There’s a women’s retreat this Saturday at my church, and I’m dithering about whether or not to attend. Here’s my problem: Yes, the camaraderie with other women of my parish would be a good thing. I’m sure I would enjoy meeting new friends. But the main focus of the retreat consists of two things: A panel of women discussing how faith has brought them through difficult times (a worthy topic), and a speech by a priest on “The Genius of Womanhood.”

The Genius of Womanhood, huh? Why do I feel reasonably certain that a speech on this topic will contain the words “wife” and “mother” rather predominately, but will omit the words that most need to be said? Oh, the Catholic Church likes women just fine…in our proscribed place. We are allowed to do the work of the Church: Organizing events, cleaning and caring for the buildings, minding and teaching the children, singing in the choir, keeping families faithful generation after generation. But we are not allowed to make decisions for the Church; we have no real power. That remains in the hands of men.

When I was very young, I asked my mother why she, my sister and I had to cover our heads when we went to Mass. She put as positive a spin on it as she could — we GOT to wear hats or scarves; wasn’t that neat? I was not much of a hat person even then, but I allowed myself to be swayed by the fashionableness of it all. It wasn’t until many years later, long after this stricture was relaxed, that I realized the truth: We covered our heads because deep-down the Church saw us as unworthy. Oh, we could birth the children and prepare the potlucks, but be on an equal spiritual footing with men? Heavens no!

The Church has never gotten over the slightly squicky sensation that women are somehow dirty, somehow less important than menfolk. You wanna see the genius of women, guys? Try this on for size: WOMEN PRIESTS. Now that’s a genius idea. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be on the menu at this women’s retreat, or any other. Not for a long, long time.

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