May 21, 2001
volume 12, no. 127
Cooking our spiritual goose!

    When I was a kid I remember watching a show, I think it was the Twilight Zone. In it, aliens from another planet landed offering help and assistance to all mankind. And they did, they did everything for us. Scientists found a book of theirs and worked on translating it. They got the title translated….it read, "To Serve Man", and the scientists were exalted. They continued to work on the translation. Later one of the main character's decided to volunteer for a trip to the alien's home planet, and as he was boarding their ship, another scientist came running out hollering for them to stop……"IT'S A COOKBOOK!!!!!!!!"

    When I read in my local paper that "FutureChurch" was working on a prayer and educational project with brochures about 12 women in Church history, my mind went immediately to that old show. "Celebrating Women Witnesses: A Project to Rediscover Women Leaders in the Catholic Church" sounds like a good and noble thing, but given FutureChurch's history in regard to Church teaching, it looks more like a cookbook than a way to serve mankind.

    Why? Surely it's a good thing, as FutureChurch points out, that we know the contributions women have made for Christ and His Church. Surely this will inspire women all over the US, to do greater things. Surely it's a good thing for all people to be more aware of saints and others who have made contributions to the Church. Yes, that fine, but to trust FutureChurch to give an accurate portrayal of these women is akin to trusting Jesse James to make a bank robber-proof.

    According to FutureChurch, they're "Seeking to balance gender-selective church memory…" (Cleveland Plain Dealer; Sat. April 28, 2001, pg E-1) Does this mean that the Church has purposely pushed only male saints? If that was the case, why even have female saints. FutureChurch may have a case if the Church was devoid of female saints, but It isn't. In fact, if you ask average Catholic, the saints they could name quickly would probably be few. Most would probably easily name the Blessed Virgin, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Patrick and St. Christopher, as well the as the patron saint of their parish. With a little more time, they could undoubtedly name others but these are the ones that generally pop into everyone's heads. But the Church recognizes thousands of saints, most of them unknown to all but the most ardent scholar of the saints. Did the Church do this on purpose as FutureChurch implies? Of course not.

    But again, we may say that it is then a good thing that these women be given greater exposure, to help bring people a greater appreciation of them. And again, if that was their intent, it would be fine. In fact, there have been books about various women saints, both individually and collectively, so why this one? Maybe a glance at their brochure on St. Mary Magdalene would give us an answer.

    "First Witness to the Resurrection Nowhere in scripture is Mary identified as a public sinner or a prostitute. Instead, all four Gospels show her as the primary witness to the most central events of Christian faith. She traveled with Jesus in the Galilean discipleship and, with Joanna and Susanna, supported Jesus' mission from her own financial resources (Luke 8:1-3). In the synoptic Gospels, Mary leads the group of women who witness Jesus' death and burial, the empty tomb, and his Resurrection." (Mary Magdala; Apostle to the Apostles; FutureChurch)
    Nowhere in Scripture does it necessarily say that she wasn't the repentant woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. And calling her an Apostle really stretches her being at the Resurrection. Why were the women there? To do their job as Jewish women, to prepare Jesus' body for burial which they couldn't do before because of the Sabbath. In short, they were at the right place at the right time. But Jesus told her not to touch Him because He had not yet ascended to His Father. But the Apostles touched Him, ate with Him, etc. Why? Doesn't this show there was a difference? But to listen to FutureChurch, her story was made up to discredit her.
    "How has it happened then that we twenty-first century Christians have never heard about Mary's strong discipleship role during Jesus' life, and prominent leadership role in the infant Church? There are several possible explanations. One is a common misreading of Luke's Gospel which tells us that "even demons had gone out of her" (Luke 8:1-3). To first century Christian ears this meant only that Mary had been cured of a serious illness, not that she was sinful. Poorly understood internal illnesses were commonly attributed to the work of evil spirits, although the presence of such an illness was not necessarily associated with sinfulness. The number seven symbolized only that her illness had either bee very severe or recurred frequently." (IBID)
    This goes along with the notion that Jesus performed no miracles. The possessed weren't possessed, they were simply ill. Contrary to FutureChurch's desire for it to be otherwise, when someone said that someone was freed of demons, they meant that they were freed from demons, not that they were merely sickly. But here's the real focus of FutureChurch's 'project':
    "Another possible if painful explanation is that by the third and fourth centuries, male Church leaders were successfully suppressing women disciples' coequal leadership. The Christian community was caught in a cultural conflict as it moved from worship in house churches where women's leadership was accepted and felt to be appropriate, to worship in public places where women's leadership was deemed inappropriate and shameful. The Montanist and Valentinian Churches, which had both male and female leaders, were eventually suppressed. Scholars say that the Montanist and Valentinian communities were orthodox. They were suppressed not because their teachings were heretical, but because women as well as men engaged in leadership." (Ibid)
    Now this is blatantly false. The women the Church accused of heresy were, in fact, heretics. The Montanists and Valentinians WERE heretics and not orthodox.

