I went to Mass at the Carmel of Maria Regina yesterday for the first time since September. And as I knelt in the chapel under the statue of Our Lady, I thought about a recent controversy in which a popular Protestant pastor, theologian, and writer named John Piper claimed that Christianity has “a masculine feel.” I wondered what the nuns in the cloister kneeling in prayer with me at that very moment—together with Our Lady and numerous female Carmelite saints—would think of Piper’s claim.
The words of Holy Scripture and the witness of innumerable saints are so much bigger than Piper’s “Masculine Christianity.”
Let’s start with the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the personification of both her son’s words—”the last shall be first”—and her own—”the humble shall be exalted.” She was a teenaged girl, no more than fourteen, when the Angel Gabriel proclaimed her unique role in the salvation of the cosmos. God’s plan would not only subject her to possible humiliation, it might cost her life. Yet what did she say? “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to your word.” How many of us in that same situation, facing the unknown from such a vulnerable, precarious, and outright dangerous place would say “yes.”
I thought about the women who followed Jesus through his ministry and then stood with Mary at the cross when all but one of the male disciples had fled for their lives. Christianity wasn’t exactly masculine at its darkest hour. I thought about the first witnesses to the Resurrection: the women who went to the tomb on Easter Sunday expecting to anoint Jesus’ body only to find him risen. Christianity wasn’t exactly masculine at the moment of its great triumph either. And I thought about the women telling the men the good news—the Gospel. Those first preachers of the Gospel weren’t the Apostles—that is the Twelve—they were apostles to the apostles.
That’s what the Orthodox Church calls Mary Magdelene: “Apostle to the Apostles.” So much for remaining silent in church—unless you really think “church” means a building instead of the Body of Christ.
I thought about all the women saints again, particularly those who are Doctors of the Church: St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and—following her scheduled canonization this October—Blessed Hildegard of Bingen. These women speak to the whole church, as do numerous others: saints, both proclaimed by the Church and known to God alone. There are plenty of sopranos and altos among the choirs of the blessed.
And I though about the women who made a profound difference in my life. My mom who taught me the Golden Rule through both word and example, my wife who brought me back to my faith when it, and I, were all but dead, and my daughter who taught me how to be a father. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.
Mother, bride, and daughter—just like the church: the Mother of Christians, the Bride of Christ, and the Daughter of Israel. A feminine Christianity that I am man enough to proclaim to the world. But Christianity isn’t just feminine or masculine; it is Godly.
Male and female, he created us in his image and male and female he saved us and remakes us in his image. Because “male and female . . . all are one in Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:28