In the recent World Youth Day press conference, Pope Francis recognized that the Church itself is feminine, saying that “she is Church, she is spouse, she is Mother.” (1)
The Pope stated the necessity for a profound theology of women, exploring the roles of women more theologically.
Moving on from the ever-present question of female ordination, Pope Francis challenged women to a deeper theology, reminding them of their real and valuable place within the Church, but remaining outside of the priesthood: “And with reference to ordination of women, the Church has spoken and she said ‘no.’”
Women – let’s face it. Females will never be ordained priests within the Catholic Church; yet, this does not render the female a worthless waste of space in the pews. Since when did the worth of women in the Church and society depend on priestly ordination?
The female contributions to the Church are valuable, and cannot be compared to the ability of men to be priests. This negative view of women in the Church should be reversed from their inability to be priests to their ability to be women of Christ. Pope Francis refers to Mary as the focal point of the feminine role within the Church: “Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the Apostles, than bishops, deacons, and priests.” Yet, she was not a priest.
Women, and their valuable contributions to the Church, lie far beyond the obsession with women’s “equality to priests and men.” Both men and women are called to a deeper theology; for some men, this is manifested in the priesthood. For women, it can be manifested in multiple ways, none of which include the priesthood.
Edith Stein offers some insightful wisdom concerning the topic of female priests: “If we consider the attitude of the Lord himself, we understand that he accepted the free loving services of women for himself and his Apostles, and that women were among his disciples and most intimate confidants. Yet, he did not grant them the priesthood, not even to his mother, Queen of Apostles, who was exalted above all humanity in human perfection and fullness of grace.” (2)
The role of women within the Church is different than man’s, creating a positive and balancing effect within the Church. As Sacred Scripture states: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so is Christ.” (3)
Pope Francis defends the feminine role by saying that “a Church without women is like the Apostolic College without Mary. The role of women in the Church is not only maternity, the mother of the family, but its stronger: it is, in fact, the icon of the Virgin, Our Lady, the one who helps the Church grow... A profound theology must be made of woman.”
This deeper theology that Pope Francis references should be an exciting new challenge for women in the professional world, society, and the Church. Gathering inspiration from the Mother of God, the women of today have an adventurous and fulfilling road ahead of them.
Edith Stein encourages women in their vocations by saying that “those women who wish to fulfill their feminine vocations in one of several ways will most surely succeed in their goals if they not only keep the idea of the Virgo-Mater before their eyes and strive to form themselves according to her image, but if they also entrust themselves to her guidance and place themselves completely under her care.” (4)
Pope John Paul II laid a solid foundation regarding women, especially in his Letter to Women, where he affirms women in their roles as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, workers, and the consecrated. Here, he acknowledges that “women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.” (5)
Pope Francis continues to build on Pope John Paul II’s foundation by asking the women of today to enter more deeply into their vocation: “A woman’s role in the Church must not end only as mother, as worker, limited. No!” Women are challenged to contribute to their communities and the Church through formation, prayer, active service, and what Pope Francis calls a “profound theology,” gathering strength from their essential role to the body of the Church for the greater glory of God.
Although Pope Francis does not explain the explicit details of this “profound theology of women,” he expressed the necessity to delve deeper into what is theologically lacking and which the Church hopes to explore in the future, making this a very exciting time in the Church for women.
(1) July 29, 2013 Pope Francis Press Conference
(2) Essential Writings, Edith Stein, 116.
(3) 1 Corinthians 12:12
(5) Essential Writings, Edith Stein, 123.
(6) Pope John Paul II, “Letter to Women”