16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 17, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In today’s Gospel we encounter the sisters Martha and Mary.
As I’ve explained many times before,
it is the common Catholic tradition that the “Mary” in this story
is also known to us as St. Mary Magdalene.
This coming Friday we celebrate her feast,
this year elevated for the first time to the rank of a solemn celebration
comparable to the Feasts of John the Baptist, the Apostles
and St. Lawrence, the first martyr.
As, again, I’ve told you many times before,
I have a particular devotion and love for Magdalene,
going back to the day of my baptism,
when I was baptized in our parish church named after her.
This devotion has helped in many ways since then.
But one of the most important things it’s given me
is a deeper appreciation for the great gift that women are and have,
and how this gift given to them as women
is expressed in a variety of beautiful ways.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but no two women are exactly the same:
even the same woman can be different from herself sometimes
—like a diamond, each has many beautiful but very different facets.
This is something the Magdalene has helped me to appreciate.
For example, she was once a terrible sinner
out of whom scripture tells us Jesus drove seven demons,
but she became a great saint who would be the first witness
to the Resurrection.
Very different, but same woman.
And I have learned to appreciate this in seeing how
Mary Magdalene was also known as Mary of Bethany,
not simply the great penitent saint,
but also a young woman from a small town
who used to irritate her sister Martha.
And again, in the difference between Mary and Martha
we see the different gifts of individual women:
on the one hand, the prayerful, meditative, adoring Mary,
and on the other hand,
the hardworking, organized, determined Martha.
Women come in all shapes and sizes, all different ages and colors,
all kinds of different personalities, talents, and all kinds of moods
—again, some of these differences manifested in the same woman,
either at different times, or even the same time.
Women are amazing.
But they all have one thing in common: they are women, female.
Let me change that: they have 2 things in common:
they are female, and they are not male.
That femininity is expressed in different ways,
but from their very conception their XX chromosome in their DNA
makes them each fundamentally similar to each other
and radically different than males.
This femininity normally blossoms in a beautiful way we are all familiar with
when both in body and in spirit—as we euphemistically say—
a little girl becomes a young woman,
moving toward her truly miraculous and beautiful potential
that is innate in her from her conception.
And her body in particular speaks to this as she becomes capable of
physically sharing love with a man
in a way that binds them together and bears fruit,
not only in the love of husband and wife,
but in the love of parenthood.
But this is not simply a bodily phenomenon,
but rather the feminine body speaks for the feminine soul and spirit,
and gives not simply physically but also emotionally, and spiritually,
and so expresses a unique and deep feminine capacity to love.
And so is it any wonder that Jesus would give a unique compliment
to the woman Mary Magdalene, and not to any man,
“She has loved much.”
Of course, men love,
but feminine love is expressed and experienced differently and amazingly:
for example, only women can love like mommies.
Now, it is clear that not all women develop the same way;
again, every woman is different from the next.
But just as no two roses are exactly the same but are all still roses,
all women are different, but still women.
Even though a rose bud might not blossom fully into a dazzling flower,
it still always contains in it the essence of the beauty of the rose.
Mary and Martha are very different,
but they are also both very feminine: they love very deeply.
But they express that feminine love in different feminine ways,
one by taking care of Jesus, and the other by sitting adoringly at his feet.
What son or husband can’t relate to and appreciate this, or at least long for this:
a mother or a wife who both takes care of him and adores him
like no one else can.
This uniqueness common to and uniting all women in a true sisterhood is, again,
amazing and beautiful.
And yet this unique gift has been repeatedly ignored or diminished
by both men and women since the time of Adam and Eve.
But in the last 50 years this has reached a new low,
as the gift of womanhood is under assault as never before.
Surprisingly this was perhaps first manifested
through the Feminist movement of the 1960s,
At first the movement clearly recognized
the important differences between men and women,
and the unique blessing of femininity or womanhood.
But it quickly became more radicalized,
and more and more it argued the differences
were merely accidents of biology—they didn’t really matter much.
In the end this denial of the significance of the differences began to dominate
not only feminism but also a whole new approach to sexuality in general.
