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a very simple woman

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 02, 2005

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NCR contributor Peg Helminski gets a phone call from an African Catholic woman, agitated by a report that the Catholic Church was about to ordain women, and asking Helminski for reassurance that it wasn't so. Helminski sees a clash of cultures. In reality, there's a clash of faith:

"Abena," I sighed with regret, "You and I will not live to see such a day in our Catholic church. This will not happen in our lifetime."

"Oh, thank you! You give me so much hope and happiness." But, suddenly serious, she said, "I think this cannot happen ever -- as it was in the beginning it shall be in the Catholic church until Jesus comes again."

Her distress evident, she continued:

"I do not know why women keep trying to be Jesus. They should try only to imitate the example of humility and obedience of our Blessed Mother."

"Abena, are you saying that men should not try to imitate the example of Mary?"

I struggled to contain my anger. And I succeeded because this was Abena, a very simple woman, not a bishop, the pope or a Vatican spokesperson, all of whom, I think, should have a broader view of church history and the place of culture in determining our ever-evolving, collective understanding of God.

She laughed readily, "Of course, we all should. But what is more important is that women learn the beauty of raising children.

"Just today God has answered my prayer. The husband of a sister of ours planned to divorce her because she has not been pregnant in many years. I learned today that she is two months with child. God is so good!"

My blood nearly boiled at the sexist content of this assertion and her archaic proof of God's mercy. Yet, I forgave her immediately because I recognized that she is a product of her culture. Only recently from Cameroon, she was jailed there for her faith. Shackled, she was beaten on the soles of her feet. Now, walking is difficult. Wearing shoes is still painful.

"They wanted to break my spirit," she laughed when she told me. "They only strengthened my faith!"

If there's a purer specimen of National Catholic Reporterism, I've yet to meet it.

Helminski, the liberal American feminist (model year 2005), holds precisely and in detail those beliefs anyone would predict a liberal American feminist (model year 2005) to hold. Abena professes beliefs she shares with Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Benedict XV, and Pope Benedict I, and your Uncle Di, for that matter -- are we all unthinking passive products of Cameroon culture? How did that happen?

Peg, my dear, there's another possibility. Has it ever occurred to you that, where immemorial Church doctrine conflicts with the worldview of upper-middle-class Western liberalism, it's the Church's teaching that's independent of time, place, and circumstance, and Western liberalism that's a passing fashion? Can you fail to see the irony in the fact that your opinions are indistinguishable from professional class progressive Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians in your own suburb, while Abena's orthodox faith crosses all lines of race, nation, and class? Aren't you at least a little embarrassed by the fact that your progressive feminist opinions are not only cost-free, but bring you considerable social and professional advantages in your world, whereas Abena went to jail for her faith -- and came out even more convinced in its truth than she was before? Have you ever laughed with joy in your faith as Abena has in hers?

Pointless questions. Progressivism -- in our time, at least -- is an appeal to complacency, and if you look on the Faith of the martyrs with smug condescension, you're not interested in communion, but in displaying your pride in the superiority of your own sympathies -- as Peg would have us understand, "our ever-evolving, collective understanding of God."

I'll stick with Abena, thanks.

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