxes this morning. He published a piece, “Men At Church”, touching on how the Roman Catholic liturgy draws men. I have…

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Image licensed “free to share and use” by Bing Images.

Fr. Dwight Longnecker set me up for one of my soapboxes this morning. He published a piece, “Men At Church”, touching on how the Roman Catholic liturgy draws men. I have no quibbles with men being attracted to the Church and her liturgy, in fact I wish more were. My concern lies in his derogative use of the word “feminization.”

For example –

This is why the feminization of the liturgy is so unattractive to men. When well-meaning liturgists and priests feel they have to make everything in the liturgy emotionally relevant and “meaningful” to everyone, many men switch off. When Father Fabulous insists on being emotionally entertaining in the liturgy he is likely to please the women while the fellas roll their eyes. When Sister Sandals develops new age liturgies that attempt to connect with our emotions, or when Pastor Hipster tries to push the emotional hot buttons with his sermon, most men are not only ready to switch off, they’re ready to head for the door.

And –

Traditional Catholic worship, on the other hand, is by the book and objective. Men perceive it as being dependable and rock solid—not emotional, subjective, and flighty.

He sets women up as being “emotional, subjective, and flighty.” Hmm…sounds more like a deadbeat dad or, at best, a Stepford wife.

And for what it’s worth, many women think and feel similarly about such liturgies.

As I posted on Facebook, both on my wall and Fr. Dwight’s –

I get where you’re coming from, but as a woman who deeply loves (heart & mind = each are the same – “lev”- in Hebrew), and one who continues to study the role of women in the Church, I think you need to be careful with the word “feminization” and other similar words. Anything related to woman or female ends up being deficient, almost a dirty/bad word. Mary the Mother of God prefigures the Church. The Church is feminine, the Bride of Christ. What’s wrong with a feminine presence in the Church and her liturgy? Why is the Roman liturgy so-called “masculine”? I just don’t buy it. Again, I think I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s an intellectually tight argument as presented here.

To his credit, Fr. Dwight replied that he was in agreement that a different word would be appropriate. He offered “effete” and commented, “The ‘effete’ is what C.S.Lewis called ‘Christianity and water.’ They have watered down the wine and tried to tame the lion.”

Now we’re talking. (In Italian – Adesso parla bene.)

The only problem is that Lewis, Fr. Dwight and myself are using an older and now secondary meaning of the word. Unfortunately today, it’s become a tacit synonym for “gay” (the newer definition, not “happy”).

From Oxford Dictionaries –

  1. (of a person) affected, overrefined, and ineffectual: “effete trendies from art college” synonyms: affected · pretentious · precious · mannered
  2. no longer capable of effective action: “the authority of an effete aristocracy began to dwindle”
    synonyms: weak · enfeebled · enervated · worn out

A friend of mine noted that what we’re really talking about is something more like sentimentality. I would add “saccharine.” The point is that it has nothing to do with true femininity or feminization, which brings me back to my theme of the Stepford Wife model of the Church.

In fact, if we’re actually going to follow Catholic doctrine, feminization and femininity are good things. After all, we are all – women and men – called to imitate Mary the Mother of God who prefigures the Church and in many ways is the first rendering of the Church in so far as she becomes the living tabernacle (cf. Ark of the Covenant) for the Word made flesh.

In January, I taught an intensive course “Women and the Body of Christ” at the Augustine Institute in Denver. I’m now teaching it as a semester course at our satellite campus in Orange County. In both cases, I’ve had an amazing group of students. Just this past week, we spent three hours doing a seminar on St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women).

Let me share some highlights with you, just a few –

N. 3 “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his son, born of woman”. (Galatians 4,4) …. It is significant that Saint Paul does not call the Mother of Christ by her own name “Mary”, but calls her “woman”: this coincides with the words of the Proto-evangelium in the Book of Genesis (cf. 3:15). She is that “woman” who is present in the central salvific event which marks the “fullness of time”: this event is realized in her and through her. [Emphasis mine.]

It’s also interesting to compare the use of “woman” by St. Paul to Jesus’s use at the wedding in Cana, John 2,4:  “[And] Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” This is fulfilled in John 19,26-67: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”

Put simply, the fact that Mary was a woman is an essential part of the central salvific event of all times. It is not an accident. She is not unessential. She is not some sort of divine incubator. If you want that, there are other Christian denominations which offer it. It’s not Catholic. A woman was essential for the incarnation, redemption, and the Church, to name a few.

