Where had I been all those years? That was one of the nagging questions I asked myself as I found my way back to the Catholic Church. How come I never heard growing up how Jesus was a true women’s libber; breaking the norms regarding the way men in His day related to and communicated with women? Why, when gatherings focusing on the progress of women were making headlines at major events such as the 1995 Beijing Conference, weren’t women told that the then head of the Roman Catholic Church was also among the voices calling for “equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, and fairness in careers” among other things as John Paul the Second stressed in his Papal Letter to Women. This document, which included great insights and teachings on Jesus, the Church, and the role of women, was released at the same time of the Beijing event. But I didn’t hear about it until years later.
Maybe this is why Pope Francis in his first year as the head of the Roman Catholic Church around the world has been calling for a deeper theology of women. He made the comments in his now-famous impromptu interview returning to the Vatican following World Youth Day events in Rio de Janeiro.
“A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother. The role of women doesn’t end just with being a mother and with housework … we don’t yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of Caritas, but we don’t have a deep theology of women in the Church.”
The Pope reiterated this in an interview last week with an Italian daily newspaper. Once again as in his previous comments, he didn’t say the Church is in need of a teaching or a theology on women. He stressed we needed a deeper theology of women. Speaking from personal experience growing up Catholic I don’t remember doing anything more than barely sticking my toes in the water in terms of attempting to really understand the Church. Beyond a few basic tenets and the general understanding of the saints and Mary I knew very little about the Church I claimed to be a member of. Partly my fault but also as Church leaders now readily admit, also the result of poor or no catechesis. As Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has stated so eloquently, “American Catholics need to realize that many in the current generation haven’t just been assimilated into the American culture but have been absorbed, bleached, and digested by it.”
As a result it was always about me. It took being knocked off my horse in both my personal and professional life before I started to take my faith more seriously and really attempt to understand and admittedly struggle at times with what the Church has to say about women as well as other core teachings; teachings I had ignored for most of my life. I had to ask a lot of questions, read Church documents, and study the Bible. I found it freeing, utterly liberating (no pun intended), when I finally understood that true equality between women and men doesn’t always have to mean sameness. We were created in the image and likeness of God; equal but different. Who knew? You mean the Catholic Church has an entire body of teaching on women and role in the Church and society? Go figure.
So in honor of the one year anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, why not discover the “deeper theology” of women through documents such as The Paper Letter to Women or Mulieris Dignitatem: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women. Swim in the deep end of the faith pool for a while. Maybe you’ll find as I did that the water is just fine.
Teresa’s latest book, God’s Bucket List: Heaven’s Surefire Way to Happiness in This Life and Beyond is available on Amazon and one of her other popular books, Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture has been on the Catholic best-seller list since its release in October, 2011.
Visit Teresa’s website: http://teresatomeo.com/
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