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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Am I Oppressed?

I continue to come across blog posts, online comments, and real-life discussions delving into the "role of women" and condemning the position of the Catholic Church, claiming that the Church is "oppressive" and even "treats women as sex objects."

It is absolutely astounding and heartbreaking to me that someone would so misunderstand and even outright twist the teachings of the Church to support such a position, for claiming such is nothing but an outright lie.

I've written before about how I used to be a feminist, and I fully admit that I am STILL a feminist, but one with the original understanding going back thousands of years...and this doesn't mean what YOU might think it means.

In Brief:

To recap a little for those who aren't familiar with my story, I went to college for Law Enforcement, did become a Police Officer for a time, and have worked since then in many male-dominated jobs. During my training I tried to suppress any female inclinations (well, beyond the fact that I am attracted to men and always believed in Marriage!), to the degree possible. I had a "tough" veneer, worked hard to desensitize myself to things and suppress any natural emotional response to anything, thinking that to have empathy, to show emotions made me "girly" and would thus cause me to lose the respect of my male peers, maybe even my female peers.

Oh, sure, I painted my nails, wore makeup, and had long hair, but my attitudes revealed a very deep misunderstanding of what it meant to be a woman while I continued to give in to the culture surrounding me.

I will say no more of my history, other than to say that as I returned to my Faith, I have had to struggle a great deal with who I thought I was...and who God created me to be as His adopted daughter and potential Bride of Christ. I have to admit that this has been a big issue in my vocational discernment, and one that is ongoing as I try to resolve my crustiness against the need for holiness.

Contemporary Misunderstandings of Historical Realities

Because of the scourge of radical "feminism", the role of women in the Church is often misunderstood, even very intentionally so! To "misunderstand" is a way that we seek directly to justify ourselves in our unbelief or attitudes that are comfortable to us and our circle of friends. I do not point fingers at anyone in this, for it is human nature to do this with regard to any attitude or sin we hold dearly. It's an unfortunate part of our fallen nature, and something against which we need to remain on guard. Because of this, I cut radical feminists absolutely NO slack because I used to be one (or very close) too, and I remember the unspoken thought processes we shared, innately understanding, as well as the power of propaganda and rhetoric that we used to ignore rational discussions that sought to educate.

It was a lot easier to slam the Church or "misdirect" the discussion to something "peaceful" than to actually recognize the Church in her wisdom actually had something to offer...and that was salvation.

No one ever condemned me for my feminist attitudes. They didn't have to. The few people I met who didn't agree with my disordered ideology offered measured, truthful, and calm words, which were enough to lead me to condemn myself. Don't tell me, then, not to "judge", for I have been there; because of that, I actually have nothing but pity for those women who continue to engross themselves in their condemnations of the Church's constant pleas to recognize their (our!) true dignity as women created in the image and likeness of God!

People, both within the Church (sadly!) and without, have the impression that women are "excluded" in some way, or "oppressed" by an evil hierarchy. Those who stay in the Church actively work to disseminate their disobedience and misinformation "within" (which isn't actually possible, theologically) to try to destroy the hierarchy established by Christ and enforced by the Holy Spirit. Those from outside the Church work hard to crush this beautiful Bride made up of men and women both, this Bride born from the side of Christ, whom He loved so dearly He gave everything to save.

Instead of being open to the message of the love of Christ and beauty of woman, these people try to destroy beauty in order to spiritually photo shop their own disordered political and even sexual ideals.

The imagery and reality of true feminism reigns in both the Old and New Testaments; we see it in the images used in the prophets to explain the undying loyalty of a husband (God) to his wife (His people) in spite of her vile unfaithfulness. We see it in the stories of Hannah, Sarah, Rebekah, Judith, and Esther, (among others), all powerful and heroic women who stand as representatives of the Church, proleptic of the role of Mary.

The greatest of God's creation wasn't a Man (for Christ Himself is God so stands outside of this paradigm), but a Woman, that being she who bore Him. She stands above all men as an example to ALL.

