On May 31st, the Church celebrated the Memorial of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth.
This feast is rich in meaning. It reminds us that Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant, as her journey from Nazareth calls to mind the journey of the Ark from the northern part of Israel to the land of Judah. Tiny St. John the Baptist leaps for joy, much as David did, when the true Presence of God stood before him.
St. John Paul II would use this feast to release an annual letter to women. I think that Benedict XVI maintained the practice; however, I do not know if Pope Francis has continued it. Nonetheless, it has been Francis' actions that have borne solid witness to the authentic role of women in the Church.
Much has been written about the ongoing, almost soap opera-like saga of the members of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR). Their words and actions seem to me to be in imitation of the first Eve, seeking to snatch power and engaging in a prideful claim that they know more than the Magisterium. Gerhard Cardinal Muller rightly corrected them, even apologizing for his use of strong language. When the members of the LCWR were seeking support from Pope Francis, they found none. He had confirmed the warnings and admonishments that Muller had given them.
While I do admit to struggling with Pope Francis' definition of humility, I do think that he is on to something, especially where it concerns the LCWR and women, in general. Christ founded the Church, His Bride. Just as a bride submits to her husband, so, too, does the Church, the Bride, submit to her Divine Spouse, Christ. This submission is not something evil or masochist; it is a submission done in love. Christ submitted Himself to us and we nailed Him to the cross by our sinful actions. Nonetheless, He bathed the Church with His own blood and cleansed her wounds. Our actions, as evil as they are, do not diminish His love for us; however, they run the risk of diminishing our love for Him.
The LCWR is no different than the women who advocate priestly ordination for themselves. They fail to recognize the unique and holy position that Christ and the Church have for them. They cannot get past the pride of the first Eve and they wind up rejecting the holiness and humility of the New Eve. When the Blessed Virgin Mary prays the Magnificat, she is not praising herself. From the very beginning, Mary acknowledged her role as the "handmaid of the Lord" and renders her Fiat to God. She who holds the highest honor that God could ever bestow upon a woman, being both His Mother and His first disciple, receives her divine Motherhood with the greatest of humility, awe and reverence.
Jesus also bestowed an honor to another woman, St. Mary Magdalene, by permitting her to be the Apostle to the Apostles. He entrusts her to impart the glorious news of His resurrection to St. Peter and the surviving 11 Apostles. As the messenger, she does not overshadow the message, but, passes it on in humble obedience to the Lord. The holy and faithful women who have shed their blood for Christ and His Church did not make the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom to bring about glory for themselves, nor did they seek after something that was not theirs. St. Agnes told her suitor that she was betrothed to Christ. She and her sister martyrs chose to unite themselves to Christ, preferring Him to any other earthly power or enticement.
The Feast of the Visitation reminds us where our priorities should be, whether we are male or female. It means that Christ comes first in our lives. It means that we are all called to be Christ-bearers to the world. It means that, like the tiny St. John the Baptist, we are to be joyful messengers. We do not snatch and claw at divinity and demand things of Christ and of the Church that are not ours; rather, like the Virgin Mary and like St. Elizabeth, we receive with humble joy the greatest gift that God has for us, Himself.
It is sad that many of the LCWR members have chosen to move "beyond the Church and beyond Jesus". It is just as disheartening that those women who demand ordination cannot see the dignity and beauty of their station as daughters of the Church. May they, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, St. Elizabeth, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Agnes and all holy women, learn to accept the beauty that exists as a woman in the Church.