On the original Easter morning, it was women who went to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been buried and discovered it empty. It was to Mary Magdalene that Christ first appeared in resurrected form; and it was she who was initially sent forth to announce the Good News of salvation. But in that time and culture, women were not considered to be reliable witnesses, so they had to find two men to verify their testimony and render it admissible. That’s why Peter and the Beloved Disciple were roused and ran to the tomb. Until the miracle was revealed to men later, women held the mystery that is central to our faith, protected the revelation, and heartily treasured the insight entrusted to them.
Today, in the church, like then, men possess authority and, usually, subsequent power; but it seems that women possess the instinctual sense of a deeper grace or heightened realization that bears a power of its own. It is almost as if women know something more than men, carry a deeper secret about the resurrection (and other aspects of faith), and have an intuitive spiritual connection to bolster them if their voice gets muffled or muted. This spring, Pope Francis will reform Vatican protocol according to a recently released constitution, “Praedicate Evangelium” (Proclaiming the Gospel), that expands church government, responsibility, and evangelization beyond the ordained to include lay people; this reform will allow him and his successors to appoint qualified laity, women or men, to oversee Vatican curial and dicastery offices previously reserved to male hierarchy.
We have come a long way in the church, which tends to lag behind society. And though it is only about a hundred years since women in our country were permitted to vote, it is a long way from the days that men’s brains were thought to be significantly larger than women’s or that souls were believed to be infused in embryonic boys before they were put into prenatal girls. Despite Helen Reddy’s “I am woman, hear me roar,” or Virginia Slims’ “You’ve come a long way, baby,” or millions of women’s rights activists in our nation and church, we move rather slowly from archaic thinking. On this and other issues, Pope Francis wants to light a fire as God once did, and continuously does, through the Holy Spirit. The process of Synodality will help. Several Jesuit universities have hired women presidents in the past decade, a role traditionally held by ordained members of the Society. Numerous dioceses have female chancellors and canonical pastors (pastoral administrators). Whether or not the pace is too slow, we are proceeding in the right direction.
As I think of Jesus’ female companions who were firstly entrusted with the resurrection news, I think of the many mothers who have an instinctual sense of their children—a gift that fathers rarely possess, perhaps because of earlier bonding in embryo stages and intimate maternal nurturing. I think also of numerous energy readers, psychic sensors, or spiritual mystics (usually women) who offer insight that sheds light on mysteries (from crimes to unspoken realities or emotions). Last week, about one hundred women gathered at Saint Charles Church for a holy week evening of prayer. We mulled over the famous biblical story of Jesus encountering the woman at the well. The well symbolizes depth; water invites us to ponder our self-reflection and to go below the surface. As Jesus helped the woman better see who she is, so did our key presenter, Kelly Pascuzzi, help participants discover a clearer self-identity. As they looked deeper, they recognized, shared, and discussed what they saw of themselves, and they were encouraged in their faith. Similarly, Pope Francis is helping us all look deeper through the process of Synodality while also opening us up to new opportunities in the church and for the church.
Like Easter morning, this is an exciting, and probably frightening, time for the Catholics as we collectively listen to the Holy Spirit and one another. Unlike then, when a woman’s perspective was considered unsubstantiated and inadmissible, we have come a long way in recognizing those to whom Christ first entrusted the Good News of salvation.