Saturday, April 19, 2008

Femininity and Nuns

Again, the Nun-Who-Also-Is-A-Minister has generated a few thoughts regarding femininity and feminism. One aspect of Catholicism that I've not quite understood was why a woman who is called to be a nun would be made to look like a man. In grade school, the nuns wore shoulder-length habits and skirts that fell mid-calf. I could still tell their hair was cut short which was confirmed when nuns started to go modern and eschew any clerical attire altogether. Nuns wearing pantsuits, with short hair and no make-up often look like men to me.

The nun I met on Thursday had a masculine air about her. Is it possible for a woman to act feminine without all the trappings of cosmetics and jewelry? I do believe so but I've not met many nuns who were able to pull it off. It has led me to ponder the role of women in the church and if a pursuit of leadership positions within the Catholic church nullifies any femininity at all.

It's been 20 years since Pope John Paul II gave his Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem (The Dignity of Women), to the world. In it, he praised women's contributions to society and noted Jesus Christ's attitude toward women in the New Testament. It is a beautiful letter. However, it was a disappointment to many women who desired to see women ordained into the priesthood.

Women have had a unique place in Catholicism. In fact, since I've been more involved in Protestant or non-denominational ministries, I'll even go so far as to say that the Roman Catholic church has them beat in how they incorporate women in the ministry. A consecrated, religious vocation is available to both men and women. Both men and women have served as missionaries all over the world. Both men and women have been beatified. Both men and women, sadly, have also been martyred. Both men and women have been recognized for their spiritual gifts and given the opportunities to exercise those gifts within their communities.

But something just doesn't jive with me when I see a woman devoid of all femininity. What are the telltale signs? First, what is a telltale sign of a godly woman:

She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue...
(Prv. 31:26 NAS)

A kind wisdom. A wisdom that speaks the truth in love and with heart.

In other words, not a strident voice. I can quickly tell a woman's heart toward her femininity by how she treats the opposite sex. If she treats men with a callous attitude or attempts to bait them into a show of strength, I know I'm in the presence of a frustrated woman. Or even more to the point, a woman who has yet to die to her flesh.

But if a woman speaks gently with men, respects them but allows her own God-given gift of wisdom to shine through, she often will have both men and women singing her praises. We women have such an incredible opportunity and an incredible calling to be faithful daughters of the Most High. Men and women each have a role to fill but yet a woman cannot fill a man's role and neither can a man fill a woman's.

All I can say is that this woman, a nun, expressed a masculinity that eclipsed her femininity within her appearance, attitude, and style of communication. She had not one iota of femininity that I could discern.

You know, every time I look at the photograph of St. Theresa of Lisieux, I see a very feminine nun. I also see a nun who died to her dreams of accomplishing great deeds in order to accomplish the little things to the glory of God. Even though she died at the tender age of 24, her "little way" would become her path to sainthood.

Something to think about, indeed.


Angela M. said...

Wow! I've never thought it that way before!

Are you familiar with Johnette Benkovic's "Women of Grace" series. I think you would love it!

Mary Rose said...

Yes, I'm aware of Johnette and love her program. Now there's a feminine woman! And she is so warm and gracious, full of grace, and filled with kind wisdom.

I wish I could attend their retreat. Maybe next year! :-)

LisaM said...

These are lovely thoughts - I'm glad you shared them with the whole world. :)