Tonight I ask a question, a question that I have sought an answer to for so many years.
What is a woman?
My God, sometimes how I wonder.
How I wonder.
In My Shop of Scattered Dreams
I stepped through the old, peeling wooden doors of the hidden, almost forgotten building, nestled in a dimly lit side of town that many with higher ambitions would have easily forsaken.
As I crossed the timeless threshold into the realm of aging religious signs and symbols, it was not long before my heart found itself struggling.
A thousand and one heart aches of a time long past burst like waves across my being, ripping into my soul like countless daggers of a generation gone mad.
I stared at the remnants scattered here and there, remnants of places and people who no longer cared.
My hand cautiously lifted the printed image attached to the discarded frame – a brilliant church, in black and white, surrounded by all that spoke of faith, hope, and most of all, a future built upon love.
Ripped apart it now was as I turned to the following image of its “restoration,” bits and pieces of its glorious history laying scattered for sale at my feet.
Was this what it had come down to – a generation gone mad?
I felt the tempestuous desire to run to whomever had done this, grab them by the arms, and shake them with the passionate vigor of one who has seen destruction and knows all that it can do.
“What have you done to my generation?” I longed to demand – to demand until I received an answer that I knew could never be found.
“Are you happy that you ripped apart all that you deemed unworthy of your voided ideals?” I wanted to ask.
“Do you revel in the trauma of a civilization that no longer cherishes any hope, finds no answers, and sees nothing to turn to but an ever-deepening chasm of emptiness, lies, and death? Is this what you wanted? Is this what you hoped for? Is this the fruit of your celebrated love-child years? Is this it?!”
I heard a girl in a store downtown the other day, speaking with a friend: “I have never been to church,” rang her words across the aisle, as she laughed disarmingly at the thought of such a foolish proposal.
What is that?
Yet here, tucked away in my shop of scattered dreams, I came across an image of two children who did attend Church.
Hidden behind modernist metal and stone cold wood, it brought me to my knees.
Alone, in the small, abandoned room, I crawled closer, struggling in my skirt to see all that I could.
A first communion.
Delicately yet boldly framed, with soft faded flowers and a liturgical image of spiritual beauty that only the eyes of the heart could see, it carried me away to a time that the generation of destruction had not entirely wiped away.
There, crawling on the worn wooden floor that must have been over a hundred years old – or more – I wanted to weep.
What child today would witness such a thing – be apart of a grand beginning in such a way?
A priest, turning to descend from the high altar, carrying to them for the first time God Himself as they knelt covered in symbols worthy of their dignity, seemed so unlike those that I have often seen.
There, amidst such heavenly promise as that sketched out in the simple image before my eyes – I silently questioned, what modern child would ever be given such a chance at every level, humanly and divinely, possible?
Forcing myself to stand, I wandered through discarded item after item, until I stood before the old Latin prayer cards – once placed so carefully upon an altar positioned towards, and dedicated to, God.
In a gentle voice I slowly read each ancient word, in a language unwanted by almost all but the angels themselves, practically thrilling not only to the sound but to the sanctity that it gave to all that one dared to utter:
Glória in excélsis Deo: et in terra pax homínibus bonae voluntátis. Laudámus te, benedícimus te, adorámus te…
Ah! If only I could say those words!
If only I too could stand there, and say them in the way that so many priests prefer not to.
For the sake of ease? For the sake of comfort? For the sake of being more readily understood by humans rather than angels?
Why are you, in this regard, so lazy, my dear beloved priests?
As I listened to each word, the thought of being able to do what so many prefer to not, was almost too much.
I admired it too terribly.
My heart longed too strongly.
I stepped slowly away.
Under dusty hanging lanterns, gold crosses, timeless tapestries, and images of the divine, my footsteps carried my hands to a world of cloth – sad polyester amidst four walls without a Latin Missal on a single shelf for sale.
I passed the capes – one after another – yet more akin to a costume an adult might pick up in a cheap reminiscence of an old five and dime – with their rapidly sewn, industrial age, modernist sketchy designs.
I sighed within as I walked along, parting the ultimately thin cloth that so easily disappointed.
Yet then I was there – one garment alone, a sole stranger in a pile of cheapened beauty.
It was not hand-made – and truth be told, it was probably not worth the price.
It was simple – made for a soul longing to ascend to the alter of God in the footsteps of our fathers – the large, looming cross boldly protecting the entire back – but it fascinated me none the less.