I've also written previously on a few Biblical stories often misinterpreted to justify the false idea of "unjust patriarchal dominance" and that post can be found here, if you are so inclined. (That article is actually one of my most popular based on the number of clicks it receives in web searches.)

The Reality of Being a Catholic Woman

In honestly living my Catholic faith, I have to say that never before have I ever felt so respected as a human being.

I count among my closest friends and associates both clergy (priests) and laity (everyone else.) In our everyday contacts, in their friendship and even in randomly passing, they affirm my femininity and value in ways the secular culture tries so desperately to destroy. It is they who urge me on towards God, to bring my gifts (whether practical or spiritual) to enhance the Church, and if I do so, they reveal how it in turn enhances their own calling and also directs them also on to greater holiness.

I have to ask...what in these relationships is "oppressive"?

On the Role of Women

This discussion would be incomplete if I did not address this, the biggest cultural discussion on the topic of women and the Church.

I think that many outsiders and those who maybe have only seen the distorted side of Catholic teaching (sadly too often taught by Catholic laity in leadership positions) get the impression that the only reason the Church bans contraception is to keep women "barefoot and pregnant" and in the service of her husband.

It's true that the Church values family, and I know of many large Catholic families, counting many of them among my friends! It's also true that a parish community does tend to revolve around family life and activities that help to build the family, and in this, often seems to exclude, unintentionally, the large number of single men and women of all ages (for we are the product of our culture, the lost sheep.)

I used to have some bitterness about all this family-orientation, not feeling called to motherhood, and feeling that, if I wasn't, then I must be good for nothing at all. I didn't WANT to be a religious for in looking at religious life as it has been lived out for so long, I saw nothing but the road I had already been down (embrace of New Age spirituality, etc.) and I figured I could live a better life in finding employment as a Social Worker all on my own.

I felt like I was all alone as a woman in the Church, and that there wasn't really a place for me. I kept hearing about "roles" and in looking at the Church, wanted to figure out what "role" I was supposed to fill even as nothing seemed to fit.

It took several years, and when I finally fully returned to my faith, I met other young men and women who realized that "role" was the wrong question. The Church isn't about "roles". That is a secular term arising out of our utilitarian non-philosophical age, much to the detriment of all.

We were not created to become "roles". We were created out of love, by God, for God, for love. "Role" can't possibly come close to suggesting meaning especially in this supernatural institution of the Catholic Church.

"Role" is meaningless

My "role", then, as a woman in the Church doesn't involve family and children. It's not about my job (I am employed in a parish), or about any liturgical business I might serve in the future or have served in the past.

Trying to define "women's roles" is really the wrong question entirely, and in so doing, completely ignores the reality of what the Church is, WHO she Is, and what she has to say about Herself.

"Who are You? And what am I?"

The above quote, I believe, comes from St. Francis (please correct me if I'm wrong on this), and it's the question we all need to address deeply when we think we are lost and without purpose. It is only in relation to God that we can discover our true identity.

As women, our place, just as it is for men, is to become holy as our Father in Heaven is Holy. We are to conform ourselves to Christ, to love Him and prefer nothing to Him, no matter whether we are single, mothers, children, or religious. Our vocations differ, but our value is clear in God's eyes and in the Church.

We don't need our femininity affirmed through definitions of exterior things, but only through being who we are called to be by the God who brought us into being out of His own love.

I am no one special in the service of the Church, and I practice my faith quietly in my own parish, attending Mass, praying in the chapel, and getting involved in other ways as I am able. In my work in the parish I am known only by my employment there, and in the same way, live out my faith in exactly the same ways if in a position of leadership.

When I go to a Catholic Church, I find the respect towards me as a person that the rest of the world ignores. I am seen for who I am, not for what role some agenda wants me to fulfill. I am encouraged to be who GOD has called me to be, and live that out according to HIS call, not my own selfish desires.

