Women as witnesses

Speaking in his General Audience today, Pope Francis emphasised the importance and role that women have to play within the Catholic Church, as unselfish communicators of the Gospel.

The women are driven by love and know how to accept this proclamation with faith: they believe, and immediately transmit it, they do not keep it for themselves. They cannot contain the joy of knowing that Jesus is alive, the hope that fills their heart.

Contrasting the implicit faith of the women who are the first human witnesses to the Resurrection with that of the male Apostles, Pope Francis says:

The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however! Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands.

The very act of returning to the tomb, to anoint the body of Christ is a manifestation of this faith and also trust. Why did they return to the tomb? They would have been aware that the tomb entrance was sealed by an enormous boulder that would have been impossible for them to roll away without some assistance, as well as the fact that guards were posted at the tomb’s entrance, who were unlikely to have been amenable. And yet still they trusted.

Reinforcing the historicity of the Gospel accounts, Pope Francis reminds us of Christ’s radicalism. Women were not considered credible or reliable legal witnesses in first century Palestine, this was a role reserved to Elders or men over thirty, and yet it was to women that Christ first manifested his Resurrection, as a reward for their faith and in recognition of their love.

This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness! What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children. But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating his face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love

Beautiful and inspirational. What can be more important than being witnesses to the Resurrection and the love of God? Those very first witnesses, who were so convinced by what they had seen and so determined to spread the Good News, to the extent that they would lay down their lives and suffer the most excruciating and painful deaths, played a crucial and key role in the development of the faith. Women are called to witness, whether that be as physical or spiritual mothers, to pass down and impart the joy of the faith to their children and in their families, in a way that only they know how. That the Pope has chosen to affirm and link women with motherhood should not be overlooked.

Christ called Mary Magdalene by name in the garden in acknowledgement of her simple and uncomplicated love, faith and trust. Furthermore Mary Magdalene is no plaster saint or unrealistic model of womanhood. Her lack of inhibition and emotive displays are often embarrassing or discomforting and yet Christ loves because of her innate feminine authenticity and total lack of guile and self-awareness. Whilst Our Lady set the pattern of motherhood, in the encounter in the garden, we see Christ conferring a vital vocation upon St Mary Magdalen as the first female missionary.

Traditionally depicted as beautiful, sensuous and possessing an unrestrained yet totally pure love of the Lord, she accepts her vocation through a direct encounter with Christ, with no thoughts as to what may be in it for her in terms of status, earthly or material reward, and neither does she stop to compare herself with the Apostles. She has no need. Christ has already reaffirmed her equality, as St Mark awkwardly relates. Not only does Christ make his first appearance to a woman, but one who was once demonically possessed.

St Mary Magdalene allowed herself to be won over by Christ and gave herself over to him whole-heartedly and he rewarded, affirmed and entrusted himself to her in all of her femininity.  This is the message for contemporary women today.

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