It was hope.
It spoke to me.
Circling the store, I gazed forlornly at the many simple black cases for the sick – wondering what it must be like to carry one to the dying in need.
Ah, how I wished I could help – how I wished I could carry some small black kit, lined with crushed purple velvet – containing that mysterious cross within and the simple blessed candles that would soon provide a ray of light in the darkness, to some suffering soul.
To know that the sight of it meant hope, meant promise – meant a possible life after death rather than a void of death after death.
To hold the hand of one in need, to listen to their every sigh, to cradle their every tear - to pray until it was pointless to pray anymore.
Yet what could I offer?
The question plagued me, as I stood surrounded by images of an office that I was not created to participate in.
I know that to some, such words would easily ring off their lips: “you are just a mere woman. A weak soul. There is not much that you can do in this Church of ours.”
But I refused to agree.
As I stood there, recognizing instinctively all that each symbol was meant to say, I knew that God may not have designed me to be a priest, but he made me to understand it.
He gave me the mind and the heart to recognize the vast implication of such a call, to see it for all that it is worth.
He gave me that grace, not me.
But he would not have given it to me if it was not for a reason.
Yet how often, it seemed to me, those whom I admired so much seemed to not reciprocate.
To not understand the value of a woman in this world – and in the Church.
I puzzled at this thought, as I took another turn through a world of historical wonder that had me lost in so many secrets dear to my heart.
A Double Dignity
My admiration for the priesthood, and all that it contains, is too deep.
I do not see it from a natural level – if I did, I fear that my understanding would be an entire misunderstanding from every angle.
I would not be able to separate the individual from the position, but I know far too well, and in ways that I cannot explain, that it is the position that makes the priest, and not the person.
Take away the grace, take away the vocation, remove the call, and a star, however dim or bright it may be, falls from the sky.
No, the priesthood is a gift that depends not on the person, however holy or unholy he may be.
But as my steps carried me past another almost life-size statue of our dear Lady, Our Mother, Mary, I could not help but wonder – she is so great.
She is so loved.
She is so valued.
She has a dignity too – even if hers is entirely different.
The early church saw this, and they embraced this double dignity – that of all that the masculine and the feminine can both offer.
They were always surrounded by women in those earliest days.
Perhaps in a different way than the men, but they were there – if not in person, then in prayer.
They were predominant too.
They mattered – in a very clear, and very obvious way.
Nothing was out of balance then – one may have been more active, but that does not mean that it was more needed – or more cherished as well.
Finding myself alone once again in an old boarded room, sitting upon what must have once been a classic bench within a childhood school, draped with enthusiastic little Catholic faces, I gazed for some time upon a large, crumbling statue of the Virgin given away by a hopelessly modern institution.
I gazed…and I gazed.
As my eyes lingered upon her beauty, more spiritual than physical, I knew that it could not be denied that women have a worth just important as that of men.
They have something to offer the Church that is also uniquely valuable, even if it is entirely different.
Yet I felt so lost within – for while I knew the worth of a woman, and could appreciate the married state, I knew that I could never be truly happy within it.
In not desiring to be married there remained the feeling that there must be a call for me as well.
But something was missing.
Whatever that call was, it seemed so terribly unappreciated.
Almost forgotten and shoved to the side.
But at the same time, even if it was forgotten from an earthly perspective, there was something so vast, so infinite about it, that I could not put my finger upon it.
I sighed within as I contemplated the statue that silently spoke volumes before me, and as I stepped out of my forgotten shop of scattered dreams, I stepped into a night filled with innocent white snow dancing ever so gently throughout the air, like little ballerinas at the dawn of the famous Nutcracker ballet.
I contemplated the mystery of gentleness, of beauty, of love – the mystery of mystery itself, for what is the heart but a mystery that cannot be contained by the masculine mind, or ever begun to be understood.
What is the heart but woman herself?
Yet this poor feminine side of God – so often feared, pushed away, or worst of all, used for evil.
This poor level of influence (the influence of a woman), lost in a fallen world – so high that due to the fall, it seems at times as if it can almost never be reclaimed for all that it truly is.
Almost as if it were doomed to ever be underappreciated in a fallen world that values what it can see over what it cannot.
Action over mystery – authority over influence…everything always out of balance, forever misunderstood.
