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So there I was, standing in line, waiting to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation (known in some circles as “Confession”). I was cogitating on my sins of course, but also regurgitating a conversation I’d had on the drive over, one filled with angry questions for my otherwise beloved Church: Why doesn’t the Church seem to care that the third largest religious affiliation in the country is “lapsed Catholic”? Why have priests been excommunicated for supporting the notion of women priests or married priests, or even simply for blessing gay people, while bishops that protected known pedophiles for decades have not been? Why are nuns being chided for their work with the poor and desire for social justice?

And then I looked up. I was standing under Station Eight of the Stations of the Cross: Jesus speaks to the women. Five words. And I realized my true sin. I have not trusted God to work through His Church, to bring change and healing. How did I get from Station Eight to recognition of sin? Easy. Jesus spoke to women. That doesn’t seem all that revolutionary now, but it sure was then. Women were considered chattel, property. For a man to speak to a woman — well, it was tantamount to speaking to a cow. The Jewish word for widow literally means “unable to speak.” Not due to grief or anything, but because a widow has no husband, no man, to speak for her. Yet Jesus spoke to the women. And He listened to them, too.

And if that is true, then anything is. Maybe things need to get to crisis levels before the Church changes its views on homosexuality, birth control and the like. Maybe this time of waiting — this Advent — is necessary to effect change. Who knows? Certainly not me. But what I can do is trust that God will work His will through the Church. It is not up to me to worry about it; it is for me to trust. So trust I will.

I guess the women of Station Eight weren’t the only women Jesus spoke to, huh?

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.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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