    "Montanism: A heretical movement in the second century which professed a belief in a 'new' Church of the Spirit. It's members considered themselves specially gifted by the Holy Spirit…..The substance of their doctrine was that the Holy Spirit was now supplanting the revelation of Christ, with consequent displacement of the bishops and even the Pope." (Catholic Dictionary; ed. John Hardon, S.J.)

    Is it any wonder FutureChurch says this was orthodox? This is their belief in a nutshell. "Valentinianism was a Gnostic heresy of Valentinus. They claimed that the God of the Old Testament created the visible world, but only the invisible world is real. Christ was a spirit who came to deliver mankind form it's bondage to matter. Those who followed this teaching were destined to enter the spiritual heaven, the best we Catholics could attain was the middle realm of the Old Testament diety., and the rest of mankind, being engrossed in matter, were doomed to eternal damnation." (IBID)

    Now how FutureChurch could say these were orthodox is beyond me. They don't even agree with each other? How could they be orthodox? The only 'scholars' who have said that they were orthodox are their own 'scholars', that is Rosemary Ruether who never read a Gnostic writing she didn't like (as opposed to the Scripture) and her greatest admirer Elizabeth Johnson, whose book "She Who Is" is full of quotes by Ruether. But what they want to push is that the "male Church leaders were successfully suppressing women disciples' coequal leadership." Which isn't true. And guess where they tell you to go to get more information on the Apostle Magdala? Why the National Catholic Reporter (the official newspaper of Catholic dissent) and Call To Action, the 'mother church' of heresies! Why do I say heresies? (Implying that they're heretics?)

    "Heretic: Baptized, but denying some of the truths taught by Jesus; one who chooses his/her own creed." Formal Heresy: 1) Previous valid baptism; 2) Persistence of external profession of Christianity; 3) Denial of a truth proposed by the Church as divinely revealed; 4) Moral culpability: knowingly refusing a doctrinal imperative.

    Again, this is FutureChurch, Call To Action, et al in a nutshell.

    Why then would some 800 packets find their way into the hands of Catholic leaders? And if they did that to Mary Magdalene, imagine what they did to the others, which include Mary of Nazareth (I wonder why they can't say the Blessed Virgin?), St. Clare of Assisi, St. Therese of Lisieux. Each of these women were great saints and the one trait that they held that FutureChurch refuses is humble obedience to God through His Church.