As I drove home, the twinkling lights of the downtown city streets sharing the magic of the holidays in little glistening bulbs of childhood, the snow scattering across my warm windshield, I thought of this influence in all the ways that I have known it.
- I have looked it in the face of all the evil that it can cause.
- I have been cast down into the darkness of all the misery that it can contain.
- I have wept over the confusion of all that it could be, yet was not.
But I knew all along that it was there.
It was there when I was painted into a reality that was not mine, and it was there when I was forgotten amidst the truth that is.
But it was always there.
Yet what could I offer?
And then, tonight, I realized what it is.
I realized the beginning of an understanding of what I was missing all along, and what the Church seems to often miss so easily too.
With Half a Heart
In my desire to not be apart of my own family, not creating human souls that would one day ascend to God if raised well and brought up with tender loving care, I realized that is precisely what both I, and the Church, needs.
Only a mother can love like a mother, and only a father can love like a father.
But a child, a civilization, a community – and most especially a parish – that is denied both of these gifts, unless some tragedy by the Will of God has permitted it for a greater good, is a child that is missing half of its parental heart.
Who could raise a child better than a mother, a mother who loves with all of her being?
Who can support and be there for a Church when it is attacked by the bitterness and coldness of the outside world other than a spouse of Christ who has the profound sensitivity to instinctively understand?
Who can warm a heart better, provide a tender hearth, nourish with deep wisdom, rekindle and inspire when all the embers within seem to have grown cold?
I know that it is only the feminine – it is only a woman.
And I understood – I understand – at the most basic level of the spiritual plane – what the Church needs.
The Church will never grow without its women – just as a human family will never truly grow, for the Church is the greatest family of all.
A unity of men without a unity of women, working for the same cause, is doomed to either fail or to be faced with a very slow and painfully stunted growth.
Such a unity of men is destined to become embroiled in the world of pure masculinity – sometimes too harsh, sometimes too cold, and sometimes too filled with self advancement.
And I wonder, why does our Church deny this so?
Why are there so many out there, working so ardently for the growth and rebirth of the Church, striving to bring new traditional vocations to the priesthood, but yet…yet…
..and I say once again…
There are almost none speaking to the souls of women in the same way?
Do we try to fool ourselves?
Do we think that families are built upon the labor of the masculine alone?
Ah! Do we insist on devaluing the importance of influence?
Are we that ignorant?
No, my heart knows better, for I am, after all, a woman.
And while men are generally called to think in action, I am generally called to think in mystery and depth, and there I plunge into the great sea that only one given the heart of the feminine can know, and I return filled with the conviction that this is simply not true.
I know that a parish with only its priests, no matter how many it may contain, is a parish with only half a heart, half a parental soul.
It is a parish with a family that is broken – missing something so fundamental that it may not even realize it, for how easy it is to often overlook all that a woman so deeply provides.
But on the other end, I know without a doubt, that a parish with both halves of its heart, if they are properly understood and correctly lived, will flourish.
It will grow like any healthy family thriving upon the God-given gifts of both a father and a mother – it will grow into a family so large, so great – so strong and brave.
It will extend so quickly – the rivers of grace will flow so freely, inspiring and influencing while restraining and directing.
Authority and influence working together.
The church needs a full and complete family – at every level.
Ah, my dear traditionalists, lost as you thump away on your masculine drums, do you not realize you are marching to a beat without a tune?
Fight for a rebirth not only of traditional priests, but equally of traditional women who can work alongside your priests.*
Create the family that God wants so much to create – the family of the Church, the communion of the saints – the spiritual bond of unity and harmony that will make all the rest of the world stop, stare, and say:
“Why did we ever do what we did when we threw it all away?”
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*It is a truth that cannot be denied that there is a very small, but growing handful of traditional religious communities for women. The traditional Carmelites in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and most recently, California, are one such unified order. There is also the Benedictines of Mary, located in Missouri, as well as the order attached to the Institute of Christ the King, among a small scattering of others. Yet the first two are orders that are not set up to support the traditionalist movement as their main call – while they pray for and assist traditional priests as they can, this is not their sole vocation. The third, while it does pray for priests, is delegated, as I understand, to one locale – in Italy. Yet what I am referring to is the importance of such an influence that is visible wherever the priests are also visible – so that it can affect the local families of individual parishes, and thus extend its influence in that way to all of the Church. This is what is needed – this is what I speak of – and this is what perplexes me in that it has not been as ardently sought and developed alongside the vocations of traditional priests.