A Woman’s Place

Of course, they’re talking about institutional roles. Male ushers. Male lectors. Altar boys. And let’s not even talk about the exclusively male priesthood. All of it adds up, they say, to a “patriarchal” Church, run by men, with no room or real role for women.

I have a theory about all this. It first came to me while visiting relatives in Italy. A lot of food, a lot of wine, a lot of broken English. (My limited-English-speaking cousin thought “hello” was the equivalent of “ciao,” which can mean “hello” or “good-bye.” Every time we left his home, he would wave, smiling, and call out, “Hello! We will see you later! Hello!”)

On Sunday morning, my mother went to one of my cousins and said, “It’s Sunday. We’ll be needing to go to Mass.” He looked at her incredulously and said, “You mean, all of you?” You see, in Italy (and most of Europe), religion is the exclusive domain of women. Men don’t much participate. They loiter around outside the church, smoking cigarettes and playing “bocce” as they wait for their wives to emerge from Mass. That got me thinking. I really do believe that worship is a more naturally feminine activity. Look at the differences in our basic nature.

Women are more relationship-oriented, more intuitive, more nurturing. Men are more accomplishment-oriented, more empirical, more conquering. What is religion? It’s essentially about relationship — with God and with each other. It’s based largely on faith, which is a far more intuitive than rational process. And it’s about submitting rather than asserting.

Those characteristics seem to come far more naturally to women than to men. Not to say that men aren’t or can’t be religious. But it doesn’t seem as natural to them.

So how do we encourage men to become more religious? Do we encourage them to give up their basic masculine nature? No. That nature is God-given, and put there for a reason. We don’t want to take it away. (Believe me, single Catholic women looking for a spouse are well aware of the phenomenon of the de-masculinized Catholic man. Not an attractive sight.)

The solution is much simpler. We encourage them to be active. When men are ushers, lectors, or Eucharistic ministers, their urge to accomplish something is satisfied.

Of course, those roles aren’t the only reason they stay. Once in “the fold,” they pray, receive the sacraments and, we hope, enter into a relationship with Christ, finding the fulfillment that He alone can give. But I think men, more than women, need a little bit of a “hook” to bring them in.

What happens when we take that away? The Church becomes, to a large extent, again a “woman’s domain.” The men start hanging outside, not wanting to enter into the “girl’s club” inside. And they lose out.

Should women refrain from activity in the Church? Of course not. Women’s gifts are very important and are given to be used in the service of the Church. But the goal is the service of the Body of Christ. When we begin to seek roles simply because we want to assert our womanhood in a traditionally masculine domain, we lose the entire point of ministry.

Yeah, I am woman. And I’m fine with that. Now let’s get on with what’s best for everybody.

(You may visit Mary Beth Bonacci's website at www.reallove.net.)

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