“Full of Grace” is [Regrettably] Back!

For many reasons, I struggle with my Sunday obligation. I think I suffer from some nostalgic understanding of what Mass is supposed to be like.  I, like many who shuttled through a Jesuit Catholic university and came out a faithful Catholic, enjoyed the life and exuberance of Sunday Mass.  Not only was there music worth singing and everyone participated, but the homilies had weight (at least weight for my 18-22 year old self).  Then there was social justice and a crazy suggestion that I, a woman, mattered.  Not because I was a future wife and mother, but because I had a heart, a brain, and a soul.  I was an individual, not a future supporter and nurturer of others.  At no time was my sole duty in life to ensure anyone else’s salvation.  (I know, this all sounds very individualistic and self absorbing.  This is not my point.)

OK, so this is not a bad duty.  It is not a bad idea to help others and it is hardly wrong thinking to endeavor to nurture and support those nearest to us.  These are actually really good choices. The thing I struggle with is that the idea that my biology makes it the only  thing the Church wants me to do as a Catholic.  And that this is not the duty of Men.  I don’t want to shock anyone, but I think everyone, regardless of gender, should care about, nurture, and support those closest to them.

Well, if you step into most Catholic Churches lately (or at least MY parish), if there is actual mention of women, you will likely get a healthy dose of mom’s groups, who only meet during the day, because you know, moms don’t actually work outside the home (right).  You will also get the occasional reference in the readings of the town prostitute, adulterous wife, or Mary.  You know, the Blessed Virgin Mother.  The Mother of Our Lord.  

And here is where I am left out.  Here is where I don’t fit the category.  Here is where I am not fulfilling my womanly duty.  So, sure, I am married, but I am not a mother.  Worse yet, I don’t volunteer for stuff and I work during the day.  I don’t join women’s organizations at my church and sometimes, sometimes, when my husband doesn’t want to go to church on Sunday, I don’t insist we do, because, I don’t want to go either.  I KNOW!!!!  (To be honest, I am curious about Christ Renews His Parish, but I am stymied by the whole joining thing and that women and men’s weekends are separate. And really, the whole sharing thing is truly frightening.)

This morning, we learned of the return of “Full of Grace,” a ten-week study program for women.  Apparently, I am, according the flyer in the bulletin, invited “to join …a ten week adventure to discover who [I am] in the eyes of God and embrace the great gifts of authentic femininity and spiritual motherhood.  With the Blessed Virgin Mary as [my] model and guide, this study will deepen [my] prayer life, increase [my] knowledge of the Catholic Faith, and discover and appreciate the great gift of Holy Mother Church.”

Awesome.  And this is where the whole women shouldn’t read books thing comes into play.  Because I seem to have read this in some archives or library. Oh, let me think, Bernard O’Reilly and The Mirror of True Womanhood: A Book of Instruction for Women in the World, 1877.

In the nineteenth century and with the cult of domesticity, women of a certain class (always a certain class and race) were designed to devote their lives and resources to making men’s lives better.  This means their husbands and children.  Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, has always been one of the options for Catholic women. We can be wives or nuns.  Sometimes we can be devoted to God and remain single, but that doesn’t happen as often as the whole religious and married life.  We are to emulate Mary because “Mary the mother of the New Life gave the Saviour and salvation to the world, just as the Church, the spouse  of Christ, evermore performs the divine office of motherhood here below toward the nations, – even so true woman in every home is the saviour and sanctifier of man.” (O’Reilly, 322)

 The “saviour and sanctifier of man” is not what I want my main focus of my life to be.  I want man to get on with it and save himself. Seriously.  And when I thought I understood where “Full of Grace” came from, I read further in the flyer that one woman felt like singing “I am Woman, I am Strong” because of this experience.  I am woman and I am flummoxed that this feminist anthem (awful as it is) would be hooked up with this subjugating sheep in misogynist clothing.

It would be a really nice day if I could get through a Sunday with 1. decent music, 2. a thoughtful sermon, and 3. a sense that I was not a failure because I was not a mother or joiner of church clubs.

For now, let us console ourselves with the words of the immortal Helen Reddy:

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
(Strong)
I am invincible
(Invincible)
I am woman

You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
(Strong)
I am invincible
(Invincible)
I am woman

I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my lovin’ arms across the land
But I’m still an embryo
With a long, long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can face anything
I am strong
(Strong)
I am invincible
(Invincible)
I am woman

I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong
I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong
I am woman