Last week, at a general audience, Pope Francis touched on the role of women in the Catholic church. He started out by discussing the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then, in a bold expression of the importance of women in the church and in society, stated:
Today, however, I would like to dwell … on testimony in the form of the accounts that we find in the Gospels. First, we note that the first witnesses to this event were the women. At dawn, they go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, and find the first sign: the empty tomb. (Mark 16:1)
In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role.
Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were invented in the context of that time, it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women. This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness!
What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children. But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating His face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love. The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however! Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands. [Emphasis added.]
The pope’s statement was packed with profound wisdom and confirms one of the greatest hidden secrets of the Catholic church: that Jesus elevated the role of women to the same level as that of men. Prior to Christ, women were treated as being inferior to men. This is still the case in societies where the majority of citizens have beliefs that are contrary to Christianity.
Although Pope Francis focused on the people and events that occurred after the resurrection, he could have also pointed out that women had a more significant role in identifying with and supporting Jesus during His passion and death on the cross.
On the way of the cross, Jesus met His mother, who offered Him her love, support, and prayers. He was later approached by Veronica, who courageously defied the orders of the soldiers so she could wipe His bloody face with her veil. He then came upon the women who were weeping at the pain and torture that were being inflicted on Him.
The only man that assisted Jesus on the way of the cross was Simon of Cyrene, and he didn’t help out until he was forced to do so by the soldiers, who were concerned that Jesus was not going to be able to finish carrying His cross to the predetermined destination.
At the time of our Lord’s death, three women and one man were standing at the foot of the cross – His mother, the apostle John, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25)
While die-hard feminists have fought to prove that women are equal to men in every respect, they have failed to emphasize that in some respects, women are actually superior to men. Women are generally more open to our Lord’s message and His grace. They are also better equipped to teach children about the importance of connecting with God in an open and loving way.
Pope Francis understands that the salvation of man is dependent on the example and leadership of faith-filled Catholic women willing to emulate the courageous women who surrounded our Lord during His passion, death, and resurrection. We should pray that the pope’s message is heard and acted on by the women of the world.