What is woman’s role in the Church?

Our local diocesan newspaper, Today’s Catholic, runs a column called Living the Gift of Womanhood, which is organized by my employers.  I was asked to write this month’s contribution about woman’s role in the Church.  Here’s what I submitted:

Speaking at a local Catholic women's luncheon
Speaking at a local Catholic women’s luncheon

After I spoke at a local Catholic luncheon, a woman stood up and announced, “I would like to vote Angela as the first female priest.” The room erupted in laughter.

After the noise died down, she asked, “When will we ever have women priests?”

Years ago, as a somewhat-arrogant college freshman studying theology, I sat frowning as a proponent of women’s ordination presented her case. Afterward, I concluded that she was simply ‘a whiny dissenter’.

Today, having worked ‘on-the-ground’ for several years in Catholic women’s ministries, I look back at that presenter with compassion. I recall the pain in her voice as she described remote communities unable to receive Eucharist, due to the priest shortage. She longed to see those souls receive the sacraments. Her concern was genuinely maternal.

The conversation surrounding women’s ordination is extremely complex. I can only allude to it. Beneath it, however, remains a larger question: What place does a woman have in the Catholic Church?

I treasure this fundamental Scripture verse, ripe with meaning:

“God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

Our dear Holy Father has echoed this verse’s implications quite publicly and frequently. During his recent visit to the Philippines, he lamented the lack of girls for a planned youth Q&A session:

“Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes we are too machistas and we don’t allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand. […] So when the next pope comes to Manila, please let there be more girls.”

We’ve heard many people belabor the fact that men are able to assume roles in the Church that women cannot. In the above quote, however, Pope Francis points to women’s role in the Church: to be God’s image in ways that men cannot.

The Pontifical Council for Culture, in fact, held a Plenary Assembly last month on “Feminine Cultures: Equality and Difference.” I encourage you to read the relevant documents on http://www.cultura.va.

In them, the Council notes that women, while entering more fully into a society that is markedly masculine, have historically sacrificed their unique feminine qualities to varying degrees. The Council finds this an unacceptable outcome, and challenges us to uphold ‘the feminine genius’:

“It is with respect to this originality of women that the true development of the feminine position will develop.”

In God’s wisdom, the Virgin Mary was the first disciple. The Risen Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene first. Surely, our good God willed them to these vocations not in spite of their womanhood, but—in part—because of it. After all; he’s the one who made them women!

Throughout the history of Christianity, we see women: Catherine of Siena restoring the papacy to Rome; countless women worldwide creating schools for the poor and outcast; Bernadette Soubirous, Catherine Labouré, and other women or girls of nearly all the approved modern Marian apparitions. Let’s not forget the mothers and grandmothers who, as Pope Francis noted late January, “are the ones who in primis transmit the faith.”

When that woman stood up and ‘voted me first female priest’, I was taken aback, but also happy that she voiced her question.

My answer to her was multifaceted. The bottom line for me, however, is that fundamental mystery of Creation: “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

What is the role of women in the Church? To uniquely reveal Almighty God. Men and women, while equal in dignity, were never meant to be the same.

Do we have some work ahead of us to ensure that this truth is manifested in the Church’s daily life? Undoubtedly; while divinely instituted, the Church is also human. We’ve allowed the world’s “battle of the sexes” to osmose into our Catholic family.

Let’s meditate on where God is calling us: not to hegemony or homogony, but to celebrate and embrace all the unique gifts that distinguish women from men, and vice versa.

"Paradise" by M.C. Escher (1921)
“Paradise” by M.C. Escher (1921)

St. Patrick, Negroes, and Muslims — Why Today Is So Important


St. Patrick’s Day is a day of victory for us all — not only because we enjoy green beer, lucky charms, and t-shirts — but because “100% Irish” paraphernalia contrast that of just a few generations ago, when paraphernalia supported American Party political candidates who argued that America should be rid of the Irish.  For me, it’s personal.

How to Keep Your Family Alive

In the mid-1800s, my ancestor Michael was an Irish farmer whose crops in Southern Ireland had been devastated by disease.  Realizing that he couldn’t keep his wife and ten children alive in his native country any longer, he left the Emerald Isle for the strange world of America, with his wife Margaret and eight of their children.  His son Timothy, from whom I descend, stayed home to nurse his ill young brother back to health, but instead watched helplessly as he died, like so many of their neighbors.  As an adolescent boy, he emigrated to America.

Home of the Brave

In his new world, Irish were demeaned alongside blacks.  Contemporary cartoons depicted Irishmen as ape-like funnymen, committing crimes in a drunken stupor.  Worse still, an illustration in the influential Harper’s Weekly aimed to scientifically demonstrate Irish inferiority.


