Jonna O'Bryan, foreground, and Carrie Williamson of St. Patrick Church in Louisville, Ky., sing during the closing liturgy of the "Women of the Church" conference in Ferdinand, Ind in 2016. (CNS photo/Marnie McAllister, The Record)

Become Who You Are

Women continue to have a strong, unique role in the Church

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One very common question I receive when being interviewed is on the role of women in the Church. A recent example of this comes from an online question-and-answer session with a diocesan newspaper reporter. The session concerned a women’s conference where I was a featured speaker. I saw the exchange as a real opportunity as both the wife of a deacon and a media evangelist to address the overall issue of identity, which is front and center in the Church and the world.

“The view, education and role of women in society has changed in the last two millennia; do you think the role of women in the Church should evolve as well?”

As I was preparing my response, I thought of two very special saints who have helped me in my journey back to the Faith: Pope St. John Paul II and St. Catherine of Siena. For example, in his closing homily to the young people attending World Youth Day 2000, Pope John Paul II actually quoted St. Catherine of Siena, saying: “Reinforce and deepen your bond with the Christian communities to which you belong. From Rome, from the city of Peter and Paul, the pope follows you with affection and, paraphrasing St. Catherine of Siena’s words, reminds you: ‘If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!’”

Here we are, 19 years later, with gender ideology dominating our cultural landscape and causing some to wrongly believe their DNA doesn’t matter. Radical feminism in 2019 is still pushing another type of misunderstood identity, where some still see true equality as absolute sameness.

My response to the reporter was the same response that encouraged me to discover who I am, and it’s hardly rocket science (or, frankly, even deep theology). It’s actually the age-old challenge of accepting that God is God and we are not. Submission to God as creator is the only the way to discover what we were created for. As I explained to the writer, this discovery through much prayer, spiritual discussions and research resulted in realizing and truly appreciating just how many wonderful, different and important roles women continue to have in the life of the Church.

Pope Francis said early on in his pontificate that “the Church needs a deeper theology of women.” He is encouraging women to deeply understand who they are, made in the image and likeness of God, totally equal to men but wonderfully different. We have different gifts, and we can and do serve in different ways. I think many people, Catholics included, would be very surprised to find out just how many leadership roles women hold in the Church.

A few years ago, there was a wonderful article published in Newsweek entitled “What Would Mary Do? Don’t Ask,” written by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who served as the head of media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Her research revealed: One quarter of the diocesan positions at the highest levels, such as chancellors and CFOs, are held by women; the number of women in leadership positions in Catholic dioceses is comparable to that of women leaders in the U.S. workforce in general; women in the Church such as Mother Teresa, Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Ávila touched hearts, changed lives and, in some cases, even overshadowed popes.

We have to get back to the basics of knowing and loving our creator instead of constantly trying to figure it out on our own.

It was good to see that my answers were used in the article in their entirety, and I’m hopeful those who read it — deacon’s wives in particular — will come to the same conclusions as I did. By continuing to seek his will in our lives through prayer, the sacraments, Scripture and the intercession of the saints, we can be an example to the diaconate community and to our parish community by helping fellow Catholics discover who they are by continuing to discover more about Jesus and our beautiful Church.

TERESA TOMEO is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95). She is married to Deacon Dom Pastore, an ordained deacon in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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