As I moved through St. Peter's Square pestering every American I could find, I noticed a trend. Young Catholics kept bringing up the same concerns about their faith: how the church treats abuse victims, gays and lesbians, people of other religions -- and women. (I wrote up some of that in the current issue ofCommonweal.) I hope they've been paying attention to Pope Francis since they left Rome, because he's been addressing the last of those topics with considerable vigor.
Francis's Easter Vigil homily led with the women who discover the empty tomb. "They had felt understood by [Jesus] in their dignity," Francis said, "and they had accompanied him to the very end." Even though the women initially react with fear to what they find, their "loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others." In their dignity, understood by Jesus, they bring the good news. And yesterday morning, he preached on John's account of Mary Magdalene weeping at the empty tomb -- until the risen Christ appears and bids her to tell the rest what she has witnessed. Francis then exhorted believers to see through her eyes: "Sometimes in our lives tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus," he said. And today, during his Wednesday audience, he extended his reflection on the role of women as first communicators of the gospel.
After criticizing attempts to "obscure faith in the Resurrection of Jesus," Pope Francis turned to the question of transmitting that faith. Again he noted that women were the "first witnesses to this event." Yet, "in the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women." Why? To answer that question, Francis delivered a little lesson in historical-critical method:
According to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that 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.... 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. The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however!
As I read that passage, I suddenly recalled the first time I'd heard that argument -- as a sophomore at Fordham, in a course on feminist theology, taught by Elizabeth A. Johnson.