Thanks to Johnette Benkovic, of Women of Grace, for the invite! Links for archived shows!

Thanks to Johnette Benkovic, of Women of Grace, for the invite! Links for archived shows!

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 3.21.00 PMThanks to the blessed, beautiful, and bodacious, Johnnette Benkovic, the host of Women of Grace on EWTN, for a great week together of shows talking about the feminine genius and all it means for us as Catholic women…. knowing our dignity, gifts, and mission! Much of the conversation over the five days covers ideas from my book, and what I’ve learned of the positive message that the Church teaches regarding women. Please share these with women you know!

Again, big time thanks to Johnnette who offered an EWTN debut to a new author, giving her a shot at reaching a new audience. I am truly grateful.

Here’s a recap of the archived shows in case you missed them. It’s a conversation that builds over the course of each day, so you may wish to view them in order.

 

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Living the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, Part 1

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Living the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, Part 2

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Living the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, Part 3

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Living the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, Part 4

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Living the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, Part 5

 

For more reviews or interviews regarding the message of my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, go to Ave Maria Press.

Purchase my book at your local Catholic bookseller, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Ave Maria Press, or get a personalized copy from me here.

For more content from Johnnette Benkovic, including book resources, radio and television, go to Women of Grace. 

The F.U.N. Quotient… women’s Olympic style

The F.U.N. Quotient… women’s Olympic style

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Screen shot from WCVB video, Team USA Women’s Hockey, Boston Logan Airport

 

So proud of these great women from the silver-medal winning US hockey team — some of them returning to home here in the Boston area.

Watch the video of their comments after landing at Logan Airport in Boston, via WCVB-TV.

Also here’s some top Olympic moments for Team USA’s Women in other sports at Sochi. 

This makes me think… about what broader opportunities may exist for women in the Church

This makes me think… about what broader opportunities may exist for women in the Church

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 10.12.37 AMThe Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more inclusive female presence in the Church. Because “the feminine genius is needed is all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace”* and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures.

Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”. [73] The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above oth- ers. In the Church, functions “do not favour the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others”.[74] Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, it must be remembered that “it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”.[75] Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is al- ways a service to God’s people. This presents a great challenge for pastors and theologians, who are in a position to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life. 

Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”, 103 and 104.

 

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72 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 295.

73 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988), 51: AAS 81 (1989), 413.

74 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Inter Insigniores on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (15 October 1976): AAS 68 (1977) 115, cited in John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988), note 190: AAS 81 (1989), 493.

This makes me think… about a woman’s innate power of sensitivity

The heart has an intuitive sense, more or less intense, that enables us to perceive the needs or sufferings that others would not notice. My own experience of life has convinced me that never a day goes by without our meeting someone in distress of body or soul, some form of sorrow or poverty, and there must surely be many more that we miss. Look around you, my friend, and you will soon see that your good heart does not need glasses.

- Elizabeth Leseur -

Discussions of a “theology of women in the church” continues in the press… my thoughts

Discussions of a “theology of women in the church” continues in the press… my thoughts

Two pieces that have come out in the press this past week that continue to express interest in what Pope Francis alluded to when he talked about “a deeper theology of women in the church.” One very much reflecting an important Marian perspective found in magisterial teachings, and the other offering a wide ranging sampling of opinions from Catholic women from around the country — yours truly was even quoted among them.

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My photo of a pilgrim image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas

The first is from theologian Pia di Solenni, PhD, in the National Catholic Register, who very much echoes my own view that the church already has a theology of women, and what we need is a deeper integration of that message world-wide. Further, in my previous post, and in my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, I made the point that Blessed John Paul II’s writings are calling women to a new feminism that fully integrates our Christian values. And in so doing, the Church must look to Mary, the Mother of God, as shedding light on a woman’s dignity. Long before John Paul took up the subject, we have had centuries of Marian meditation and Mariology, such that Mary ought to be the cornerstone of that new feminism, just as Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity.

At the Register, Di Solenni describes her doctoral studies that explored John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignatatem as well as other works. She describes John Paul’s thoughts on womanhood through the lens of Mary… and how an adequate theology must look deeply into the woman as she truly is, not just what she does.