    " Until now, many women saints have been falsely stereotyped as passive, obedient, sweet and silent before male leaders. Celebrating Women Witnesses, FutureChurch's newest resource packet containing twelve essays and prayer services about historic women of faith, emphasizes how belief in the Gospel impelled them to resist patriarchy and lead radically counter-cultural lives. We hope this effort will help Catholics and other believers, particularly women, reclaim the remarkable history of women leaders in the Church and world. This allows 21st century women and men to invoke their witness in our own struggle for inclusion in a patriarchal church. Some Examples:
  • The Beguines: dubbed 'the first women's movement' by some scholars, this cadre of 12th-14th century women responded to the signs of their times in a way that both shaped and threatened the structures that governed women's lives. They ministered actively to the poor while following a contemplative lifestyle. To live between cloister and marriage required courage and creativity in a time when women were considered dangerous if not controlled by men.
  • Prisca: a prominent married woman leader of the first century Church, Prisca and her husband Aquila founded and directed house churches in three of the most important early Christian centers: Corinth, Ephesus and Rome. Prisca evangelized both women and men and worked in partnership with both her husband and with Paul risking persecution in behalf of the Gospel.
  • Mary of Nazareth: the Church's nearly 2000 year veneration of Mary has provided both women and men with a powerful female model of holiness. It has also unwittingly preserved images of the divine feminine during the long period of patriarchal theological reflection from which we are now emerging. Contemporary reflection seeks to rediscover the modest Magnificat woman of Nazareth who, though the marginalized mother of a political prisoner, proclaimed God's power to "cast the mighty from their thrones and to raise up the lowly." (Celebrating Women Witnesses: WOW! By Sr. Chris Schenk )
    Here, again we see the saints made over in their image, each supposedly fighting a 'patriarchal Church.' If that was the case, aren't we silly for making them saints? Are they implying that Mary would lead the charge to demolish the Church her Son founded and said would not be overcome? Well, according to FutureChurch, it was. And if it was, why bother, since Mary's Son must then have only been a nice guy and great philosopher and orator. Or the reason Prisca help found house churches is because with the persecutions, one couldn't build a church as we have today. When England forbade the saying or hearing of the Catholic Mass, Catholics were forced to have them said in their homes. It was never the 'prefered' method as they would have us believe, but an expedient measure to escape persecution. But if you challenge them be prepared to be called judgemental and not open to discussion.

    But when they speak of dialogue, they say,

    "Remember, to dialogue means that both parties are willing to be open to the truth being expressed or believed by the other. This doesn't mean walking away from your own truth but to try to really hear the issue from other person's perspective." (FutureChurch; Tips for Local Dialogue Organizers.)
But as we saw with the "Common Ground Project" being open to the truth means being open to their truth only, as their 'Tips' point out;
    "Identify the progressive people, parish councils or groups in your area and approach them first about working with the issue. If you area doesn't have parish councils, or if they seem unapproachable, consider asking local Catholic groups (prayer circles, small faith communities, Serra club, etc.) to study the issue and take action (resolution, delegation to your bishop, petitions, etc.). …. Once the progressive parishes or groups have been approached, and hopefully acted, allow them (with your help and support) to "carry the ball" for other parishes or groups in the area. Resurrection Parish in Cleveland sent letters to all the parishes in the diocese asking them to study the issue and pass their own resolution. In Cleveland there are now 28 parish councils who have passed a resolution." (IBID)
    The 'issue' in question is the male priesthood and the 'crisis' of lack of vocations, an issue addressed by the Pope which they refuse to accept.

    Yes, a group of pamphlets highlighting the contributions of Catholic women and saints would be a great and wonderful thing. Too bad that isn't what FutureChurch is producing, but rather just another distortion bent on destroying the Church by claiming the Church is patriarchal, anti-woman, etc. The same Church Christ said would not fall to the power of hell, the same Church which, when the rest of society belittled women, elevated them to be models of Christianity for all people, and giving them authority no other women had, as Founders, Abbesses, Mother Superiors, etc. If FutureChurch really read the lives of the saints, they'd come to appreciate the Church rather than attack Her. But in attacking the Church, they're actually attacking those they say they're trying to lift up.

    "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

    "For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith; 9 but they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men" (2 Timothy 3:2-9).

    Pray for them, but be wary as well, these 'Catholic' pamphlets are probably coming to your parish. It may sound as though they're trying to serve mankind…..but it's really a cookbook.

Pax Christi,

Pat Ludwa

For past columns by Pat Ludwa, see VIEW FROM THE PEW Archives

May 21, 2001
volume 12, no. 127
Pat Ludwa's VIEW FROM THE PEW column
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