The Great Call Women Have In The Church Today
“If I hadn’t pick up the first one, I wouldn’t have picked up the 42,000 after that.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta spoke these words to American Ambassador Philip Habib in 1982. War had consumed Lebanon, making it impossible to cross from the eastern side to the western side of Beirut without begin killed. In the midst of the crisis, humanitarian organizations found out that more than 100 mentally ill orphans had been abandoned in west Beirut. Their caretakers had fled the crisis in panic, leaving the orphans without any care at all. These children were dying in the midst of chaos.
St. Teresa heard about the situation and flew into east Beirut with unbreakable resolve. In front of Mr. Habib, she humbly stated that she must be able to cross the city. When told of the danger, she said, “All for Jesus, it is worth risking our lives.” When told about the bombs, she replied, “I have asked our Blessed Mother for a ceasefire tomorrow and am confident that she will deliver as it is the day before one of her feast days.”
With little belief, Mr. Habib told St. Teresa that, if there was in fact a ceasefire, she would be able to cross Beirut to rescue the children.
The next day, silence fell over the city. No bombs fell. The fighting paused, and a miracle took form as St. Teresa was escorted to the orphanage. One by one, she loaded every single child into cars to be taken to the closest Missionaries of Charity home to receive proper care. She was a woman on Christ’s mission, and heaven had her back.
As the Synod of the Youth approaches, its members will discuss the ever-evolving, ever-expanding role of women in the Church. This has been a theme of Pope Francis’s pontificate, and many feel the full scope of women’s influence as leaders in the Church has yet to be realized.
Pope Francis has invited women into round-table discussion at the Vatican on several occasions and has even commissioned a committee to explore the possibility of women in the diaconate.
These are wonderful steps to see where women can be more involved in the decision-making of the Church — but St. Teresa’s life reveals to us that we already have what we need to have greater influence. Pope Francis recognizes this and addresses it.
In 2015, Pope Francis, in an address to consecrated men and women said that only talking about promoting women in the church is “functionalism.” He said that while these promotions are good, the discussion of woman’s role in the Church goes deeper into the expression of the feminine genius. He said “ When we face a problem among men we come to a conclusion, but when we face that same problem with women the outcome will be different. It will follow the same path, but it will be richer, stronger, more intuitive. For this reason women in the Church should have this role, they must clarify, help to clarify the feminine genius in so many ways.”¹
Our Pope is right: The Church needs our feminine genius. The good news is we never need permission to contribute our very selves to the faith. Women have a unique nature. We reveal God’s touch in a way that is different and complementary to men. We have a power that the world desperately needs.
St. Teresa singlehandedly changed the world. She gave her entire being to Jesus Christ, and He used her unique feminine qualities to challenge the world and make it more humane through her. She — in her beauty, her humility, her boldness, her holiness — gave the world a bigger heart because she could see and nurture the other. She started with one; by 1982, she had reach 42,000 men and women whom she had personally impacted. By the time of her death, it was countless.
With the conversations about women’s role in the Church happening now — and keeping St. Theresa, this five-foot-tall powerhouse, in mind — here are three ways that women can have a profound effect within the Church:
- Encounter and accompany. By the nature of her feminine genius, woman focuses on the other. She cares about the individual as a unique person who has unique needs. She encounters others in a special way and invites them into a community. Pope Francis has said that the Gospel must be spread in our culture through encounter and accompaniment, one at a time. A woman does this naturally, just at St. Teresa started her work, one at a time. The Lord is asking us to harness what is in us to step out of our comfort zones and to encounter the other in our churches and in our society. He wants us to accompany those around us in their own journeys so that we can lead them to the God who loves them so much.
- Act for righteousness.St. Teresa never stopped challenging those around her to live righteously. She hungered for righteousness, and where she saw that it was needed, she humbly called those around her to the task. Woman naturally desires virtue. Beauty exists within her, and so she desires beauty around her. That beauty is created within a society of virtue and systems of righteousness. Women in the Church can humbly yet boldly challenge her leaders to live righteously and work to make sure her members are striving for holiness.
- Hold up the Church in prayer. Relationship is one of the main drivers of a woman’s soul. Much of her behavior is driven by the need for relationship. The strongest relationship in her live should be with God. Of all her activism, Mother Teresa spent more time praying than anything else. Women can set the example of what it means to have a thriving prayer life as the very foundation for our lives. Prayer and fasting will open a space for the Holy Spirit to move and do the work of the Gospel. Women can fight for the Bride of Christ by increasing their prayer and fasting and teaching the rest of the Church to do the same.
St. Teresa of Calcutta was a woman of the 20th century. She knew well the modern problems that we face today, and yet she had a deep and lasting effect on the culture. She didn’t wait for permission, but she acted on her love for Jesus and the feminine nature that lived within her. When I think of Pope Francis’ desire for the feminine genius to have a larger leadership in the Church, I think of her: beautiful, feminine and completely fierce for Jesus, His Church and His people.
Following St. Teresa’s example, let’s not wait. Let’s instead bring our influence to the table now as the formal discussion is taking place.
¹ Pope Francis. “Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Consecrated Men and Women of the Diocese of Rome.” vatican.va. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/may/documents/papa-francesco_20150516_religiosi-roma.html