Caption: “The (Irish) Iberians are believed to have been originally an African race, who thousands of years ago spread themselves through Spain over Western Europe. Their remains are found in the barrows, or burying places, in sundry parts of these countries. The skulls are of low prognathous type. They came to Ireland and mixed with the natives of the South and West, who themselves are supposed to have been of low type and descendants of savages of the Stone Age, who, in consequence of isolation from the rest of the world, had never been out-competed in the healthy struggle of life, and thus made way, according to the laws of nature, for superior races.”

That’s not to mention Irish immigrants’ strange religion, Catholicism.  Many Americans, fearing that the Irish would turn their nation into a ‘papal state’ ruled by Church law, formed anti-Irish groups that marched in the streets, lashed out in violence, and at the very least created an intimidating presence.

Thousands of Irish were called upon by Archbishop John Hughes to defend Catholic church buildings against anti-Irish mobs.  His biography by Rev. Henry Brann recalls,

When, therefore, he heard that a threat had been made to burn down his cathedral, (Archbishop Hughes) caused three or four thousand of the most intelligent and prominent Catholics to arm themselves, and to take possession of the churchyard in Mott Street, and defend the building. When the ‘Natives’ heard of these preparations, they were afraid to attack, and no more was heard of the threat.

This all reminds me of two things:

  1. To treasure and give thanks for my ancestors’ courage
  2. To not let history repeat itself through me

How Far We’ve (Yet to) Come

I wonder how convinced I might’ve been of Irish inferiority were I a non-Irish American in the mid-nineteenth century.  How obvious would it have been, that the Irish were a threat?  I wonder how much “proof” of their dangerous natures I would’ve seen with my mind’s eye.

Today, Muslim immigrants come here seeking refuge from their own dangerous plights.  They, as well as native-born American Muslims, are by many considered threats to national security.  They are strange-looking people with an alien culture and violent tendencies, who will surely turn our nation into an Islamic State.

Last month, Lifeway Research published some recent polls of 1,000 Americans each.  Among the results:

37% – say they are worried about Sharia law being applied in America
27% – believe ISIL reflects the true nature of Islam

Encountering One Another

About one month ago, not far from my city, a Houston mosque at Quba Islamic Institute suffered tremendous damage by an arsonist.  Al Jazeerah reports an encouraging conversion story in the fire’s wake:

Joshua Gray, a truck driver from Catersville, Georgia, took to Facebook and accused Muslims in the United States of not taking a stand against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

He called Muslims “scum,” in one comment, and in another post he wrote that he hoped a mosque “burns for every American killed by these terrorists.”

(Imam Zahid Abdullah) responded to Gray by inviting him to Quba. Gray, already driving through Houston area, accepted. Then he spent five hours at the mosque speaking with its members and seeing them in prayer.

“It just changed my opinion on a lot of the things I’ve seen and heard by just going in and actually talking to him face to face,” Gray, who said he never met Muslims prior to visiting Quba, told Al Jazeera.

He added that Zahid and other members of the mosque treated him with “friendliness” and were “welcoming” and “well mannered.”

“Everything that a lot of us are told as Christians, they do as far as treating everybody the same. Even after my comments that I made, they still treated me good,” Gray said. “It’s just not what I was expecting.”

Gray later issued a public apology on Quba’s Facebook page, and added: “Anger gets the better of us sometimes by things happening around the world, and in our own country, so we tend to lash out the only way we are able, which are the ones like you, who dont like it anymore than we do. Thanks for inviting me.”

A most-difficult challenge from Pope Francis has been his call for us to create a “culture of encounter”.  His message for this year’s World Communications Day reminded us that Jesus’ command to love applies to all our neighbors, even those whose culture and religion are strange to us (cf. Luke 10:25-37).

“May the image of the Good Samaritan,” he said, “who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration.”

Saint Patrick is celebrated by the Irish today not only because he brought Catholicism to their homeland, but because he adopted Ireland as his homeland.  He loved the people among whom he was once an alien slave.  On his day, may we boldly accept the challenge — a true challenge — to embrace those who are strange to us.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Pastor Rick Warren’s Catholic bishop hero


I’ve never had the pleasure of attending the Religious Education Congress in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but since my former shepherd Archbishop Jose Gomez was re-assigned to L.A., I’ve taken a greater interest in it. Conveniently, that was around the time that the Congress launched their livestream via YouTube. Thanks to this wonderful – and free! – gift to the Church, I’ve enjoyed watching or listening to several of the major sessions at home and at work.

