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Are women considered inferior to men in Christianity?

A common misbelief about Christianity is that women are considered inferior to men. By exploring one of Jesus' most beloved followers, St Mary Magdalene, we look at the reality behind the myth.

The Life of Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’s most faithful followers, together with some other women who supported him financially (Lk 8:2-3). She is mentioned over 12 times in the Gospels, which is much more than many of the Apostles. Jesus had cast seven demons out of her (Mk 16:9; Lk 8:2). Because of this, later generations saw her as a penitent sinner, possibly a prostitute, who came to Jesus for forgiveness, and washed his feet with holy oil (Lk 7:36-50). However, there is no proof that this is the same Mary.

Female Presence

Unlike the great majority of the male Apostles, Mary Magdalene stood firmly at the feet of Jesus’s cross at the moment of his greatest agony. She was accompanied by two other women called Mary, one of them surely the mother of Jesus.

Jesus was ‘born of a woman’, Scripture says (Gal 4:4). And now he died in their comforting and prayerful presence. After his resurrection, he did not show himself first to the 12 Apostles, but instead turned to the women who came to care for him even in his death. The scene of Jesus meeting with Mary Magdalene in the garden of the tomb is very beautiful and powerful (Jn 20:1-18). Jesus made her a key apostle, who was chosen to bring the news of his resurrection to the 12 Apostles!

Mary’s Power

God clearly gave a great responsibility to women like Jesus’s mother and Mary Magdalene. Unfortunately, in the history of the Church this has not always been acknowledged. Thankfully, today the awareness is growing that we need to rebalance responsibility within the Church. Both women and men are part of God’s creation, and of the Church community. Each of the sexes have their strengths and weaknesses. All of these are needed in our community. We need to recognise both the absolute equality of value, and pay attention to the natural differences as created by God. In the end it is about God calling people for specific tasks in the Church. And these tasks are different for every individual.

Great Contribution

Pope John Paul II called Mary Magdalene the ‘first witness of the resurrection’ (21 May 1997). Pope Francis referred to her as the ‘apostle of the new and greatest hope’ (17 May 2017). Her role as an apostle is different from that of the male Apostles, but surely not less important. The testimony of someone who was as close to Jesus as she must have been very powerful. Throughout the ages there have been many female missionaries who have done great work for the proclamation of the gospel, precisely because of their passion and love for him. And think of the women scientists, teachers, world leaders, sisters, heroic mothers, politicians… The role of women can definitely not be considered inferior to that of men. Not in any way! Not in society and not in the Church! Much can still be improved, though. May Mary Magdalene’s example inspire our Church structures to uphold the equality of women and men, while taking advantage in the positive sense of the great contribution of women, with respect for their mutual difference. What contribution can you give?

“I have come to free you”

‘Jesus calls her: “Mary!”: the revolution of her life, the revolution destined to transform the life of every man and every woman begins with a name which echoes in the garden of the empty sepulchre. The Gospels describe Mary’s happiness. Jesus’s resurrection is not a joy which is measured with a dropper, but a waterfall that cascades over life. Christian life is not woven of soft joys, but of waves which engulf everything. You too, try to imagine, right now, with the baggage of disappointments and failures that each of us carries in our heart, that there is a God close to us who calls us by name and says to us: “Rise, stop weeping, for I have come to free you!”’

[Pope Francis, General Audience, 17 May 2017]

Women and men have equal importance in the eyes of God and the Church, and are called to be great apostles. Equal treatment is imperative, while recognising their different qualities.

This blog is extracted from our book Online With Saints. This book offers a virtual encounter with hundreds of saints from all around the world and all paths of life, linking their inspirational stories to real-life modern questions and providing answers.

To learn more about how the lives of the saints can answer contemporary questions, order your copy of Online With Saints.

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