When I walk into a Catholic Church, it is a sanctuary, a haven from the rest of the world, and more real than anything in the rest of my life. When I am in my pew, appearing to be alone at Mass, I am at that moment more fulfilled that I have ever been before, for it is there that I lose my individual identity to become joined with the Church, past, present, and future. It is there that in losing myself, I gain the world and am taught to become ever more who I am, to be authentically myself in this ongoing battle in the world that wants to put me in a box and define me according to its restrictive "feminist" definitions.

It doesn't matter what I have done in the past, for in being Catholic, all that we are, all that we have, all that we will ever be comes to fruition in the Kingdom of God. I am not a Saint. I am not an important personage. I am an average Catholic woman seeking holiness and mostly failing, but in that failure, I most learn who I really am and in that, I become more and more authentic, more and more human. It doesn't matter that I'm crusty and shy all at once, or that I'm snarking off one moment and weeping with contrition in the next. It doesn't matter that in some ways I'm strong while I give in to weakness in others, for, as a part of the Church, someone else makes up what I lack so that I can contribute where they cannot.

I am a woman of the Catholic Church. I am not oppressed, but free, and I am PROUD to be Catholic!

What else is there left to say?


Karinann said...

Well said! and thank you for saying it. Personally I think it's the worldly feminists who are oppressed.

Hidden One said...

If this was a Facebook note, I'd click "Like". :-P

Owen said...

Obviously you are delusional or brainwashed.

KIDDING - just kidding. Had to, sorry.

Second favorite pull quote is: "It was a lot easier to slam the Church or "misdirect" the discussion to something "peaceful" than to actually recognize the Church in her wisdom actually had something to offer...and that was salvation."

But my favorite is "Instead of being open to the message of the love of Christ and beauty of woman, these people try to destroy beauty in order to spiritually photo shop their own disordered political and even sexual ideals."

Adoro said...

Karinann ~ I think they are, too, and they're trying with all their might to oppress the rest of us because misery loves company.

Hidden One ~ I am on FB, actually....

Owen ~ I KNEW someone would say that! lol! Agree with the Church, one MUST be brainwashed! lol!

I'm actually cooking up a list of "rules" we're supposed to follow according to the ruling laity:

1. It's ok to rip on priests and their policies because they are oppressing us

2. If you agree with the Church on Church teachings and disagree with US you are "triumphalistic"

3. We the lay leadership are not triumphalistic but working to free all people from oppression

4. Unity means everyone is the same


paramedicgirl said...

I notice this type of attidude less and less now, since I have been attending the Latin Mass for two years. When I read a post like this, it is a stark reminder that there are still so many problems in the "rest of the Catholic world." I feel sheltered in my traditional parish.

Adoro said...

paramedicgirl ~ I'm not seeing it so much in the parish as on the internet, which is why I wrote this post...on the internet this problem is alive and well, so I'm surprised you're not seeing it there. Your parish should have nothing to do with it at all, actually. I don't see it in my home parish (mostly because I hang out with good Catholics), and at work, well no one has actually SAID anything, although if they did, they'd get an earful! lol

I write many of my posts not for the "real world" we actually inhabit, but for this cyber world where hatred of the Catholic Church and the stereotypes that try to perpetuate it run rampant.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Nothing :)

Linda said...

Hmmmmm must be I am a Vatican II baby. But not that many years ago woman like St. Teresa of Avila were not even allowed to read Scripture. Only within the last 10 or so years has the Church allowed children with disabilities to make there Sacraments other than Baptism. And our family Priest some 20 years ago thought woman should stay at home with their kids instead of going to daily Mass. That Said, "We have come along way Baby" and I am proud to be Catholic!

Adoro said...

Linda ~ Who told you that women weren't allowed to read scripture? Was it the same camp that talks about how Bibles were chained up and no one was allowed to read it?

Adoro said...

Linda ~ I've done a few web searching trying to verify the claim you're making about women such as St. Theresa of Avila being prohibited from reading scriptures. I can't even find a mention of a MYTH on this! I do know for a fact that St. Therese of Lisieux held her Bible very closely and other then Imitation of Christ it was her ONLY reading.

