Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Graces and Challenges
 of Women Today

Father John J. Lombardi

Women are sometimes described as elegant, feminine, nurturing: like the Virgin Mary they are called to give birth

to children or disciples or new life in various ways.

Men are variously described as virile, assertive and challenging-and for this, Christ calls them to be good shepherds and lay down their lives. Let us learn more about holiness as we review some notes for a retreat for women--"Women and Holiness in the Modern World"--and also ponder the Gospel this Sunday.

The President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon's wife--Margarita--spoke against a proposed abortion law in Mexico City which passed and will liberalize legalized abortion in one of the most Catholic populous countries in the world. Here is a woman of valor and virtue--question: how can more women rise up and speak out against a culture of death that threatens children and women today?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week (thankfully) that the so-called, euphemistically-put partial-birth abortion is invalid and unconstitutional. Some decried this and attacked the Roman Catholic Church because the five justices who ruled are Catholic. Okay, anti-Catholicism is one of the most accepted prejudices today, so: men-- stand up for women and babies-lay down your life if you have to.

A Vatican Cardinal-diplomat recently described abortion as a "form of terrorism." Strong words, these, but we do need some kind of alarms to wake us up and challenge the culture of death and promote true feminine dignity and womanhood. So, women: don't be hoodwinked by false languages of liberation. Choose Christic-liberation.

Meanwhile, pop-culture provocateur Rosie O'Donnell is leaving her job on tv, after literally, trash-talking sexual innuendos, anti-Catholic statements, and anti-military and patriotic statements provoked outrage among some--but was applauded by others. Now: is this the way a woman, or any person, should speak? Where's the beauty, the holiness, the femininity of women today if such an example is a hero to so many?

I just heard a lecture by the esteemed author George Weigel (author of Pope John Paul II biography "Witness to Hope") who brought up the issue of, get this, Brittany Spears, saying that radio Voice of America was pumping every given hour of on-air time just 10 minutes of news and yet 50 minutes of music showcasing Brittany and like-artists. What good will that do in the worldwide struggles of America especially against Jihadist Islam (the topic of Weigel's talk)? What kind of womanhood and examples are we exporting to the world?

Now, ponder this message, I received in preparation for the ladies retreat, and see if it helps you: "Father, I think that it would be helpful to include something in the talk concerning how we are called to be good stewards of soul, body, spirit...also in the context of how the blending of knowledge and emotion is essential for gentle strength in sharing Faith ...and how it is important to appreciate the complementarity of man and woman". Yes, this is true: women need-along with men-to balance in a tripartite way-body, soul and spirit, and also the genders need to help each other to be balanced and healthy and holy, effectively. So often the culture gets a blast-or even has an agenda-by seeing the sexes "war against each other"-this is not a "Christian thing"-- it is a "commercialistic thing" and, at worst, darkly sinister. So, how can men and women unify and complement one another and not conflict as so many want us to?

In Texas, Governor Perry was just overruled by the state legislature, mandating that anti-cervical cancer drugs must be taken by all girls around the age of 18. Doesn't this turn them into daughters of the state rather than daughters of God with free will and choice? What's going on here? How are we as a culture protecting girls and women as full, dignified human beings?

I just read an article highlighting the plight of surviving abused women during World War II, once termed "sex-slaves", who were manipulated by parts of the Japanese army and government, and are now calling for human rights help. Just think: these women underwent systemic abuse once and now, because of some official Japanese governmental denial, a systemic repression is ensuing leading to further subjugation. How can you help women genuinely secure human rights and dignity-even amidst oppression and denial?

The au courant book, "The Feminine Mistake" (a word-play title on the infamous feminist treatise "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan in the 1960's) by Leslie Bennett is gaining plaudits from many in the secular press critiquing women who have chosen to be stay-at-home moms, and when they gamble on work and home life, they usually lose and that depending on a man/husband is a gambol not to be taken lightly, and encourages dependency. While there may truth to some of her claims, does it not open an opportunity for more splitting and fighting between husband and wife and manipulate the genuine complementarity they should have?

The upshot regarding some of contemporary illicit feminism's claims: don't give in to false readings of what feminine nature is. Many feminisms today are enslaved to false, harmful, anti-Christian ideologies, to agnosticism or socialism, to drug companies, contraceptives, abortion mills and governmental structures and are not really in fact free as they claim.

Despite these challenges there are many graces to Catholic women today…Opportunities: within the Catholic Church there are many ways a woman can serve, learn and grow in the Faith. In contemporary culture ladies can expand and learn in the professions. Regarding education, woman today have expansive choices for themselves and their children, whether private or public schooling, homeschooling or advanced learning. How can they-you-take advantage of this and pass it on?

