Thursday, October 21, 2010

Leading Ladies

It seems to me that women are taking on leadership roles in a way and to a degree unprecedented in history.

You can hardly speak of today's political climate without mentioning Nancy Pelosi or Sarah Palin. Angela Merkel is the current Chancellor of Germany. Aloisea Inyumba is a senator in the Parliament of Rwanda. Three women serve as associates judges on the United States Supreme Court.

In religious circles, women have long been recognized as major players in supporting the work of the Church. Even if official leadership roles have been almost exclusively male-dominated, it is clear that women have made major contributions to the Christian mission, whether we think of the women who provided for the apostles out of their means (cf. Luke 8:1-3) or the legions of women religious who serve the Church in prayer, hospitals, education, and care for the poor and broken.

Every pastor knows that it is mostly the women in his parish who make the programs work. They are the teachers in parochial school or CCD, the bulk of the congregation at weekday morning Mass, the Marthas who launder the altar linens and clean the sacristy, the cooks who organize and provide parish dinners, the most likely to attend faith formation classes or hours of Eucharistic adoration.

It's a common saying that "behind every successful man, there's a woman." It may not be universally true, but I do note that Francis of Assisi had Clare, Vincent de Paul had Louise de Marillac, Francis de Sales had Jane de Chantal, and (dare I say it?) Jesus had Mary Magdalen.

How many of us learned the truths of faith and life at our mother's knee or seated before a woman teacher in a classroom!

Today, however, women need not be and are not behind anyone. Pope John Paul II refused to admit women to the priesthood, but a report by Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service maintains that Pope John Paul II looked more closely at the role of women in the church than any other pope in modern history.

She notes that during his pontificate "women took over pastoral and administrative duties in priestless parishes, they were appointed chancellors of dioceses around the world, and they began swelling the ranks of 'experts' at Vatican synods and symposiums. In 2004, for the first time, the pope appointed two women theologians to the prestigious International Theological Commission and named a Harvard University law professor, Mary Ann Glendon, to be president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences."

The pope opposed the cultural assumption that God intended women to be subject to men and affirmed their equal dignity. He further explained, "It is universally admitted - even by people with a critical attitude towards the Christian message - that in the eyes of his contemporaries Christ became a promoter of women's true dignity and of the vocation corresponding to this dignity" (Mulieris Dignitatem, 12).

One might protest that the Church has not gone far enough to respect the dignity of women, and whether one likes or dislikes the ladies whose names are given above, there remains the indisputable fact that women are playing major leadership roles in politics and religion.

And that influence is a good thing. The arrogance of thinking that homo sapiens can or should disbar half its members from human endeavors is a mental disorder. It flies in the face of reason.

It may have been true in the past, I mean that observation that "behind every successful man, there's a woman." But it's less likely today. The ladies are now out front, and in many cases the men are trying to catch up. It only makes sense --you can't lead from behind, and the ladies are leading.

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