Further, there have been indulgences attached to scripture reading that go way, way back, INCLUDING for women. So I'm really really confused as to your claim. Or are you talking about women being allowed to read at Mass?

Linda said...

It is in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila. Woman were only allowed to say the prayers like the Our Father. Also with the invention of the printing press we are able to have so many bibles handy. My dad use to be a door to door bible salesman. This is how they met. They could only typeset one bible at a time. So people use to have to wait for the "Bible Boy" to pass through town to get a bible. They were also very expensive. I have the one my dad use to sell. It is a Douay Rheims bible. I love Praying Scripture. I can't imagine my life without it anymore. It was my Pentecostal Uncle that gave me my first bible. If it were not for him I don't know where my life would be today. Then my mom bought me a Catholic one later on. I still use my bible and it sits next to me at the table.

Adoro said...

Linda ~ Can you point me to a specific passage in St. Theresa of Avila where she discusses it? I can tell you that it's not in Interior Castle. Or are you going off of what someone else said?

Seriously, I have NEVER heard this, unless it's just a continuation of the distortion people make about how Bibles were chained up.

Of course, that was true, but it wasn't to keep them out of people's hands, rather to keep them from being stolen. Before the printing press, Bibles were translated and copied by hand, paper was very very expensive and so each Bible was truly priceless. The fact that they were chained and few in number wasn't to keep them out of people's hands, only to keep them from being stolen!

But because I keep hearing about this myth about how the Church tried to suppress the reading of scripture, I have to wonder if someone also misinterpreted the words of St. Teresa of Avila. I would be very interested to read for myself what she was claiming, in the proper context.

Again...I have NEVER heard what you are claiming she said, and quite honestly, I won't believe it without a specific reference, given all the weird claims made about what the Church allegedly did to oppress people in the past.

Hidden One said...

IF I recall correctly from Story of a Soul, it was after St. Therese delved into St. John of the Cross that virtually nothing else (exempting the Bible and, I seem to recall, The Imitation of Christ) gave her any spiritual edification.

I also note that, to my recollection, St. Teresa of Avila says nothing about not being allowed to read the Bible at all in The Way of Perfection... but I could be wrong.

Mary333 said...

Beautiful! All women should read this. You have a way of sifting through all the b.s. in our world and finding the truth buried underneath. Crusty? Or Truthful.

Melanie B said...

aargh I wrote out a long post with quotes and it seems to have disappeared into the ether.

In short, your commenter is mostly right but sort of wrong. According to the introductory material in The Collected Works of St Teresa of Avila vol II in Spain at that time publication and reading of Scriptures in the vernacular were forbidden. Mainly because of concerns about poor translations and about unlearned people reading scriptures and forming erroneous conclusions.

It wasn't about oppression of people and certainly not oppression of women as much as a recognition (as a result of the Protestant so-called reformation but actually rebellion) that misreading of scriptures could be very dangerous for people's spiritual health. All too easy to fall into heresy and thus risk damnation. It was out of concern for souls, not a desire for control and oppression that lead the Church in Spain to prohibit vernacular translations.

That said, the introduction does outline many theologians who did have very anti-women attitudes. It cites one who said a wife should basically be locked at home and not be allowed to attend daily Mass etc. It cites another who says women are not capable of mental prayer.

Again, these attitudes were part of a greater cultural context and motivated in the most part by a concern for souls. And the very anti-women stuff does not reflect the official stance of the Church but the opinions of individual theologians who were obviously wrong.

It's especially important to note that there were at the time many women who were quite carried away by mystical visions which had quite questionable theological content.

Even St John of the Cross advises against putting any stock in mystical visions, recognizing that the devil likes to lead people astray by persuading them they are receiving visions from God.

So it's not so much about oppressing women as concern that women who don't have free time to devote to deep study of the Scripture might be lead into grave error.

Melanie B said...

I think this is also part of a cultural context and has much to do with conditions in Spain at the time, with concerns raised by the Protestant Reformation, etc.