And think of the women saints of our Church, who come in larger volume and variety: shining examples of holiness like our Blessed Mother; St Monica who persevered in prayer for the conversion of her son Augustine; the ex-prostitute St Mary of Egypt; to teen saints like Maria Goretti; to convert-saints like Edith Stein thru fiery saints like Catherine of Siena: how are you gaining in knowledge about them and helping ladies learn about them and emulate their virtues?

Beauty: how do girls and ladies today express and embrace their inherent beauty as creatures of God? How do they pass it on in a culture of "Brittany" and "Nicole"? Men are attracted to beauty and that is as God created it-and ladies are called to witness to this in proper holy ways.

Virginity: Some may need a call to "second virginity" but the point, whether married or not, is for ladies to see, embrace and pass on the importance of their preserved dignity, femininity and inherent unique creation within (their interiorority) by the Creator Lord. Many today are trying to manipulate others-thru pornography culture of machismo, illicit feminism-and are neglecting or rejecting true virginity for girls, and the young are esp at peril. So ladies, remember that there are many young Catholic and Christian women who are responding to this crisis and are spreading the good news about chastity and feminine beauty. What are you doing in your environment?

Help boys and men be gentlemen: Today guys are under attack and need your help to not chose evil and sin and tarnishments but rather holy chastity-and integrity of the body-that guys can be chivalrous, gentlemanly and male friends…

Some say women are by nature more natural and spontaneous at forgiving-so pass it on esp. to those in chains-physical or metaphysical. Think of the Mercy of Mary, and St Faustina. They were strong in forgiveness so you can be, too!

Contemplation: because of the way God hard-wired you as ladies, you are receptive to God especially thru meditation and deeper prayer called contemplation-how can you nurture this and pass it on?

When I asked "Big Bill" (our Grotto Sacristan) to describe a grace of womanhood, he said: "Well, I'm not the best one to answer, but, I would say nurturing-that would be the big one for them. They're natural at it and can do it so well-it's a gift to them." Yes ladies can genuinely give to others and cultivate peace and gentility in ways no one else can. So seek and pass on nurturing; don't neglect or reject it!

Lastly, remember that Catholicism has always been a vanguard for women-and has always promoted proper womanhood-so let's all--women and men--pass on virtues to others.


The Gospel: In the Gospel (Jn 10:27ff) Jesus Christ says: "My sheep hear My Voice"… It's your choice-peace or peril-do you listen to, follow His voice? I just learned in a philosophy class here at Mt. St Mary's that Pope John Paul II wants us to ask questions about our Faith. And a Dominican priest, Fr Emmerick said: "God doesn't want laboratory rats". Point of these two fine humans (and unique saying)?!: thru the asking of questions and finding reasonable answers, we will become more mature and formed in our spiritual lives (vs. being sterile lab rats). While we are called to obey our Holy Faith, we are also called to not just "blindly obey"-but obey while seeking understanding. So listen to Jesus' Voice and also find out more about it, Him, our religion by respectful queries and maturing in your mind and heart. St Anselm said it best - that our religion and theology is "Faith seeking understanding".

Next point: What are the Three M's preventing us from hearing Jesus' Shepherding Voice: Media (overly stimulated by iPod, cell phones, computers, etc); Mania (anxiety, passions and static within) and Materialism (focusing on material objects and not metaphysics). How can you reduce the static?

Today we need our bishops and priests to lead us. Recently I read of a strong bishop now appointed Archbishop of Minneapolis. A recent Pioneer Press article was degradatory about Bishop John Nienstedt due to his leadership and teachings on, you guessed it, stem cell research (even speaking against Pres Bush); abortion; cohabiting couples outside marriage; contraception. The article painted a picture of a controversial bishop. What bishop isn't or shouldn't be? Are they just supposed to be media mavens and populists? Was St Augustine in fourth century Africa? No, of course not. Anyway, another strong shepherd and leader is Archbishop Burke of St Louis who spoke out against Sheryl Crowe, pop artist who was singing at a Catholic hospital fundraising event. Read the following strong, but simple words and logic of the good Bishop: "Ms. Crow is well-known as an abortion activist. She has lent her celebrity status to the promotion of legislation, such as Missouri's Amendment 2, that creates legal protection for human cloning and the destruction of human beings who are embryos. Her appearance at a fundraising event…is an affront to the identity and mission of the medical center, dedicated as it is to the service of life and Christ's healing mission."

Today we need shepherds and strong leaders in our minority culture and communities where the family is being attacked and decimated, and where drugs reign and rage. We need shepherds in our Church today where spirituality is preeminent and not repressed. Make the choice: listen to His Voice-and help others!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi