Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
May 9th, 2013

Not the Mama


notthemama-3One humid Sunday morning in May, I went with my parents and a dear family friend to church. Towards the end of the service, the priest asked for all women in the church to rise for the Mother’s Day blessing.

I figured he must have misspoken. He meant for all the mothers in the church to rise for the Mother’s Day blessing. But when some of us childless females stayed in our seats, he iterated: All women, please rise, mothers or no. I stood, feeling my eyebrows knit together, while the priest raised his hands over me and all the other women in the church, with and without children.

Let me be clear. I don’t doubt that priest’s good intentions. I think he was genuinely trying to do something nice for women. Nevertheless, I left mass feeling troubled. First, mothers work hard, and I was uncomfortable sharing the honor due to them. Second, I felt like the indiscriminate grouping conflated my identity as a human and a woman with my reproductive capacity. The priest probably didn’t intend to make me feel that way, but nevertheless, that’s the way he made me feel.

Women were a salient part of Pope Francis’ Holy Week this year. He washed the feet of two women in his Holy Thursday service, and he made particular reference to women in a speech Easter Week:

God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women.

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.

I have seen many point to Pope Francis’ reference to mothers as evidence that women are called to be mothers and nothing else. One blogger gleefully opined that “feminists aren’t going to be happy” and that “this is a good day for our team.” (“Our team”?) Such an interpretation, I think, takes the pope’s words out of context. Francis mentions women and mothers independently; he does not conflate them.

I have seen many people — on Facebook, on blogs — read this passage in ways that circumscribe women. They point to Pope Francis’ reference to mothers as evidence that women are called to be mothers and nothing else. One blogger gleefully opined that “feminists aren’t going to be happy” and that “this is a good day for our team.” (“Our team”?)

Such an interpretation, I think, takes the pope’s words out of context. Francis mentions women and mothers independently; he does not conflate them, as if the only way a woman can be a woman is to be a mother. Furthermore, it’s clear that Francis’ goal in this passage is to celebrate the power of women, not to confine that power. I wonder if commentators who read this passage as “motherhood only” realize how such a narrow definition of Christian womanhood marginalizes single women, religious women, and married women who cannot have children.

It may seem like I’m making a big deal out of a small thing, but I think these small things can have a big impact on how welcome women feel in the Church.

I’m not denying the value, the centrality even, of mothers. I hope to be one someday. I have a great one myself. And yes, I have seen women discriminated against because of their desire to be mothers, told that they must choose their careers over their families. I condemn such discrimination. But there has to be some way of accommodating and celebrating the Herculean efforts of mothers without marginalizing the women who, whether by choice or by circumstance, live out their Christian lives in other ways.

I am a feminist. There: I said it. For me, feminism means: (1) respecting the human dignity of women; (2) seeing women as individuals with unique desires and gifts; and (3) encouraging women to use their unique desires and gifts for the good of the world, with or without children. All of these principles apply equally to the treatment of men. To paraphrase Henrik Ibsen, I don’t believe in women’s rights — I believe in human rights.

As a feminist, I enthusiastically applaud mothers for everything that they do. But as a feminist, I also worry about women being shunted automatically into the mother box. Saint Paul said that there are many kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4), and Pope Francis said that what matters to God is our heart. Let’s work toward a world in which every woman can use her own gifts for the greater glory of God, in which the heart, not gender, not marital or parental status, is what matters.

The Author : Elizabeth Desimone
Elizabeth Desimone has an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Oklahoma State University. In 2009 she graduated from Spring Hill College with bachelor's degrees in English and writing. She is a native of the New Orleans area. Check out Elizabeth's food blog for some delicious recipes.
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  • Rhonda

    Conflating the two, woman and mother, is a charge not just levied at Pope Francis or your parish priest, but even within the popular media. All the “happy” images we see of woman on TV and even in life on Facebook are woman bragging about their children. They have no idea how much it hurts for those of us who, because of the cross of infertility, will never be allowed into that club. Though I would not be offended at your priests blessing- b/c it is nice to be called. It is difficult to find a place to belong in the Christian world as a woman, without a “family”. There is so much evil out there, so in an effort to be a part of the good many of us turn to the Church and the Christian community-at-large- which is good. But so much of that is really centered around being “family-oriented”. What does this euphemism “family-oriented” mean when you have no children? So I personally struggle with my husband in our family of two- to try and stay meaningful and relevant in God’s community, but always feel the part of the leper- somehow only outside the gates of the city peering in. But I tell you this- if despite my sinfulness (that’s a page and a half in itself) and despite my struggles with infertility if I could just peer into the Lord’s Kingdom and smile and marvel at the goodness of Jesus and His family- then I suppose I’m a lucky leper indeed! So I continue, outside the club, through the hurt, I continue to peer inside and smile and all the goodness I see…

  • http://www.facebook.com/veronica.zamarron.16 Veronica Zamarron

    I understand what you are trying to express in your article. I totally appreciate and respect parents and all that they do for their children. I’m single and childless at 55 years old…not by choice. I, too, sometimes feel disenfranchised by the Church. Not in that the Church does it on purpose, but sometimes I feel like you either “have” to be married, a mother, or in the religious life. But if you are neither of those, then “what” are you? I do participate in my parish life, as a CCE teacher, and try to help out in other ways. But I still feel a little “left out”.

  • dcummingsmclean2

    John Paul II, influenced by Saint Edith Stein, wrote about “spiritual motherhood.” It might be worthwhile to read what motherhood means outside of a physically reproductive context.

  • jodi

    i see that you gave Pope Francis more grace and consideration than your priest .. i see that your priest was trying to honor all women whether or not they have bore any children .. because God has made us male and female .. each with certain gifts to bring the human race and being of the female gender you are indeed teaching, mothering and guide those around you .. whether biologically they are your offspring or they just happen to see you every week across the church … you are sharing your gift of being a WOMAN of God and maybe just maybe .. your priest instead of finding a WOMAN’s Day chose Mother’s Day to bless all the women for sharing their feminine gifts with the world.

    I know that it takes away from the honor Mother’s should receive but most women would agree that we ALL .. all women, need to be honored because without each other – there would be just men! :)

    I guess maybe the better way he would’ve started out blessing all woman and then continue with a blessing for those that are mothers …. but then someone would’ve been offended somehow too…

    I get what you are trying to say but i find it interesting that, to me at least, it was the same well at least very similar message – the Pope’s and your priest.

    thanks for your point of view! ♥

    • jodi

      i re read this and it came off as a harsh tone .. i really did not mean it in a harsh way but in trying to see it in a different light .. sorry if i came off harshly! ♥

  • Emily Dawson

    Oh I love this. A thousand times thank you. Being childless and now single, due to circumstance, is one of those hard things to bear on its own. And then come to find out your station in life essentially makes you quasi-meaningless in your Church… during such a hopeless time. THAT was the kicker. It’s nice to see someone recognize the marginalization. Thank you.

  • Bethanie Ryan


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