So that an increasingly strong current in society began to tell women
they should not cherish their femininity, or femaleness.
In particular, they promoted a denial of motherhood, both in body and in spirit,
first in promoting contraception, then abortion.
The first, contraception, degrading the physical capability of motherhood
characterizing the sexual expression of their bodies
from being an expression of self-giving love that creates new life
into a mere pleasure-seeking lust that creates loneliness.
And the second, abortion, denying the spiritual or emotional aspect of motherhood,
as they taught women to, in effect,
destroy their special protective and nurturing motherly love
as they destroyed their own babies.
And what has been the result?
At first glance, perhaps the dignity and appreciation of women
seems to have been promoted
—they argue, look at how women have risen to high positions
in government, military and business.
But a second look shows a different picture.
Now more than ever women are degraded by men and by themselves.
Look at the rise of pornography that uses womanhood,
physically and emotionally,
as something to be abused, not a personal gift to be cherished.
Look at the rise in the number of single mothers,
again, used by men temporarily until they decide to move on,
not adored by men who commit to cherish them as wives
for the rest of their lives.
And now look at the rise of homosexuality.
which is by far the dominant force in the so-called “gay-rights” movement,
says nothing if not,
“we don’t need women, neither for love, nor to bear and raise our children.”
And even female homosexuality seems to be largely the result
of abuse or abandonment by men, especially fathers
—or a fundamental lack of appreciation of true womanhood.
And most amazingly, look at the rise of the transgender movement.
As if men don’t have enough benefits and privileges in society,
now they want the good things that belong naturally only to women.
It’s not enough for some men to strangely want to act like a woman,
now, they demand that if they say so you must agree they are a woman.
How degrading is that to real women?
I’m sorry, but transgendered men haven’t a clue what it is to “feel like a woman.”
For instance, all the unique pain and difficulties you endure monthly
and in childbirth
—they don’t experience that.
All the amazing differences in your bodies, inside and out,
and in your souls and spirit, in your feminine capacity to love and nurture
—they don’t have that.
But they insist, they are women.
All this means, really, is that being created by God in the womb as a woman,
and having the DNA and XX chromosomes of a woman,
and all the bodily and spiritual and emotional factors that involves
—all that means nothing.
In effect, they are saying, being a woman is now meaningless.
But that’s not what Jesus says.
After all, He created you, and he knows you.
He established the equality of male and female,
and he gave you the special gift of femininity.
But that’s not all.
He also grew in his mommy’s womb, and nursed at her breast,
and as a boy and man was taught to appreciate
the dignity and wonder of womanhood
by his remarkable Blessed Mother.
And at his first miracle in Cana, and on the Cross,
he didn’t call her simply “momma”
but rather, with reverence and honor, he called her “Woman.”
And not only that, he sat in the home of Martha and Mary,
chastely experiencing and appreciating their very feminine love
—both in Martha’s active service and Mary’s humble adoration.
And he saw the amazing fidelity and courage of this feminine love
from the Cross,
as looking down he saw just one of His male followers,
but, as St. Matthew writes,
“Many women were there…
They had followed Jesus …to care for his needs.”
Among these “many women” were, of course
His Mother and Mary Magdalene of Bethany.
Two very different women,
but two united by a distinctly feminine love and devotion for Jesus.
All of us are humble sinners.
But all of us are created in the image of God,
created for and offered a share in the life and love of God himself.
But we share in this differently, as male and female.
I thank God every day for my manhood.
But I also thank God every day for the gift of womanhood,
in all its different expressions.
Women, never forget: you are wonderfully made.
And men: don’t you forget…that women are wonderfully made.
As we turn now more profoundly to the mystery of the Eucharist,
we prepare ourselves to enter into the real presence of Jesus,
just as Martha and Mary did in their home in Bethany,
and the Blessed Mother and Magdalene did at the Cross.
Let us ask these holy women, to teach us to love and adore Our Lord
as they once did, and still do today,
each in their own different feminine ways.
And as we leave here today, through their intercession
and filled with the grace of this sacrament,
may we always steadfastly cherish, defend and proclaim
to a very confused world
God’s unique and amazing gift of womanhood.