When considered in that context without prejudice toward the Church but looking at the Church's ultimate concern being saving souls, it's not anti-women at all though it is perhaps tainted by the general errors of the age considering a lower esteem of women's intellectual ability. Which is also understandadable, if regrettable.

Theology was a discipline that required years of study and society at that time just wasn't open to women at universities. And that in turn probably had much to do with a real understanding of human nature. Rrecognizing that mothers didn't have leisure for such study and that single life requires heroic celibacy. Nowadays it's common for both men and women to delay marriage until their late 20s early 30s. However very few of them arrive at marriage without having had sex outside of marriage. So just maybe the attitudes of the time were not so misguided in terms of preventing people from sinning? Having women delay marriage to receive a university education does seem to put a strain on chastity. And having few educated women about could certianly lead to cultural attitudes that assumed women were not capable of being educated... but you kind of have to ask which came first?

In any case, St Teresa did not read Latin and thus did not have direct access to scripture. But she did read and write Spanish and had access to passages of scripture contained in spiritual books, which was allowed. According to the author there were enough quotations at length in these sorts of spiritual writings that one could practically piece together an entire vernacular Bible out of all the passages. Thus the Church wasn't keeping scriptures away from people, but encouraging them to read Scriptures in context with commentary which would help them to interpret what they were reading along with the mind of the Church instead of being their own interpreters. Also this way they were reading scripture in context of devotions and strengthening their spiritual life.

The context in the writings of St Teresa in fact is the commentary on the Song of Songs that she wrote for her sisters. She writes that although she has not learned Latin, when she reads from the breviary she does understand what they say. She is most obviously not ignorant of Scripture even though she didn't have a Spanish Bible.

Adoro said...

Melanie B. ~ Thank you! Now, THAT makes sense! I have read different Church documents from that time that condemn unauthorized scripture revisions and translations in the vernacular for several reasons, which it identifies. One concern was the use of "modern" idioms, which if placed in scripture would render the words entirely different from the original intent and meaning. (Hmmmm....we have that problem today, don't we?)

So yes, absolutely that happend and I HAVE heard of that. Linda, I think there's our answer. :-)

Linda said...

Melanie B your awesome! Thank you I was about to go search for the answer and my mind was just not ready for the task. lol.

I am not good under pressure. Melanie answered perfectly to what I was trying to suggest.

God bless you all!

Adoro said...

Linda ~ Melanie B is awesome. But your original claim was that until recently, women were NOT allowed to read scripture, which is not true. I'm glad you brought this up, though, because no doubt I'll run into someone else somewhere who makes a similar claim and we can now ALL put this in the proper context and set them straight.

I did a little research this morning before Mass (not a lot of time!), and found documents from that time in history condemning EXACTLY what we're seeing now, such as Bibles with "inclusive language" which actually completely change the meaning of the scriptures, use of modern slang, translations that don't take the historical understanding of that time into context, etc. And some things are just totally untranslatable.

That's why Latin remains the official language of the Church; it is precise and can't be accurately placed into the vernacular. Canon Law is a case in point.

OK, huge digression here, I need to finish cooking dinner!

Hidden One said...

To sum it all up, all people need to learn some Latin, and Ignatius Press needs to reprint the Clementine Vulgate.

I kid. But it'd be nice! :-P

Melanie B said...

Adoro and Linda,

You're very welcome. Glad I could be of assistance. It's just lucky coincidence that I happened to remember reading about her having access to scriptures through passage in spiritual books rather than by reading the Bible directly. I was struck when I read her commentary on the Song of Songs by the fact about St Teresa not knowing Latin and yet praying the breviary in Latin. I was struck by her simple faith and the way the Holy Spirit spoke to her even when she didn't understand the words. So when I saw Linda's question, I knew exactly where to look. (Then again probably not coincidence, the Holy Spirit works in all sorts of mysterious ways.)

Also, Linda, about the priest who said that women should stay home rather than go to daily Mass.... I'd like to know more about the context of that particular remark.

