Deacon Ray's article in this week's church bulletin was a boisterous nod to the Chautauqua Institution and Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B., an author of 45 books according to benetvision, an organization she founded. She's a regular columnist at The Huffington Post, writes for the National Catholic Reporter, and is a supporter of Call to Action, a group supporting the ordination of women priests, among other dissenting positions on priestly celibacy, homosexuality, and birth control.
Deacon Ray's article, titled "Women in Crisis: Women Transcending Boundaries" ranged far and wide as it rightly decried things such as genital mutilation, child marriages, child prostitution and slavery. These are all heinous situations that some of the world's women are up against; however, Deacon Ray then segues to Sister Joan's recent lecture, quoting her as decrying the misogyny in the world's cultures (including the Christian west) that is seemingly at the root of why women are mistreated.
Sister Joan apparently then claimed that things have not improved for women in the last 25 years. A sweeping statement to be sure. In western nations, where Judeo-Christian concepts of the value of all individuals, male and female, children, free or slave, Greek or Jew are equal in God's eyes, surely that statement deserves modification.
The sister then moves forward with several ideas that are problematic, such as changing the language to accommodate the equality of the feminine in religion. She claims that the 'Divine Feminine' has been erased or ignored. I must then ask about the prevalence of goddess worship in the ancient world, which often included sexual acts upon the altars of pagan deities. She goes on to describe the 'I Am Who I Am', God, as 'un-gendered, un-sexed, pure spirit, pure energy, pure life, ineffable.' As a former Christian Scientist, I can assure readers that this view of God moves dangerously close to such heresies as embodied in Christian Science -- a 19th century religion founded by....a woman.
Chittister then goes on to describe God as a washerwoman and a seamstress (who made clothes for Adam and Eve). That statement can be considered sexist. Many individuals who make clothes are called tailors. And they are men.
The point that really struck me in this article is that Mary, the Mother of God, is not mentioned once. Holy women like St. Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Teresa Benedicta, Mother Angelica, and those women with active lay organizations like Johnette Benkovic are ignored. There are countless women saints of the Church, whose God-given gifts were utilized in amazing ways that glorify God and aid mankind. Just listing these few women gives the lie to a statement like "...women experience almost universal invisibility."
What about women such as Margaret Thatcher and Nancy Pelosi, and Sarah Palin, and the women on our parish staff who hold positions of authority and stature.
And one more point. It would seem to me that the high rate of sexual activity that our young women engage in today, which results in a myriad of diseases, heartbreak, and out-of-wedlock births, is something that Sister Joan would want to address. Decades of western feminist drivel about God's 'womanhood' has not resulted in a society that celebrates and upholds women, but one that degrades and objectifies them, and that has resulted in millions of aborted babies, at least half of them female. Shouldn't this be a clarion call to activists like Sr. Joan? Something that she can grapple with right in her own backyard, so to speak?
What I see in Deacon Ray's article is a certain viewpoint about women and their role, one that may not be in consonance with Church teaching. He tells us that he has bought the DVD of Sr. Joan's lecture and might present it as part of a parish discussion on the "Divine Feminine". In the interests of "opening minds rather than erecting walls" I would certainly attend such a discussion...hoping it would be a real discussion and not a one-sided lecture.