Back to Mulieris Dignitatem:

N. 22 “Moreover, contemplating Mary’s mysterious sanctity, imitating her charity, and faithfully fulfilling the Father’s will, the Church herself becomes a mother by accepting God’s word in faith. For by her preaching and by baptism she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God” [cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 64]….The Council has confirmed that, unless one looks to the Mother of God, it is impossible to understand the mystery of the Church, her reality, her essential vitality. Indirectly we find here a reference to the biblical exemplar of the “woman” which is already clearly outlined in the description of the “beginning” (cf. Gen 3:15) and which procedes from creation, through sin to the Redemption. In this way there is a confirmation of the profound union between what is human and what constitutes the divine economy of salvation in human history. The Bible convinces us of the fact that one can have no adequate hermeneutic of man, or of what is “human”, without appropriate reference to what is “feminine”. There is an analogy in God’s salvific economy: if we wish to understand it fully in relation to the whole of human history, we cannot omit, in the perspective of our faith, the mystery of “woman”: virgin-mother-spouse.”[Emphasis mine.]

Throughout our three-hour discussion, even though I’ve read, written on, and taught this document many times, my mind was spinning at the profundity, not just of St. John Paul II, but of our Catholic Church – our tradition, Sacred Scripture, and our Magisterium.

I’m glad Fr. Dwight walked back his position, but I hear a lot of this type of thought. For example, Leon Podels’, The Church Impotent: The Feminization Of Christianity. There may be many things wrong with the practice of Christianity, but the uncorrupt understanding of the feminine element is essential for an integral understanding of the Church, the Body of Christ.

Even the liturgy is not masculine strictly speaking. Yes, it’s about the sacrifice of Christ made real again in every Mass. But that sacrifice would not have been possible without a woman – at least in so far as God ordained it. And the liturgy is also the Church’s response to and participation in the sacrifice, a particularly unique feminine response to which both women and men are called insofar are they make up the Church. (Think of Mary at the foot of the Cross…)

Some may choose to insist on Stepford wife type caricatures of woman and everything related to her, but they miss the reality of all things essential to humanity. Until we have a profound and authentic understanding of woman, we won’t understand fully the significance of salvation, humanity, the Church, or even Christ.

And the same goes for a profound and authentic understanding of man, which of its very nature would not make caricatures of women.



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UPDATED: What did the Pope say on the way back from Mexico…?

The headlines this morning told us the following – “Pope Francis Says Contraception Justified in Regions Hit by Zika Virus” (WSJ, Francis Rocca – may require subscription) “Pope Suggests Contraception Can…

By Aleteia Image Department [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Aleteia Image Department [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The headlines this morning told us the following –

Many other articles carried similar headlines. I cite these three because they are all written by journalists whom I’ve known to have very high journalistic standards. All of them agree that he stated that abortion was not an option, regardless of the Zika virus. None of them offered a direct quote saying that contraception is permissible in the regions affected by Zika. Inés San Martín offers this clarification in her piece –

Regarding the “lesser of two evils” when it comes to contraception, Francis said that it’s a fight between the 5th Commandment (Thou shalt not kill) and the 6th Commandment (Thou shalt not commit adultery). But he avoided giving a definitive response.

Catholic News Agency provided a transcript of the entire press event aboard the papal flight to Rome. It’s an unofficial English translation. Pope Francis offers this answer to Paloma García Ovejero of Cadena COPE (Spain) regarding the question of using abortion or “avoiding pregnancy” in these areas.

Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape. Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned. On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.

Admittedly, the Pope cautions to not “confuse” and in fact seems to offer a confusing,  not-clear answer. What is clear is that the only way one can understand this to be an endorsement of contraception would be to equivocate the meaning of the term “avoiding pregnancy.” He refers to a specific example of Paul VI reportedly allowing some nuns in specific conflict ridden areas who were at high risk of being raped to use contraceptives. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard of this case many times and have yet to see the documentation on it. Regardless, it’s a very, very specific use of contraception, one in which the women in question are leading celibate lives to start with.

UPDATE: Here is the official Vatican version in Italian. Still somewhat confusing. No change in the teaching on contraception. 

UPDATE: For those interested in the specifics of the case allowing contraception by Paul VI, as far as I can tell it was allowed under the teaching of Paul VI. It’s still not clear that he directly approved it. Regardless, I don’t see any problem with it other than that I think more should be done to protect nuns in these situations… But that’s just my opinion. Here’s one summary article in Italian. In English, you can get the book Ethics of Procreation and the Defense of Human Life: Contraception, Artificial Fertilization, and Abortion, by Martin Rhonheimer. You can find a preview of the section in question here.