[John Paul II] focused on Mary, the woman, whom, in Mulieris, he had set up as a paradigm for all humanity, including himself and every other priest, by virtue of her response to God’s call.

The shift to Mary emphasizes the change in emphasis from doing to being. We actually know very little about what Mary did. But we know who she is: the Mother of God. Her ability to become a mother fundamentally enabled her to be open to God in a relationship that only a woman could have. Her response, uniquely feminine, paradoxically, became the model for all humanity.

Toward the end of John Paul’s life, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued a letter to the bishops, On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, which emphasized that women “have a role in every aspect of society.”

If we follow the example of Mary, that means working from within, wherever we happen to be, whether as chancellor of a major archdiocese, a mother home with small children, in business, politics or countless other places. It means recognizing that women bring something to the table by virtue of who they are rather than simply by what they do.

If Mary’s role as homemaker had been so vital, Jesus would have left the preparation of the Passover meal to her and not to the apostles. (I’m willing to bet she would’ve put on a better spread.) She was defined by who she was, by her relation with Jesus, not by what she did. Similarly, we know that the apostles weren’t the smartest or the holiest bunch of men. But Jesus didn’t pick them for their accomplishments.

[Read the rest.]

I think there are two areas that we should address when we want to discuss a theology of women… the first is the role of women in the church alluded to in the Pope’s comments. Specifically, that is, roles within the Church that equal leadership, that is the doing of things. Yet, this doing must flow from the primacy of one’s being. And the context of being is the larger context, embracing the doing. DiSolenni’s point is the profound starting place… women bring something to the table by virtue of who they are rather than simply by what they do.

In yesterday’s Washington Post’s “On Faith” article by Elizabeth Tenety, a wide-ranging discussion continues under the headline, “What Catholic Women Want.”

It is largely a discussion of the doings of women, and within it, and one aspect the article describes is the seeming inequity of women not being allowed to be priests. The Catholic Church has an ordained hierarchy. Francis makes the point that the subject of woman’s ordination is closed. And frankly, I don’t have a beef with that, and never have. I believe that decision flows from the being question. The “doing” of things is not requisite for the dignity of being. Yes, the human dignity questions go very deep, all the way to a person’s ontology — their very being. The dignity of a man, flows from his personhood, but in a man’s personhood we also see and regard his masculinity and his paternal gift, that of fatherhood. A woman’s dignity flows from her personhood, including her femininity and maternal gift  –motherhood. We share one human nature with complimentary and distinctive genders, male and female. There are ontological, biological, spiritual, and anthropologically differences between men and women, and respect for these aspects of our humanity need to be acknowledged.

Meanwhile over the last several years I increasingly see more women emerging in local Northeast church leadership and administration of dioceses and parishes. This trend, in time, may eventually lead to more qualified women serving in the Roman Curia or as leaders within Pontifical societies without having to be ordained. There is room for the complimentary gifts of lay women and lay men, as well as members of religious orders, to work in collaboration with the ordained hierarchy, as mentioned in DiSolenni’s article above.

I discussed the emergence of women leaders, both current and historical, with Ms. Tenety in our conversation leading up to her article, and I was very pleased to see her express similar ideas in her piece.

No one denies that women have played a crucial role in the spiritual life of the church, from the often-thankless work of raising children and ministering to the needy in parishes, to the theological contributions of the four female “doctors of the church” (all named since the 1970’s) like Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. The church, as Francis referenced, already has a theology of women, centered in documents like ‘On the Dignity of Women’ and John Paul II’s work on what is called the “theology of the body,” the teaching that differences in gender point to differences in men and women’s nature. But even the pope says more must be done.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the first female director of communications at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, says that “women don’t feel heard. So just being heard is a major move forward.”

Catholic writer, activist and new mother Ashley McGuire recommends the Vatican start by convening a council of women theologians, activists, educators and leaders at all levels to help the hierarchy address “the issues women are struggling with and then helping the church then to present church teaching back to women in a way that reaches women.”