This year, Pastor Rick Warren gave a talk largely based around his bestselling Purpose-Driven Life material. Obviously a natural on-stage, he also appeared comfortable with the Catholic crowd, gracefully integrating Catholic ‘lingo’ into his inspiring presentation.

I wanted to share, in particular, Rick’s last anecdote with you. He became quite emotional during this portion, and I tried my best to relay some of that emotion to you in my transcription:

One of my heroes… (pauses and looks down)

… was the great…(pauses)

…Catholic bishop…(pauses to gain composure)

… I can hardly tell this story.

He went to a leprosy colony… and um…it was over in Africa.  And he went to look at the people…and to talk and minister to the people.  And as he walked through the leprosy colony, there was one guy sitting on the ground in just a loincloth, and…(pauses again; looks down)

…He clearly had other skin diseases, too, besides leprosy, because they were oozing, and kind of pussy, and runny.  (Pauses)

And uh…as he (the bishop) looked over, he bent down to talk to this man about, um…his…love…and as he leaned over to talk to him (the leper), the crucifix that he (the bishop) was wearing — the chain — broke. And the crucifix fell into an open sore on the man’s leg.  In–into an open, pussy sore.

(Pauses. Sniffs.)

He said, “When I saw that, I was filled with…with…indignity.”

He said, “It was just revolting to me. The scene.”

But he said, “But then all of a sudden, I was filled… I was filled…with the Spirit of Christ.”

And he said, “I reached into the sore, and I took up the Cross.”

I heard that story when I was in college, and I remember thinking: That phrase is the finest definition of Christianity I’ve ever heard.

Because the whole business of the Church, and of Christians, of those of us who claim the name of Christ, is to go out into the sores of life, where people are hurting, and bleeding, and dying, and take up the Cross! And if we’re not doing that, I doubt our Christianity!

I’m so grateful to him for sharing this story, and for accepting the invitation to speak at the Congress.  We Christians can learn so much from each other.  (In case you’re wondering, it seems Rick was so overcome with emotion that he failed to mention the bishop’s name.)

I’m not sure if the RE Congress plans to keep Pastor Warren’s presentation online permanently, but for now, the video is currently located here on their YouTube channel.  If you can find an hour to carve out of your week, I highly encourage you to watch and take notes.

P.S. You may have noticed that I recently published 2 pieces which have now disappeared from the blog.  My St. Patrick’s Day piece will return in a few hours; Monday evening.  The piece on women’s place in the Church will be published on March 22 to coincide with its print publication in Today’s Catholic newspaper.   As always, thanks for contributing to the conversation here.  I look forward to your comments!

How to regard others’ decisions

"A depiction of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery" by Vasily Polenov (1888)
“A depiction of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery” by Vasily Polenov (1888)

In a world of information overload, politics, gossip, and social media timelines…

One who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without. The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). – Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium”

Difficult, but Good News.

Soul Train: Gettin’ it back on track for Lent


I used to be on a show called Catholic Weekend, where the running joke is that every episode’s a train wreck.

Well, that’s pretty funny for a podcast, but it’s nowhere near funny when the train wreck is your prayer life.

Yikes!  That’s me.

So, when I met with my spiritual director on Saturday, we had a powwow about what I should A.) let go & B.) take up for Lent.

Side note: I highly recommend this!  Imagine a personal trainer for your soul.  It’s encouraging to get advice from a spiritual director; someone who sees you and your spiritual state in a more objective position, and can offer expert advice about the areas in which you need improvement — and guidance on how to improve.

Our decision was that I need to…

  1. Quit my awful habit of spending my first 15 minutes awake in bed checking social media accounts.  That’s going to be (sadly) a hilariously-challenging fast.
  2. Give God my first waking minutes by diving into the Scriptures.
  3. Use the Scriptures as a journal prompt.

I’ve written previously about my struggle with writing and art, so keeping a journal for 40 days straight is somewhat daunting.  However, I am looking forward to a stricter prayer practice.  Here’s hoping that all you who’ve been experiencing spiritual train wrecks can get your prayer train back on track, too.  It will definitely benefit the rest of your life & the people with whom you interact.

Lent is a blessed opportunity.

You are loved by beautiful, divine love.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 10.42.13 AM

On St. Valentine’s Day, one of my favorite old hymns…and a favorite new one.

You are loved every moment!

“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” – Mormon Tabernacle Choir


“You Are The Beauty” – Gungor

Love, love, love of mine
You have caused the sun to shine on us
Music fills our ears
Flavors kiss our lips
with love divine

You are the beauty
You are the light
You are the love, love of mine

Breath and sex and sight
All things made for good
in love divine

You are the love
Love of mine
Are the love
The love of mine


Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Getting to Know the Holy Spirit

Angela Sealana:

Since I was sick all last week, I didn’t get a chance to update the blog. Instead, please enjoy my recent post for the Pilgrim Log!

