Easter Monday: the Mission of the Women

It is curious how often the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are put into a kind of hierarchy of importance. The women going to the tomb to anoint his dead body are mentioned because they are, according to Matthew, chronologically the first to see the stone rolled away. Their meeting with the Risen Christ is noted (Matthew 28. 8–15), but the evangelist quickly passes on to the way in which the authorities of the day ‘squared’ the guards with a little judicious bribery. Tomorrow, when we read John’s account, we shall linger over Mary Magdalene’s meeting and its poignant detail, but not for long. By Wednesday we are on the road to Emmaus and an ambiguous encounter that reveals its full meaning only later; and by Thursday we are back with the men and their mission. From then on, women are less evident, appearing from time to time in the Acts or the Letters, but definitely in much more elusive roles.

It is unfortunate that this increasing invisibility of women has become a source of contention within the Church. It has led to anger and frustration and some very silly things being said and done on both sides. The fact that I write of ‘sides’ is an indication of how often the ministry of women has led to a loss of focus on Christ himself. Partly, I think that may be because a lot of preaching in the Catholic Church is done by men who are awkward around women. Personally, if I hear one more homily telling me that Mary is the model of holiness for women, I shall shriek. Male or female, Christ is our model. There can be no other. The Resurrection means that there is now no male, no female, no slave, no free, no Jew, no gentile, we are all one in Christ, as St Paul says. That is why the appearances to the women are important. It is not that they are incidental to the real business of the early Church and the evolving ministry of men. They are part of the mission of the whole Church to proclaim Christ, the whole Christ.

This morning, as we think about those women meeting Jesus as they come away from the tomb, it may be helpful to consider the obvious. They did not find Jesus where they expected to find him. They found him — or rather, he found them — where they did not expect, as they were coming away, disappointed at not being able to fulfil the task they had laid upon themselves. Sometimes we have to learn that what we think is important isn’t; that what God wills is ultimately best for us all; and that we shall meet God at a time and place of his choosing, not ours. We just have to be ready — and that is undoubtedly the hardest task of all.

Audio version

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24 thoughts on “Easter Monday: the Mission of the Women”

  1. Thank you so much for such a helpful blog. The obvious is not obvious to us until you reveal what was under our noses all the time! Much to ponder and pray with today

  2. Excellent! But somehow I can’t imagine you shrieking however irritatingly annoying some of those priests who want to relegate women to always being in a secondary and ‘supporting’ role may be. But perhaps I have a failure of imagination…

  3. So, so well said and with such feeling. You took the words (and the shriek) out of my mouth! But I am quite, quite sure that we, the Church, are moving forward with “Unperturbed Pace …” (meant to be a quote from ‘The Hound of Heaven’). Dear Sister, you are in my prayers. Please pray for me.

  4. Thank you once again. Years ago I heard Canon Colin Semper on Radio 4 saying “we all have an appointment with God and some of us aren’t going to make that appointment”. That really got me thinking! And your posts really get me thinking. I pray that we may recognise those moments we don’t expect.

  5. As I listened to Ad Missam in the quietness of my own lockdown, I smiled at the thought of you shrieking, but I share the sentiment. Thankyou Sister for your continued posts.

  6. Thank you for this piece and for describing that sometimes feeling of being relegated to a place on the wings of Christ’s path while the men hold the centre – an excellent, thoughtful piece.

    • I hope I have not offended any of my male readers by my attempt to put into words something that many find difficult to understand.I think one has to be a woman to understand how troubling it is to be made to feel that one is somehow less redeemed than one’s male peers!

  7. I completely agree, Sr. Catherine. And “also” Pope Frncis today, in the Mass homily at Santa Marta, has said: Women always go ahead to bring the announcement. God starts always with the women. Always! They open the way. They do not doubt: they know, they have seen him, they have touched him!
    I “add”: We men always seem a bit like St. Thomas…
    Happy Easter!

    • i think we all have a bit of Thomas in us! I also think God intends men and women to work together for the coming of the Kingdom, and when it does come about, I trust we shall all be seated at the same heavenly banquet table.

  8. “…if I hear one more homily telling me that Mary is the model of holiness for women, I shall shriek. Male or female, Christ is our model…” Thank you for articulating this! Having not been brought up with a Marian theology, it has sometimes been difficult for me to “connect the dots” so to speak. This helps.

  9. Sister, I’m sure you understand that I seethe and refuse to say ‘for us men and our salvation’. ‘Consubstantial’ is gobbledygook but ‘men’ is pretty clear and I won’t say it.
    And indeed Mary is a wonderful but impossible aspiration. Women can be virgins, they can be mothers, but not both.

  10. I was reading John’s account of the resurrection, which I thought that I knew well. I also thought that I was very familiar with the arguments stressing the importance of Mary Magdalen as the ‘apostle to the apostles’. For some reason, re-reading the passage 20:1-18 the other evening gave me a deeper meaning than before. It dawned on me that Peter and John entered the tomb, saw the cloths and rushed back to the other disciples, ignoring Mary. They do not see Jesus until that evening. After a few minutes, Mary entered the tomb and suddenly there were two angels who had not been visible to either Peter or John. They speak to her and then Jesus appears and speaks to her. It is as though Jesus had been hiding behind a tree until the men had left as he wanted Mary to be the first to see Him and the first to spread the word that he was risen. This begs the question – why was it so important to Jesus that Mary Magdalen be the first evangelist? I would love to get some answers!

  11. My husband and I, too, have re-read John 20: 11-18 wondering why it was so important to Jesus that Mary Magdalen be the first evangelist. In particular we’ve discussed Mary stating to “the gardener” “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

    Surely she couldn’t have dragged the corpse by herself so would have had to instruct or enjoin others, possibly Peter and John to do so. In my mind this self-assured sense of authority places her on an equal footing at the very least.

    While there is certainly an increasing invisibility of women in our present day church those same comfy chair decision makers would hardly demand their surgeon, airline pilot, judge be only men based on how society was structured back in Jesus’ time. I’ve also read their defense of “men only” based on social structures in the third world, by that I mean we must all follow the same patterns in ecclesial hierarchy. However, none of those in authority over our church in first world countries ride in donkey carts or live in huts. Modern day comforts and conveniences are fine for them where it suits.

    I pray that sooner rather than later those in authority realize we are equally redeemed in Jesus Christ and make the most of the talents both men and women are still willing to offer.

  12. Dear Sister Catherine, you know how l feel about the unnecessary and outdated patriarchy within the Mother Church. We do not necessarily sing from the same page but certainly from the same hymnbook. I have promised not to press you further on the matter.
    We believe in the love of God and of our dear Lord Jesus for us all. God bless and keep you and your Sisters safe. Peace and love be with you all.

  13. Thank you for this Sister Catherine. I’d enjoy hearing your shriek. I have trouble with this too although I love Mary and am a cradle Catholic. Also struggle with the suggestion that we should ask her to intercede for us to God. Surely we can go straight to the Lord and I do.

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