The first page of the New York Times, dated Thursday, April 16th, shows three photos:
At top, in St. Patrick cathedral, the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan sitting in front of three rows deep of cardinals and bishops, all white, all old, and all male. Dressed in an array of red, white and gold, they seem genuinely bored but for the jolly new archbishop.
At the bottom of the page, two photos face each other: on the left, a handful of women in black, holding banners, grim looking. On the right, a mob of men with headdress, raise their fist, screaming at the women. This takes place in Kabul. The women are bringing a petition to ‘the Parliament asking that it repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.’
New York, Kabul, two cultures, two religions, two countries world apart, and yet the same fundamental attitude regarding women. Why is it?
I believe it has to do with the power that women have over life. Women give birth; they feed the infant from their own body. At the end, women are those who take care of the dead, preparing them for burial. We saw that again this week in the Resurrection Gospel. Women are nature’s high priests connecting our humanity with the mysteries of life and death.
It is said that class struggle began with the agricultural society, but what of sex struggle? With the dawn of farming, people could finally control the production of food; they did not depend anymore on the whims of their prey and on gathering what they could find. Now they could grow, irrigate, and store for winter. As they built granaries and cities, they also built the tower of Babel. They could distance themselves from nature’s tyranny of hunger. They grew less fearful of the seasons and of drought. After controlling night fears with fire, the control of food source was the next big step. And so along with granaries they built temples and stuck their gods in them.
Yet, life and death still escaped them. To control death men went to war. To control life, they had to take freedom and the power of ownership away from their women. They hid their bodies from other men. They burned witches who could prevent birthing. They forbade women access to their most sacred sanctuaries. They kept priesthood for themselves and they masculinized their gods.
Is Christianity very much different? Apparently not.
Yet, Jesus appeared first to women and he put them in charge of announcing his resurrection to the men. Women were present at Pentecost. Beyond the cultural context of his life, in a most fundamental way, we say with Paul that Jesus is THE High Priest. But that very role he took from his mother; Mary was the one who gave birth to Christ; she is the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the archetypal priest. In fact, only women should be priest.
Perhaps men know that and that bishops and priests all wear robes as liturgical vestments.