Women and the Transmission of the Faith: a Homily Nugget from Pope Francis

Pope Francis’s daily homilies offer spiritual nuggets. He offered one sleeper on January 26 when he said that it is women who transmit the faith. The concept has been offered before, but sometimes it has seemed to be a mere platitude to appease women who may feel underappreciated in the church. I think it is more.

In remarks at the Casa Santa Marta, where he lives, the pope said that St. Paul reminds Timothy that “sincere faith” comes from the Holy Spirit through “mother and grandmother.” The pope, as reported by Vatican Radio, said “Mothers and grandmothers are the ones who [in primis] transmit the faith.” He added that it is one thing to pass on the faith, and another to teach the matters of faith.

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Faith is a gift that passes from generation to generation, through the “beautiful work of mothers and grandmothers, the fine work of the women who play those roles,” in a family, the pope said, “whether they are maids or aunts,” who transmit the faith.

With the risk of sounding stereotypical, I submit that in general it is women who preside over the domestic church. They teach us simple prayers. They tell us about Jesus, Mary, patron saints and guardian angels who protect us. They are comfortable in the world of the spirit and emotions. They are the primary caregivers to whom we turn almost primitively in our hour of need. A writer friend once pointed out that women are more physically oriented for this, even to the point of having softer laps and more comforting breasts where we feel the care.

Pope Francis suggested that it is mainly women who pass on the faith simply because the one who brought us Jesus is a woman. It is the path chosen by Jesus, he said. He wanted to have a mother: the gift of faith comes to us through women, as Jesus came to us through Mary.

“We need,” said Pope Francis, “in our own day to consider whether women really are aware of the duty they have to transmit the faith.” He threw out a challenge and asked, how do you live your faith?

Clearly how to pass on the faith is as significant as how to explain it. For this reason alone the church needs to look at how it encourages women in this role and how men can develop their nurturing side. The question needs study.

Is the faith passed on primarily in the home? Is it passed on most of all during formative years, when young people have more time with mothers, grandmothers, aunts? As men become more involved in domestic matters, do they need to consider how they can nurture faith? Is there a faith lesson plan with instructions, such as reading stories of the lives of the saints, telling the parables of Jesus, singing hymns that remind us God is there for us, writing letters to Jesus, especially at holiday times such as Christmas?

The church might look at the ministry of presence in troubled times to bring comfort, which Mary exemplifies. The miracle at Cana, turning water into wine, wasn’t needed but made for a better party and saved the newlyweds embarrassment. Why else would Mary prod her son to do something? What was the significance of the women at the foot of the cross?

Where is church presence needed today? At the margins of society, for example, at the borders? When and where is women’s presence needed in the church today? At decision-making tables to bring a new voice for the needed?

Pope Francis' homily nugget bears pondering. This may be one more gift from God to the church.

Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., is a member of the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and U.S. Church correspondent for America.

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Jack Rakosky
2 years 8 months ago
FAMILIES AND FAITH: HOW RELIGION IS PASSED DOWN ACROSS GENERATIONS (2013) by Vern L Bengtson with Norrella M Putney and Susan C. Harris provides much empirical suppot for this post. The good news is that not only moms and grandmas transmit religiosity but dads and grandpas do, too. Faith as religiosity (importance of God, religion, etc.) is well transmitted across generations. Specific faith traditions, beliefs and specific practices less so.This is a one of those few longitudinal studies on this issue. One key element is that faith is transmitted best by parents and grandparents who are nurturing rather than demanding about religion. Even when parents are demanding and hostile to noncompliant children, it does not necessarily mean the children will be non-religious in the long run. They just often choose a different religion after a period of rebellion against the parental religion. AMERICAN GRACE (2010) by Robert Putnam and David Campell also established that religious networks of families, close friends and small groups are essential for all the positive increases in health, happiness, and social responsibility that are associated with regular church attendance. Sitting in church alone did not produce these results. None of the positive life effects showed any relationships to beliefs. We need to rethink how we do parishes. In past centuries parish networks were taken for granted and not given much credit. Today we have to put more effort into their building and maintenance. Pastoral ministers often see small groups as a draw to what they think is more important, faith content. That is a wrong approach. People want to experience and practice love of neighbor as well as love of God. Parishes are not just places for transmitting culture on Sunday they have been and need to be centers of social networks. My own parents, and grandparents were the source of my faith, hope, and charity. They were also the source of my moral virtues. My mother was a very caring housewife; my dad had a steelworker’s manly way of treating people with respect. I got a Ph.D. in psychology and spent my career in the public mental health system, becoming well known among the mental ill for the respect I gave them. My virtues were my parents only played in a different key. I suspect if others think about this, they will have had similar experiences. These are important issues for the coming Synod on the Family.
Luis Gutierrez
2 years 8 months ago
Agree, we can see signs of hope. The meeting at the Vatican this week about women issues is not insignificant. But the real issue is whether or not being male is required to be in apostolic succession and exercise apostolic authority with sacramental power to sanctify, teach, and govern in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church. This is the fundamental option that must be reconsidered (CCC 1598). It should be made clear that this is not about what women (or men) want. It is about discerning what Christ wants for the Church in the 21st century, for the glory of God and the good of souls. Would Jesus, in today's world, choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel?

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