The silent sermon
Yesterday, I watched an interview with a priest who said, "It's why women can't preach: because we need the truth. When you're listening to what matters for eternal salvation we don't need you to say, 'Does my dress make me look fat?'" I'm pretty confident that that mindset is exceedingly rare among priests. It certainly doesn't exist among the priests I know. Nevertheless, I wanted to reply to set the record straight for anyone who holds that point of view.
First, from the perspective of Canon Law, this is wrong. Can. 766 says, "Lay persons can be permitted to preach in a church or oratory, if necessity requires it in certain circumstances or it seems advantageous in particular cases, according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops and without prejudice to can. 767, §1." 767, §1 says "Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent..." So, women *are* allowed to preach, but they are not allowed to preach the homily at Mass. But guess what, *I* can't preach the homily either, because I am a lay person. Of course, women cannot be ordained to the priesthood, but that's not what we are talking about. The quote was, "Women can't preach because we need the truth."
"We need the truth." The truth is that women are usually the most eloquent preachers, though often the most silent. I have been blessed to hear many beautiful sermons over the decades delivered by priests. Most of them, I only remember vaguely. I remember with a far greater clarity the preaching of women in those same churches. I remember my mother telling me "That's Jesus" during the Consecration as a little boy. I remember the serenity of her face during the Mass. I remember the supreme patience of my wife with our children as she tried to calm them as newborns, and later as rambunctious toddlers. I remember finally getting to go to Adoration again after the churches were closed, and seeing my wife weep tears of joy at finally being able to be with her Lord again. I remember thinking, "I hope I can love the way she does one day." I remember the hundreds of women I've seen take their children out of Mass to tend to their children's needs, and rush to bring them back to be with Our Lord at the foot of the cross.
That's the preaching I most remember. Most of these women don't stop preaching when they leave the church though. Indeed, they never really stop preaching at all. Their sermon is visible, if we look hard enough, on their calloused hands and in their half-mast eyes. Countless nights have I awoken to the sight of my wife sitting in the dark, silently nursing a newborn, with an expression of pure love on her face as she beheld our child. "When you're listening to what matters for eternal salvation" sometimes the silence is what you ought to be listening for. To miss this is to miss the whole point of life. Christ spent 30 years in relative silence. John Clark recently wrote "The Second Person of the Trinity walked the earth for thirty years, but Scripture has very little to say about it. Are we prepared to say, however, that nothing important happened during these three decades? What sort of Christian would make that bizarre claim?" Precisely so. Do not discount the inestimable value of the hidden life. If we don't hear the preaching of the cloistered nun--a sermon which she daily gives with her entire being--then we simply are not listening to what matters. "For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
In the Return of the King, as Eowyn tries to convince Aragorn to let her go out to the fight, he tells her, '"A time may come soon," said he, "when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defence of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised."' We carve statues and visit the tombs of those who died defending their homes, but rarely, if ever, do we carve statues for those who *lived* defending their homes. The women who give their lives to their children, the nuns who give their lives for all of us, the nurses who hold the hands of the dying in hospitals, their deed are unpraised, but no less valiant for that. If we don't hear their preaching to us, perhaps we simply ought to take their hand and ask how we can help. You'll know their hands when you see them. They are "hands that are hardened by pity, that will dip into any water and bathe any wound in mercy."