Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak, but to be subject, as also the law saith. But if they would learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church. ~I Corinthians 14: 34This elusive verse, when not totally ignored, is a matter of controversy, as scholars and theologians try to explain it away. St. Paul, not caring a fig for political correctness, past or present, wanted it to be clear that women were not to usurp the functions of priests at the altar. On another level, the spiritual director at our Secular Carmelite meeting said that the verse is not to be seen as a negation of women but as a call, a call to silence, both interior and exterior. It is in the deep silence of the soul that spiritual warfare on behalf of the Church, her ministers and her people, is best waged. Many women have sought a life of prayer and have become prayer warriors, from the earliest days of the Church, when Our Lady prayed in the cenacle for the Holy Spirit to descend. Women have sought the contemplative life in great numbers, building monasteries that became centers of learning and culture, where kings and bishops went for advice. Sometimes it harder to fight a long hidden battle, a battle with no glory or outward appreciation, yet it is such battles that win graces for the multitudes. As Dr. Alice von Hildebrand writes:
Because a woman by her very nature is maternal -- for every woman, whether married or unmarried, is called upon to be a biological, psychological or spiritual mother -- she knows intuitively that to give, to nurture, to care for others, to suffer with and for them -- for maternity implies suffering -- is infinitely more valuable in God's sight than to conquer nations and fly to the moon.When one reads the life of St. Teresa of Avila or St. Thérèse of Lisieux, one is struck by the fact that they constantly refer to their "weakness." The lives of these heroic women -- and there are many -- teach us that an awareness and acceptance of one's weakness, coupled with a boundless confidence in God's love and power, grant these privileged souls a strength that is so great because it is supernatural.Natural strength cannot compete with supernatural strength. This is why Mary, the blessed one, is "strong as an army ready for battle." And yet, she is called "clemens, pia, dulcis Virgo Maria."This supernatural strength explains -- as mentioned by Dom Prosper Gueranger in "The Liturgical Year" -- that the devil fears this humble virgin more than God because her supernatural strength that crushes his head is more humiliating for him than God's strength.This is why the Evil One is today launching the worst attack on femininity that has ever taken place in the history of the world. For coming closer to the end of time, and knowing that his final defeat is coming, he redoubles his efforts to attack his one great enemy: the woman. It says in Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman." The final victory is hers, as seen in the woman crowned with the sun.
Women like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who embraced a lifestyle of silence, are both regarded as Doctors of the Church, with St. Thérèse hailed as Patroness of the Missions. Thus the Church acknowledges that the struggle to seek and find God in silence is a struggle with far-reaching consequences for the entire world.
St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) describes the redemptive suffering of spiritual motherhood:
The difficult struggle for existence is allocated primarily to man and the hardship of childbirth to woman. But a promise of redemption is present inasmuch as the woman is charged with the battle against evil;; the male sex is to be exalted by the coming of the Son of God. The redemption will restore the original order. The pre-eminence of man is disclosed by the Savior's coming to earth in the form of man. The feminine sex is ennobled by virtue of the Savior's being born of a human mother; a woman was the gateway through which God found entrance to mankind....A woman should honor the image of Christ in her husband by free and loving subordination; she herself is to be the image of God's mother; but that also means she is to be in Christ's image. (Essays on Woman, ICS Publications, 1985, p.69)
I hope that someday silence will again be seen as grace-filled and life-giving rather than as oppressive. Strength and power can be found in acknowledging one's weakness and helplessness before God. Women can have great influence, not in sharing the ministerial duties traditionally given to men but in the battlefield of the spirit, where all real battles are fought.