Permission to lead

One issue Catholic women struggle with? The question of authority and leadership in the church. This is 2013, they say, and Catholic women want to lead, they want to be allowed to lead, and they want to be encouraged to lead.

“The feminine presence in the church has not been emphasized much, because the temptation of chauvinism has not allowed for the place that belongs to the women of the community to be made very visible.” The source of that quote? Jorge Bergoglio, the man now known as Pope Francis, in a 2010 book.

The exclusion of women from the priesthood is one highly-cited practice that is often seen, even within the church, as plainly discriminatory, and a 2010 poll by The New York Times/ CBS showed that 59 percent of American Catholics favor the ordination of women. But the church does not operate by popular opinion and the longstanding teaching on the all-male priesthood is one of the oldest traditions of one of the oldest religions in the world. Pope John Paul II said the question of female ordination was not open for debate and said the church “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women”; Pope Francis, in his news conference, affirmed that teaching. For some Catholics, anything short of ordination means that women will never achieve equal status or influence as men.

From my vantage point, according to the dignity of the human person, women already possess an equal status with men as persons, and women’s ordination will not change that, or strengthen it. This is a confusion of the being and doing. Not everyone is clamoring for women’s ordination and I was glad to see Tenety’s piece identify that.

Others see nothing unfair about men and women having different roles, and identify huge potential for female leadership in the church, from the parish level all the way to the Vatican.

“The first step is to encourage what is already permissible,” says [Sr Mary Ann] Walsh. In other words, deepening a theology of women would encourage the church to find ways to get women in positions of greater authority and influence. Catholic women have already proven their ability to lead major organizations like schools and hospitals. Can that authority extend to the Roman Curia?

Pope Francis says he wants to move beyond the image of the church as chauvinistic. Catholic women have some ideas on how to get there: Bring more women into key positions in the Vatican, as consultants and theologians and heads of offices that don’t require holy orders. Map an affirmative action plan for qualified females to infiltrate Curia positions, such as members of the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, where few women today serve. Encourage women to work as chancellors of dioceses around the world. Help them to prepare for careers as pastoral associates, who fill many of the roles of the traditional parish priest, a task needed more than ever due to the priest shortage in the West. Some even say that a theological argument can be made for women to serve as deacons, with a spate of articles in the Catholic world exploring the issue. Catholic women across the ideological spectrum, many of whom point to female leaders already working in the church like Harvard legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon, now serving as adviser to Pope Francis on Vatican finances, nonetheless agree that these are positions that women not only can fill, but should.

So that’s part of the doing questions that should be discussed, and I’d welcome Francis’ thoughts on this in the future — how women can best serve within the church’s leadership, besides the many roles they are already doing within catechesis, in schools, or as diocesan or parish staff members.

What remains is the larger framework — the being questions — that side of “what women want” that is more universal. Simply, women would like to know the church is for them, not against them. The Church does have a positive message about women — with aspects that we call the feminine genius, or the gospel of life, or the dignity of the human person, or theology of the body —  but much of it is still not widespread and known. The media’s contrary spin about the church’s negative attitude toward women has affected our cultural mindset. We need a renewal of our consciences on these matters, and I take up the idea of renewing our conscience in chapter one of my book.

This message to women — the beauty of the feminine genius and the call to a new feminism — is clearly suffering from a marketing problem among Catholic women themselves. One of the reasons I wrote my book was to begin conversations to familiarize women with what the church has already proclaimed about women, and share the resources on the subject.

I see advancing the dignity and vocations of women as an important part of the new evangelization that cannot be overlooked. It is easy to see that from a human dignity standpoint, anti-women biases, especially in the third world are still prevalent and need correction. And in the West, where women have the most advantages, there are mounting anti-life losses that affect the maternal core of femininity — contraception, abortion, sexual abuse, and more.

A new feminism, a deeper or more profound theology of women, universally preached and taught will have life-giving and healing results for women and men. As more people embrace this message, it will transform the landscape, not just locally, but globally. I said as much in Tenety’s article:

Pat Gohn, a Catholic author of a recent book on the church and women, sees the potential for a renewed theology of women to “have a ripple effect in civil society.” Says Gohn, “I think this idea of the dignity of women has not been made universal yet. Women are still suffering on multiple levels from all types of injustice like abuse and sexual slavery.” Because the Catholic Church has global reach, she says, the result of a deepening theology of women could “touch all of those problem areas where women are in trouble and in need.”

