She is worth more than rubies…

The Bible is the Word of God, so you can’t but agree and just obey!” It was as if he had won a 10-billion-ringgit law suit against women.

May 19, 2023

…meanwhile - Joanne Lim

Joshua – my 15-year-old son, emerges from his room one day clutching a Bible in his hands (much to my amazement and delight) and excitedly starts quoting from sacred Scripture – “Ma, woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. Women mustn’t speak!”

And as I was still trying to grasp what he had just uttered, he continued: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner; it’s there in 1 Timothy 2: 9-15. Ma, it’s repeated in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35… Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Just as soon as he blurted that out, he turned to his sister and read out another verse as if it was written just for her: “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes!”

Thinking that was the end of it and trying to find my retort, he flipped the pages to Ephesians 5:22, exclaiming: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord”, and then to 1 Corinthians 11:2-6 … “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”

At this point, I was anxious for my dear mother, who was also seated at the table with us, though she seemed to have found all this quite amusing and entertaining…and sure enough Joshua blurted out “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good…” (Titus 2:3-5). Both our gazes fell on the little wine rack we have at home, with whiskey on toe.

At one point, even Joshua seemed fascinated at himself for such amazing discoveries. Suddenly he found a purpose in reading the Bible, and he finally ended with a quirky smile and a clear disclaimer: “I didn’t say any of this. The Bible is the Word of God, so you can’t but agree and just obey!” It was as if he had won a 10-billion-ringgit law suit against women.

I started to realise that this is what domestic inquisition was about – he wanted to stamp the position and status of women in the eyes of the Church…and all I could say was “…but Josh, we are all equal in the eyes of God!” I said, “remember Jesus appeared first to a woman after the Resurrection”. At that point, he was already moseying out of the dining room gleefully.

For centuries, women have struggled through the waves of feminism, discoursing gender equality and the role of women in society, fighting patriarchy with irony, inverting sexist symbols, and combating exclusion with activism. The women in society fought hard for empowerment and respect. The Third Wave of feminism sought to question, reclaim and redefine how women were portrayed in the media – as Disney heroines and Guerrilla Girls; leading to the Fourth Wave, which focused on sexual harassment (#metoo), body shaming, and rape culture, among other issues.

Today, the Catholic Church still grapples with how it addresses women — in some churches, young girls are recruited as altar servers, others vehemently insist on the altar being only for the more “premier” gender —men/boys. However, young girls and women are increasingly self-aware, empowered, and raised to be articulate, high-achieving people in society who contribute much, even more than men, arguably. In many churches today, women have taken the position of authority, leading and participating in numerous ministries — undoubtedly, their voices are seen and heard at PPC meetings, Catechism, Music Ministry, as Altar Ladies and of course at BECs. But is this all women are good for?

It is pertinent to reflect on how the Bible portrays women – from our dearest Mother Mary — the only human being born spotless without sin, who in complete trust surrendered all to the Lord; …to Deborah the compassionate leader; Esther who used the power of prayer and bravery to save her people; Priscilla who through her marriage to Aquila became a couple that was known for their powerful ministry and generosity to those in need, and the many women of Jerusalem, including Joanna and Susanna, the two lesser-known women who followed Jesus and played a pivotal role in the early faith.

Evenings for the Engaged and Marriage Encounter seminars aside (which seems at times rather obligatory or regarded as a formality and often happens too late in any relationship), the Church needs to confront topics that are seemingly taboo in society — issues such as divorce and remarrying, adoption, family planning, sexuality, abuse, vasectomies, and the importance of chastity as single and married women, all beg to be discussed. Maybe Catechism might be an early forum to advance the Church’s view on the young.

Why wait till two months before marriage?

Many women are conflicted and they struggle with the Catholic Church, yet practise their faith despite the ongoing difficulties. These women prioritise their Catholic identity yet feel terribly frustrated, hurt, even angry with their relationship with the Church. We have yet to even consider the unique struggles of Catholic women who come from different backgrounds, cradle Catholics, converts, old and young, single and married…these topics are hardly old fashioned, yet even in the age of social media, there is a lack of ‘safe spaces’ for women to support each other through this journey to Christ.

Men too should be enlightened about how to uphold the role of women in the Church, and at home. For as the Bible says: She is worth far more than rubies… She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.

She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family… She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. — Proverbs 31:10-31. This passage alone speaks of women as leaders, decision-makers – resourceful, wise, resilient and immensely strong…and in all of this, she has a special nature of selflessness, for her gaze is fixed only on pleasing the Lord, and serving others in Him alone.

This month of May, may we seek the intercession of Our Divine Lady, who is our model in holiness and faithfulness and focus not on our imperfections as women but on building an intimate communion in holiness, in closeness with the Risen Lord. Like the women in the Bible, we are called to inspire, encourage, and uphold one another, with our gifts and virtues, to lead mankind to God – one day and one prayer at a time.

…meanwhile, Joshua who had returned to the dining room after having found a way to deal with his Catholic guilt from laughing at us, turns to Proverbs 31:31 and coyly reads: “Honour her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” He asks what’s for dinner and I grudgingly say, ‘cutlets’ to which he cheekily replies, “the woman who invented cutlets must have had a son!”

To share a meme I came across online recently (and to commemorate Mother’s Day celebrated this month):

Son: Dad who is a man?

Dad: A man takes care of his family.

Son: One day I’m gonna’ be a man, like my mom.

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day wishes!

(Professor Joanne Lim shares the faith in Catechism and music in Church. She is Deputy Dean and lectures on media and society at the University of Nottingham Malaysia)

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