Originally posted on The Pilgrim Log:

"Pentecost" by Titian (c. 1545) “Pentecost” by Titian (c. 1545)

Last weekend, I was privileged to assist at a retreat for teens preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Although I began working in high school ministry about eight years ago, I experienced something on this retreat that I’ve never encountered.

Our parish is involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, colloquially known for its “Pentecostal” style of prayer.  I, however, am still quite new to ‘extraordinary’ manifestations of the Holy Spirit, since I was raised without exposure to charismatic prayer, and have only recently begun attending this parish.

The teens had gone to Confession, and after celebrating Mass, our retreat had reached its climax.  Four teams of adults and youth leaders were to pray over individual retreatants, invoking the Holy Spirit.  Not five minutes after this began, I was asked to lead one of those prayer teams!

My mind became a bit scrambled. …

View original 675 more words

Why does St. Paul say married people are less likely to be devout?

"Marriage of the Virgin" by Pietro Perugino, 1504.

Lord, have mercy, I’m ’bout to rant against Paul the Apostle.

On Friday, my spiritual director sends me a text message… a warning:

“The verse” is our second reading this weekend.

As our merciful Lord would have it, I’m the lucky lector who gets to read (UPDATE: staying home thanks to a food allergy) this delightful passage, 1 Cor. 7:s2-35:

Brothers and sisters:
I should like you to be free of anxieties.
An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord,
how he may please the Lord.
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world,
how he may please his wife, and he is divided.
An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord,
so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
A married woman, on the other hand,
is anxious about the things of the world,
how she may please her husband.
I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

Listen here, Saint Paul: I know that you thought the world was ending pretty soon, but your words are still ringing in our ears almost 2,000 years later. For about 10 years of my life, I’ve wrestled with this passage of Holy Scripture.

When I was a teenager discerning whether religious sisterhood was my calling, I would sit on the floor in my bedroom, my back leaning against the dresser, staring at this passage in my open Bible.  Even before this passage entered my life, I had plans to stay single.  (Am I the only girl who never planned a wedding or dreamed of a handsome prince?)  After reading this particular passage, I felt that I was evidence for a vocation to religious life.  After all: How could I, a God-fearing young woman, possibly want to get married and risk becoming distracted from the Lord?

Since those contemplative sessions at my dresser, God has proven that His plan rules; I’m married.  I couldn’t possibly imagine being my utmost self without being married to my husband.  Yet, this Scripture seems to stand at the gates of Heaven and wag its finger at me: “All the single ladies (are more devout)!”

St. Paul, there’s no doubt that you’re a great man of God.  You said you wanted your spiritual children to live without anxiety.  I get that; I’ve got anxieties.  But the thing is: I’ve got anxieties about the things of the world AND the things of God.

There are clear reasons why I would be more anxious about worldly things vs. an unmarried virgin, who shares material things with her community.  I get that.

But I wish your words didn’t seem to say that I am LESS likely to seek the path to Heaven.  I wish your words didn’t seem to scoff at my ability to live a holy life.  (It’s tough already!)  As a matter of fact, my husband and our marriage pour graces on me that draw me closer and closer to salvation…

…and I don’t see that happening as quickly, or as tenderly, in an alternate universe wherein I’m single.

I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

I feel like this is a cop-out, St. Paul.  You’re saying that I should take your advice and be aware that I’m going to be anxious about material things whilst married?  How is this breaking news?  Instead, I feel like you’re telling me that I’m more likely to fail at life.  I respectfully disagree.  Marriage is absurdly helpful to my spiritual life.

A couple of months ago, I stopped wrestling with this passage, because I realized that it was not going to change, or suddenly fly off the pages of Bibles internationally.  I try to give St. Paul the benefit of the doubt, and keep climbing the stairway to Heaven.

(Did you like that last reference? Yes, irony. Stay classy, my friends.)

"Marriage of the Virgin" by Pietro Perugino, 1504.
“Marriage of the Virgin” by Pietro Perugino, 1504.

The Frightening Reality for Modern Christians

It is often said nowadays that the present century thirsts for authenticity. Especially in regard to young people it is said that they have a horror of the artificial or false and that they are searching above all for truth and honesty.

These “signs of the times” should find us vigilant. Either tacitly or aloud — but always forcefully — we are being asked: Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live? The witness of life  has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching. Precisely because of this we are, to a certain extent, responsible for the progress of the Gospel that we proclaim.

– Blessed Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 76