The impact could not only touch those in desperate poverty, but also women in the developed world who still struggle in other ways.

For example, Alvaré says, “corporate culture, law and policy would have to do a whole lot more taking account of motherhood than it does now.” Paid maternity leave for all mothers is on the table. So is an invigorated cultural effort to support women who want to work part-time in order to spend more time with their families. Also just as relevant, says Janet Smith, would be a greater respect for women who choose to stay at home and raise children.

“Feminism didn’t fight the diminution of a woman who chose to spend her time dedicating herself to being a wife and mother,” Smith says. Enter: a theology of women, which she says “to some extent is meant to show that women don’t have to live life by the rules of men.” [Read the rest.]

To be clear, an enriched theology of women, like any good theology, is never about what any of us might want, as Tenety’s catchy headline might read, as if we could concoct a recipe for it…  a theology must examine how the church might apply Sacred scripture and tradition to the problems of our time, and in this case, to the problems that face women. A theology is the study of God, and if we are talking about a theology of women in the church, we must look critically at God’s creation in light of God’s revelation. And God’s Incarnation has revealed himself quite profoundly in and through The Woman, Mary — God’s masterpiece of creation.

A deeper or more profound theology of womanhood would speak to women universally, and at the same time, it would not invalidate what has been already accepted doctrinally within the church. It would build on them, enhance them. Divine revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. We already possess the fullness of truth, thanks to the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet, we can grow deeper in our awareness and understanding of our faith traditions, such as the dignity of the human person, and of Mariology, already mentioned. These  social and Marian doctrines are in keeping with Scripture and Tradition.

One final thought for the moment in distinguishing between doctrine and disciplines. (And thanks to Fr Dwight Longenecker’s eloquence in an interview recently when he said, “Doctrines develop and grow, but they can’t be changed. A discipline of the church can be changed, however.”) We must remember that doctrine is different from the disciplines of the church, or even, say, the local or national hiring practices within dioceses and parishes. It is here where a deeper theology and universal acceptance of the dignity and vocation of women would assist increasing the number of women within leadership roles in the church, for that is within the disciplines of church governance, in collaboration with the hierarchy.

From a doctrinal standpoint, we already have the social doctrine of the dignity of the human person, and the dignity and vocation of women falls well within that. Plus, particularly in the last fifty years, the church through her popes have given us documents pointing out the beauty and strength of the feminine genius. And, finally, I’ll end where I began this post: we have Mary, whose power and influence cannot be overlooked in terms of the action of the Spirit of God through her.

We need a deeper, better, and more profound reception of these things now, and in the years ahead.

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I’m writing about embracing the feminine genius in Family Foundations Magazine’s “Celebrate NFP Women” issue

I’m writing about embracing the feminine genius in Family Foundations Magazine’s “Celebrate NFP Women” issue

I’m happy to have my writing featured in the award-winning Family Foundations magazine in the July/August edition, published by the Couple to Couple League (CCLI.org). My article is part of their “Celebrating NFP Women” issue and is found on pages 30-33. In the article I talk about embracing your feminine genius.

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Here’s a snippet from the article “Embrace Your Feminine Genius”:

God loves our femininity! After all, he designed it! Women were God’s good idea! The Church calls us to a new feminism that treats the whole woman – and all her gifts — as precious, full of enduring, eternal value. Nothing about a woman is a mistake, nothing about her body or soul is anything less than a true gift, when seen through the eyes of God’s good opinion.

I grew up with feminism. For years I saw it mostly as a good in society dealing with issues of justice and fairness. And historically, there have been benefits that we must laud. Coming of age in the 70s, I became the first woman to get a college degree in my family. In the 80s, I broke some glass ceilings – being hired at jobs that had previously dominated by men. I was all about equal pay for equal work, and seeing an end to sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere. I’m still grateful for these legal gains for the sake of women, and for men.

