Catholic News Service
“Rooted in Love: Our Calling as Catholic Women” by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2012). 206 pp., $14.95.
“Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves,” edited by Helen M. Alvare. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Ind., 2012). 173 pp., $16.95.
“Grace Under Pressure: The Roles of Women — Then and Now — in the Catholic Church” by Barbara A. O’Reilly. West Bow Press (Bloomington, Ind., 2012). 329 pp., $24.99.
In “Rooted in Love,” Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle explores the role of the Catholic woman in today’s world, a role which has become more significant in recent times. The author believes that women support one another through sharing their challenges, uncertainties and pain and therefore offers the reader examples from her own life. The book presents woman’s primary role as one of service to others and O’Boyle recounts specific incidents of her own practice of charity and mercy.
Explanations of the Catholic belief are offered throughout the book with quotations from John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Mother Teresa and the Catholic catechism. O’Boyle is a well-known personality on EWTN and radio.
Helen Alvare, in “Breaking Through,” offers 10 essays by Catholic women of differing ages, occupations, social status and educational backgrounds. Topics covered include working mothers, material wealth, religious life, sexual abuse, single parenthood, the single life and same-sex attraction. Several writers discuss their struggles with and reconciliation to church teachings. The book details the everyday life of Catholic women as well as opportunities and advantages gained by them over the years.
Whereas both books mentioned above view the term “feminism” as referring to a movement that negatively influenced women to become either anti-masculine or over-masculinized, Barbara O’Reilly, author of “Grace Under Pressure,” views Jesus as being a feminist, meaning that he treated women as equals in respect to individuality, intelligence, faith and dignity, regardless of social customs of the time. The focus of her book is how Jesus treated women and how that should affect them today.
O’Reilly begins by showing that women were influential in the early church community and were an integral part of “the praise ministry.” The book reveals the importance of early women deacons, medieval abbesses and women mystics. Deaconesses from apostolic times were initiated by the laying on of hands. Abbesses held authority similar to bishops, with the exception of ordination. Women mystics through the ages were not only influential in their day, but are being rediscovered as rich spiritual resources today.
However, O’Reilly points out, after the 12th century, structures of domination spread. The Pauline doctrine that was believed to be part of the early baptismal formula was eclipsed: “There is neither Jew nor gentile; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The book shows the influence of a long history of patriarchy combined with questionable teachings about women from prominent church authors. Tertullian taught that women are “the gate of death”; Clement of Alexandria thought women should be filled with shame for being female; Thomas Aquinas called women misfits; and Augustine believed that only men were made in God’s image.
It is no wonder, suggests O’Reilly, that as a result of society at large and of supposed “Christian” teachings that women have had minor, subordinate positions in the church. Although opportunities are now available to women in ministry, they are to this day excluded from sacramental roles and policy decisions.
O’Reilly states that Jesus’ concern for and treatment of women as equals and his gifts of freedom in the risen life have been subverted. Perhaps the church’s failure through time to implement the vision of the passage from Galatians in its own institution contributed to the subordination of women in its history. The book shows how women’s roles have changed from scriptural days to the present. However, the author also shows remarkable accomplishments of Catholic women and offers hope. “Yes, change is difficult, but not impossible. God is not static. The church shouldn’t be either,” concludes the author.
Sister Mona Castelazo, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, has taught English for many years in Los Angeles. She is the author of “Under the Skyflower Tree: Reflections of a Nun-Entity,” published by iUniverse.