I could certainly understand a priest counseling a mother of small children that it would be better for her to stay home than to try to attend daily Mass. While going to daily Mass is certainly a wonderful spiritual practice, it is not required. A mother's primary vocation is to her husband and children and if going to Mass distracts her from that or puts undue pressure on those relationships, then it can become a detriment to family life and be indicative that her priorities are out of wack and her spiritual life is disordered. A wise spiritual director would in that case discourage the practice. Keep in mind that everyone's primary focus should be her vocation and for a mother her family is her vocation. It's different for single women or religious women who should make every effort to put spiritual things first.

Myself, I used to go to Mass every day before I was married but since I have had three children in four years, I have found that it is simply not possible for me to make it a regular practice, much as I'd like to. Daily Mass is wonderful if you can manage it but not everyone is called to it, at least not at all seasons of their lives. (But oh I miss it so!) To discourage the practice for some individual women is not necessarily misogynistic but recognizing practical considerations. It acknowledges that certain individuals may have desires for specific spiritual practices that are inappropriate. Fallen human nature being what it is even goods like prayer can become disordered when they displace other duties. This is why having a spiritual director is such a great help because sometimes another person can more clearly see what your needs and limitations are.

Adoro said...

Melanie ~ Thanks so much for your perspective and also in tying the historical context into the modern.

As a single woman, there is much I simply can't address with regard to family life and motherhood, so I really NEED people like you to step in and explain all of this!

It also reminds me that, although I also can't attend Daily Mass as often as I'd like, when I DO I should spend more time praying for and representing in that way those of you who WANT to be there and CANNOT! :-(

You actually make me realize what at gift is really is to be Single, not for my own sake, but for that of the Church, so thank you for that.

Oh, and also, Melanie, if you're not a regular reader of Linda's should be!

So....Linda, meet Melanie. Melanie, Linda. There! :-)

Warren said...

One of the hilarious things I would be obliged to believe if I was a feminist, is that you are suffering from 'stockholm syndrome'. If that kind of dismissive attitude towards other people's dissenting views doesn't completely destroy a feminist's ability to enter into a dialogue with you, or any truly Catholic woman, then I don't know what does. In short, a feminist's view of you, as a catholic woman, is more mysogynistic than any historical misogynist you could care to name. You're wrong, Adoro, because you don't support a woman's right to kill her babies, and you don't even have a right to have a view, because you are a sad, sad, victim of the oldest and most powerful patriarchy in the world; the Christian church. Which must be destroyed. Gnash. Gnash. Gnash.



Melanie B said...

"what at gift is really is to be Single, not for my own sake, but for that of the Church,"

Exactly. I think that's precisely what St Paul is getting at in 1 Corinthians 7:

"An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband."

As a single woman, you are able to give much more time and energy to prayer, Mass and devotions and serving God directly. As a married woman I can spend much less time going to Mass and praying. I must frequently leave my prayers to tend to crying children's needs. I had to leave Mass yesterday to change baby's diaper and feed him and missed the consecration. Such is the sacrifice a mother must make for her children.

And I think that's what 1 Timothy 2 is getting at: "she will be saved through motherhood, provided women persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."

My offering to God is often not contemplative prayer but the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending the sick. Also instructing the ignorant and counseling the doubtful. My prayers are are often actions rather than words and when they are words they are uttered as I cook dinner and sweep the floor. I don't get much chance for quiet adoration.

Not that I'm very good at this prayerful offering of childcare as a sacrifice to God, mind you, just that I recognize that thus is my path to heaven.

Owen said...

Not entering this discussion, which is wonderful, but just stepping in to tell MelanieB ... it's nice to read this kind of writing from you once again.

Melanie B said...

Aw, thanks, Owen.

Rachel Gray said...

Great post! I liked "When I go to a Catholic Church, I find the respect towards me as a person that the rest of the world ignores. I am seen for who I am, not for what role some agenda wants me to fulfill."

Also liked this combox discussion.

bayouchild said...

Youre not oppressed. The feministas would love for you to believe you are though. Then again they think aborting their own children is ok so I dont think their opinion really counts, do you?