Yet over time, I realized that there were certain aspects to cultural feminism to did not square with my deeply held Catholic faith. Feminism’s strong advocacy for oral and barrier-method contraception sent me a message that certain parts of my body couldn’t be trusted. My fertility was suspect, and my ability to conceive children were seen as potential liabilities to my happiness or threats to my earning power. This was mixed messaging. It led to a kind of reductionist thinking that said sometimes my body’s natural reproduction function was “good”, and sometimes it was “bad”, depending on prevailing opinions regarding a pregnancy. Being a woman was a negative, not a positive experience, for some of the women in my milieu.

Were some parts of us were considered less than good and holy? I remember women joking about “the monthly curse” or “riding the crimson wave”. Why did contraception treat fertility as some kind of disease to be managed rather than a gift to be celebrated? These questions were in conflict with my experience of God’s love and care for me.

Frankly, these assumptions were diametrically opposed to my faith that God made us good – even, very good! The Bible and the Church taught that God’s creation of man and woman was good. God does not make junk… every human life is a gift and has value.

I needed a coherent, consistent, and unchanging understanding of my dignity of my personhood — all of me, all the time — not one that wavered by whims.

My adult faith required that I take a hard look at how I might live a well-integrated life…. A life that knows God’s loves for me, and seeks to live that out in all the actions of my daily life. I wanted my life and faith to harmonize, not sing out of key… Especially when it

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came to love, sex, and family planning… the very core of my femininity.

So I started to pay closer attention to what the Church was saying about these things. I discovered that there is a “theology” to the body… that is, the God-who-made-our-bodies had a few good things to say about them. God always has our best interest – and a woman’s feminine genius — at heart.

What are the things that make women blessed, beautiful, and bodacious? They are a woman’s dignity, gifts, and mission.

Read the whole article by subscribing to Family Foundations magazine, a wonderful resource for couples! To receive Family Foundations, just become a member of the Couple to Couple League. The cost is $35 per year. Family Foundations is published 6 times a year.

 

My WaPo response to Francis’ comments about needing a deeper theology of women in the church

Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 6.27.30 PMLast Sunday, on his flight home from World Youth Day in Rio, reporters asked several questions of the Holy Father on a variety of subjects. Of note for women is that Francis, while stipulating that the path to priestly ordination for women is closed, he suggested that a deeper “theology of women in the church” might be in order.

From where I sit, Francis’ comments should not be misconstrued to mean the church has no theology of women, for, as many of you know, the church has spoken quite a bit about women and their vocations most notably in the last fifty years. The problem as I see it, is that many women and men in the pews have not heard much about the dignity and vocation of women. I wrote my book, Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious as an introduction to many of these themes.

In light of this, all I can say to our pontiff is, Holy Father, we welcome this!

And to the media all I can say is, it’s time to catch up on what the church has already said about women! 

Read my thoughts on this subject at the “On Faith” column in today’s Washington Post online.

 

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Update: I’m loving this response from former Among Women guest, author Emily Stimpson gives over at CatholicVote.org.

Still practicing… the Bodacious Basics blog tour lands at The Practicing Catholic today!

Still practicing… the Bodacious Basics blog tour lands at The Practicing Catholic today!

Here’s a little introduction to the book’s blog tour: Ten Bodacious Basic… Ten Minutes at Time:

Blogger and Iowa Catholic Radio host, Lisa Schmidt* and her hubby, Joel, are gaining a growing readership over at The Practicing Catholic, and I’m honored that

Hanging out with Lisa Schmidt at the Catholic New Media Conference in 2012.

Hanging out with Lisa Schmidt at the Catholic New Media Conference in 2012.they are hosting the blog tour today where I read an excerpt about becoming a beloved daughter of God. Look for that post here!

they are hosting the blog tour today where I read an excerpt about becoming a beloved daughter of God. Look for that post here!

Tomorrow’s stop on the blog tour: Snoring Scholar. 

A schedule for the blog tour is here.

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*You might appreciate my conversation with Lisa Schmidt from 2012 on Among Women 123.