And it seems that the Pope might also be thinking of fertility awareness (natural family planning) or simply abstinence,  in which case “avoiding pregnancy” would not be wrong in and of itself. With due respect to CNA’s work to provide a transcript, I’ll leave it to you to look up the sections on civil unions and Donald Trump. It’s easy to see why there’s confusion. At the same time, the Pope cloaks his answers in all sorts of conditions.

Here’s the lens I would offer. It’s a confusing transcript and sometimes he speaks in ways that lead different listeners to arrive at their own varied conclusions. It strikes me that he’s very Jesuitical in his thinking. By this I mean that he’s thinking of every possible scenario when asked a question…and he seems to do a lot of thinking out loud…which causes serious confusion. It creates headlines that stay emblazoned in the memory of a world which is supposed to have a short term memory. It creates work for every type of Catholic leader and teacher – clerical, religious, and lay.

But he’s not changing Church teaching. In order to do that he would have to promulgate the change in a way that is accessible to everyone, starting with the Bishops. It would also have to be clearly enunciated in an official document and it would have to be a teaching that could be changed, something like allowing girls to be altar servers. Interviews on a plane hardly fit the description.

Yes, these statements cause headaches for some and celebrations for others. But faithful Catholics and others of good will need to remember to not take things at face value when they’re first reported. It’s always important to do one’s research.

I look forward to the official Vatican transcript and the official English translation. It will be helpful to compare the two.

In the meantime, I can see why the journalists reported as they did. They acknowledged the confusion while at the same time did not offer any direct quotes. That in itself is a huge help to a careful reader looking to understand a situation. It also points to the fact that a solid argument could be made that the Pope needs to be more precise in his statements.

Nevertheless, I look back at our first Pope, St. Peter. I see what he’s recorded as saying in the New Testament. So very often, he’s wrong. But he was still the Pope and carried out his office in a saintly way even if his soundbites weren’t so good.

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3 Sources To Understanding Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si'”

If you’re like most of us, you don’t have time to digest the almost 200 pages of Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si’ right away, certainly not this morning. Here are three…

image-6If you’re like most of us, you don’t have time to digest the almost 200 pages of Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si’ right away, certainly not this morning.

Here are three sources that I found helpful.

First, start with John Allen’s latest column, “If ‘Laudato Si’ is an earthquake, it had plenty of early tremors.” He gives a good overview of instruction on the environment from Popes Paul, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. It always help to know where we’ve come from in order to understand where we’re at.

Then, move on to Fr. Raymond De Souza’s, “Laudato Si: The Cheers and the Challenges.” He gives a good analysis of how different interest groups will respond. He points out an aspect that some will see as a challenge, others as a weakness.

Laudato Si  therefore explicitly is aimed at a comprehensive global climate change treaty. That’s very significant, as its endorsement of climate policies meshes with the priorities of the global progressive elite. This means that when Pope Francis arrives in Washington, President Obama will claim that no recent U.S. administration has had policies more in line with the priorities of the Holy See. To be sure, the Holy Father notes that natural ecology cannot be separated from human ecology, and therefore authentic care for the environment is incompatible with abortion (120) or approval of homosexual unions (155).


Time will tell.

For your wrap up, check out George Weigel’s piece, The Pope’s Encyclical, at Heart, Is About Us, Not Trees and Snail Darters.”

Technique and technology are not problems in themselves. The problem comes when they fill humanity’s intellectual horizon and moral imagination to the exclusion of all other considerations. For then everything tends to get instrumentalized, including human relationships and the human relationship to the natural world — and when everything is instrumentalized, everything is also brutalized.

In his challenge to all this, Francis, with John Paul II, insists that “we must safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology,” understanding that integral human development, in both the developed and developing worlds, is not measured by GDP alone, but by humanity’s growth in beatitude.

As I skim the document and review these articles, I’m also preparing to teach a session on St. John Paul II’s Letter to Families for the intensive graduate course I’m leading this week. (You may still be able to sign up for the Distance Ed part of the course which starts in July.) And it’s clear that Pope Francis has not lost sight of core Christian anthropology. Surely, this encyclical will influence policy, but he hasn’t lost sight of the order of creation and the centrality of the human person, not to mention the family.

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