2016-9_lt-churchsexist

My Faith/The Catholic Church/Theology

Is the Catholic Church Sexist?

Women are awesome. Thanks to the example of my rock star mom and four years of all-girls education, I know this to be true.

But sometimes I wonder if everyone else knows it to be true… Thankfully, nowadays there has been a lot of public discourse about this topic. Unfortunately, however, when the Catholic Church enters the discussion, it’s immediately branded as a male-dominated institution full of prejudices.

With all of these opinions, it’s hard to know what to think. Is our Catholic Church sexist? Do we women have a voice in this Church? Are we merely property, or servants? And if not… who does the Church say we are?

In answering these questions, here are five aspects of our faith that we can turn to, which paint a picture of the priceless role women play in this Church.

1. We Were Made Different But Equal

It’s undeniable that women have faced their (un)fair share of hardship throughout history. Sexism has wreaked havoc on the female identity, branding us as inferior, objectifying us and devaluing our personhood.

However, it’s important to note that God didn’t build this world of prejudice. As Jesus Himself notes, “from the beginning, it was not so” (Matthew 19:8).

In the “beginning,” in the Garden, Adam and Eve — man and woman — existed as equals, distinct but complementary. Each was created in the image and likeness of God — who is neither male nor female, but pure spirit — and thus each inherited equal and immeasurable worth. Notably, however, God’s likeness was expressed in two different ways within them: a distinctly male and a distinctly female character. Each possessed His full image, but they did so in a unique way.

Although different, Adam and Eve gave themselves in love for the other. United as husband and wife in marriage, “the two of them become one body” (Genesis 2:24).

But during the Fall, original sin corrupted this unity. Their mutual gift of self was replaced by selfish concern for personal gain. “Your urge shall be for your husband,” God tells Eve, “and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). Because of this distortion, the relationship between man and woman forever changed. Women were treated as inferior—not because of God’s lack of love, but because of humanity’s lack of respect.

This is important to remember when we reflect on the injustice of sexism: God didn’t create us for this disorder. Women are imbued with much more dignity than this world leads us to believe.

2. Christ Loved Women

No one better proves God’s original intention for women’s dignity than Christ. The tug of original sin had no effect on His heart, as He loved women with sincerity and compassion, despite a culture that belittled and devalued them.

Just think of Mary Magdalene, Christ’s companion and faithful disciple. To her especially, Christ entrusted the Good News, as she was the first to encounter the resurrected Jesus outside His tomb and share word of His triumph. For this reason, we know her as “the Apostle to the Apostles” — no small role.

If we look through the Gospels, we see it’s not just her. Consistently, it was to women that Christ most tenderly and readily ministered: the woman with hemorrhages, the daughters of Jerusalem along Calvary, the sinful woman who anointed His feet, and more.

To them especially, He revealed His Kingdom. To them especially, He offered His comfort. Even as the Pharisees brought to Him an adulteress to be stoned, Christ rejects the culture of the times and frees her of her accusers (John 8: 1-11). Such compassion at this time—or any time—is unparalleled.

In this compassion, Christ sets an example of how women ought to be treated, at all times and in all circumstances. He challenges men (and really all of humanity) to view each woman as a precious daughter of the Heavenly King, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. Despite the ever present temptation to subjugate women, Christ calls our world to a higher love: a recognition of the beloved soul that is the feminine person.

3. Mary, Queen of Heaven

Furthermore, it’s significant that God chose Mary to be the vessel of salvation. God—superior to all—was born of a woman. He, the creator of the universe, called her “mother,” and relied on her at His most vulnerable. The entirety of salvation history lay in Mary’s hands, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Her witness—her free acceptance of God’s action—shows her profound dignity: God was willing to rest all of salvation history on her “yes.” He could have chosen any other means of delivering His Son to earth, but He chose to act through the Blessed Virgin—a lowly young woman.

Her role cannot be emphasized enough, and the reverence the Church has for her is solid evidence that we all—men and women alike—are called to imitate her example. For her feminine receptivity and grace-filled abandon, the Church reveres Mary as the perfect model — both of womanhood, but, more generally, of discipleship.

4. As Wives, We are of Immeasurable Worth

To many, the Christian concept of wife perhaps brings to mind Ephesians’ “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.” Ephesians 5:21-32 often gets misinterpreted as a verse condoning male dominance and women’s subordination. However, if you read this verse in its entirety and in light of the “beginning,” it becomes less of a matter of mastery and more of a revelation of love.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her… so also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”

Husbands have a responsibility to love as Christ loves us. How radical! How intense is this love, which goes so far as to give up one’s life for the beloved, just as Christ died for His beloved—us.

On the other hand, wives shouldn’t obey husbands just because, but rather, they should do so “as the church is subordinate to Christ.” A woman gives herself to her husband in a similar way as the Church gives of itself to Christ; she obeys His Word because she expects Him to protect her, to lead her to that which will fulfill her. And, assuming her husband is following his divine call to imitate the Bridegroom, this trust is not misplaced.

This comparison highlights the divine origins of marriage and elevates our status as women; we should be loved just as Christ loved the world, with a love so powerful that our lover would die for us.

5. As Religious Sisters, We are of Immeasurable Worth

Some people mourn the fact that women cannot be priests. However, it’s crucial to note that the priesthood is simply not in our nature as women. As we read in Ephesians 5—and throughout the Old and New Testaments—God expresses His love in a spousal manner, with Christ as the Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride.

Men serve as imitators of Christ, the Bridegroom, both as fathers and as priests or religious. In the latter especially, they take on Christ’s personhood—His male personhood—so fully that they are at times “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ), such as when they consecrate the Eucharist—the Wedding Feast of the Lamb at which the Bridegroom descends to “become one flesh” with His Bride.

On the other hand, women are called to be mothers and wives, either to human spouses and children, or, as consecrated religious, as spiritual mothers and Brides of Christ the Bridegroom. Their relationship with Christ is different than that of men; they stand on the altar and say “I do” to Him, receiving His love in a uniquely feminine way (although all of us are called in part to feminine receptivity as the Bride the Church).

This identity is the result of the indelible mark of God’s image in us, manifested as either male or female. It’s not a matter of personality or preference, but rather identity. Both men and women come to know Christ as fully through their identity, but there are inherent differences in the way He calls us to Himself.

As a woman, I don’t feel discriminated against because the priesthood is not open to me. Rather than seeming stifling or inequitable, the idea of uniting oneself to Christ as His Bride in religious life sounds like a vocation created to match the desires of the female heart like a puzzle piece.

Is the Catholic Church Sexist?

No.

The Church aims to point us back to the original identity and dignity bestowed on us before the Fall. This identity and dignity are fully recognized and fulfilled in our earthly vocations, which are written on our hearts by God. He searches our souls and sees us as we are. He knows what we seek, and He fulfills it through our unique vocations.

The Church affirms the fact that the Lord calls us to Himself as we are, as He created us to be. Male and female, He created us. Different? Yes. But equally worthy? Absolutely.

For more information, check out St. John Paul II’s Encyclical On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.

About the Author

Faith Noah

I’m a college student at Vanderbilt University studying neuroscience. I’m from the great state of Texas, and my hobbies include rapping along to Twenty One Pilots, jamming out on guitar, and watching NCIS marathons. However, at the end of the day, you’ll find me either engaging in sugar-induced fits of hyperactivity or having a deep stimulating theological discussions. One extreme or the other. Fun fact: my whole name (together) is in the Bible. Hebrews 11:7. No big deal.