The Women Who Led the Way

(by Fr. Robert Hermley OSFS)


One of the biggest lies ever leveled against the Catholic Church is that it is a male-dominated Church.


From the beginning of Christianity the Church has held our Blessed Lady in such high esteem that people outside the Church often criticize us for our devotion to Mary. Yet the Church teaches that she too needed redemption by the blood of Christ, but prior to her conception.


Duns Scotus held that pre-redemption was a fitting way of preserving the Blessed Virgin because she was to become the mother of God and as such could never be in conflict with God, as would be said if she had not been kept free from Original Sin.


It seems that as the world rejects Mary, the most perfect model of womanhood, it blames the Catholic Church for not recognizing the merits of women. Such a lie can easily be proved false.


It is the Catholic Church which has always recognized the unique work of women. In St. Peter.s Basilica in Rome, the statues both right and left of the Pope.s altar are of women.on the right St. Helena, mother of Constantine, and on the left St. Veronica with her towel. Tradition carefully reminds us that Simon of Cyrene was forced to help Christ carry the Cross while Veronica aided Christ of her own volition.


The New Testament specifically mentions that all apostles except John ran away, while our Blessed Lady and Mary Magdalene remained at the foot of the cross.


All through the centuries, while the rest of the world put womanhood second, the Catholic Church made women superiors, principals, administrators of hospitals, etc. It was the Church and the Popes who warned that women are not property, they are individuals.


Nowhere can the Church's esteem for women be more evident that in the life of St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine was the 23rd (yes, that is correct!) child of the Benincasa family. Luckily her family was not caught up in materialism. In her youth (1352), she had a vision of Christ dressed in the robes of the pope and surrounded by the apostles Peter, Paul, and John. This gave her a tremendous love for la Navicella, the ship of the Church.


For years Catherine led a contemplative life in her own home, but little by little she felt Christ calling her out of solitude to work for others. She became incorporated with a group of lay women affiliated with the Dominican order. In this group she helped the needy of Siena, prisoners, the sick and the poor. By 1370 she was recognized as a peacemaker, healer and prophet.


Within 10 years she had sent out over 400 letters to leaders of Church and state. Catherine was consulted by Pope Gregory XI and Urban VI. She was often the Pope's emissary to the rebellious Papal States. The Papal Nuncio consulted her. She even preached to the Carthusian monks on the island of Gorgona. Pope Urban VI once said, “This little woman puts us to shame.” She wrote and spoke bluntly. She once told the Pope to choose virtuous men as cardinals and suggested that he be “more manly and God-fearing in doing your duty.”


She helped in the restoration of peace, successfully organized a Crusade, helped reform the Church, and counseled the Pope to return to Rome from Avignon, which he did. When Catherine spoke the Church listened.


Toward the end of her life she spent hours kneeling before Giotto's beautiful mosaic la Navicella (the ship of Peter tossing about in the storm). She certainly realized how much she contributed to the calming of the storm within the Church, yet she never felt oppressed, second class, or of little importance. She was a woman who commanded respect, yet she never asked to become a priest or

even to be an altar girl. She was declared a Doctor of the Church and is recognized as Patroness of Italy.


Catherine's body lies under the main altar in the Church of Maria Soper (Minerva) within a stone's throw of the Pantheon.


She came a long way, baby, for an “oppressed,” “second-class” - citizen – and in 1380 A.D. Catherine is just one of many women saints we could write about. Home schooling mothers, la Navicella is being tossed about once again on the dark sea of religious doubt, fear, lack of faith and rebellion. You are called to rise up like the Helenas, Veronicas, and Catherines. It is through your courage and deep faith that you must snatch up your children and place them in the Barque of Peter, watching them and nourishing them, carefully teaching them the truths of the Catholic faith in the “Church of the home.”


It is a job your husbands should also do, but it is a duty the Church knows women will do because they have the courage, the strength and the determination. You are spiritually and tenderly above men; never come down from your exalted position. The Church has always admired your strength, your ability to accept difficulties . but God made us male and female, each having a separate and distinct work in His Kingdom. He created Eve from Adam's side to show that world that man and wife should walk side by side, joined but with separate purposes in the vineyard of the Lord.

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