More than five decades ago, to be exact on December 8, 1965, at the close of the Second Vatican Ecumenical council, the words spoken by Pope Paul VI, particularly to women, can wake up the memory cells in us to reconnect and to get invigorated to walk the talk of synodality, already inaugurated by Pope Francis.
Let me relink us to his thoughts of the past: And now it is to you that we address ourselves, women of all states—girls, wives, mothers and widows, to you also, consecrated virgins and women living alone—you constitute half of the immense human family. As you know, the Church is proud to have glorified and liberated woman… to have brought into relief her basic equality with man. But the hour is coming, in fact, has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.
Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender and accessible; make it your task to bring the spirit of this council into institutions, schools, homes and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world."
Fifty-six years have passed since. Could the women save the peace of the world? They couldn't. Could men save the world without them? They couldn't. The only winning way forward is going to be together.
On December 31, 2021, I was surprised to read in the Enquirer from Cincinnati.com by Particia Garry, "Catholic Church would rather die than accept women as equals." We may brush aside that opinion as an extreme hyper view. However, the truth is that muscular powers have overrun and continue to run the world. So the kairos call during this synodal time is to journey on together as sisters and brothers. Co-equality, mutuality, inclusiveness and complementarity should become the catchwords 'for planet 50-50 by 2030' proposed by the UN.
The two major blocks I see lying on the road of synodalty are intertwined and grounded in one word, role as if that word is engraved in marble and would continue to stare at us till the end of times. The call for 'synodality' is an invitation to re-define who we are. All the roles we play, keep us away from our true selves. Two particular roles have separated 'frattelli tutti' from one another. The deepest and an almost unstoppable gap is created with gender roles. And the second is closely connected, the patriarchal ones who have given birth to clerical roles.
My provincial once whispered to me to give some extra listening time to a retired Archbishop who was becoming seriously ill and getting closer and closer to his final goodbye. He frequently got irritated and frustrated with everyone and everything around him, including the two personal caretakers.
Fortunately, two weeks before his death, he began to let go and surrender. His face began to reflect fresh calmness, readiness, peace and relaxation. He let go of the visuals of the decorated mitre, the stylized staff and all the memories connected to them. They had become part and parcel of who he had become, the role he played as if he was wearing glorious medals, packed and kept in his subconscious.
It took him time to realize that he is much greater than his role. He had to let go of all that to become aware of the unique child he was of God who brought him into this world, without any swaddling clothes and will take him back to Himself without funeral coverings. All the clothes that cover the roles, the names, surnames and ego have to give way so that we can see clearly who we are, pure souls, made in the DNA and likeness of God.
Clerical roles too keep us away from our true selves. Roles disfigure the souls, confuse them, and confine us to who we are not. They crown the ego. Ego shines best in kingly or royal robes. What use is there even if you win the whole world and lose your soul, the only candidates to heaven, Jesus sternly warned his disciples? Jesus told his listeners not to be anxious about the clothes they wore, as the pagans did. (Matthew 6:30-31). And none would ever forget what he wore when he was on the cross, dying. He lived what He preached till he breathed his last. He died, visible to all, as a simple ordinary human being and the beloved of Abba.
The gender-gap mindset could not come from Jesus whose first personal meeting after the resurrection was not one of his male disciples, but Mary of Magdala. The one to whom he first revealed himself was to a woman in Samaria. Some of his followers seemed to have missed some salient points. St. Paul, the brilliant theologian for whom 'to live is Christ and to die is gain,' could not quit all that came to him from his own past.
Pre St. Paul's times, a group practising holiness to the tilt was known as the 'bruised sect.' Their men walked, covering their eyes at the appearance of women. While meandering around, they would inevitably hit some objects that could bruise them. The higher the number of bruises, the holier they thought they became. Although Jesus advised his listeners' not to mix the old and the new,' Paul's theology of women was affected by his own Jewish past. So he wrote: "Let women be silent in the assemblies, as in all the churches of the saints. They are not allowed to speak. Let them be submissive as the Law commands. If there is anything, they desire to know, let them consult their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in Church. (1 Corinthians 14.34-35)….Man was not formed from woman, but woman from man. Nor did God create man for woman, but woman for man. Therefore, a woman must respect the angels and have on her head the sign of her dependence (1 Corinthians 11: 8-9).
There were other intelligent saints who also piously devalued women. St. Tertullian told us that 'All 'eves' are devil's gateway who shattered the image of God.' The great St. Augustine has it that 'when a woman considered apart from her husband, she is not an image of God.' St. Thomas Aquinas, a follower of Aristotelian philosophy, believed, 'women are defective, misbegotten.' Similar unpublished thoughts run through the history of many Catholic minds, which gradually got ingrained in the collective unconscious of some. So it was very refreshing to read what Pope Francis uttered the other day: "To hurt a woman is to insult God, who from a woman took on our humanity."
With a sincere apology to all our sisters whom we (I and other clerics) may have devalued role, gender or rank wise; along with the new call for synodality, remembering the words of Pope Paul VI of old and now getting new lees of life with Pope Francis, we consider ourselves fortunate to be in this kairos time to journey TOGETHER TOWARDS ONENESS.