In our Sunday reading from the Old Testament (Amos 7, 12-15) the priest Amaziah tells Amos, a poor shepherd, uneducated and without training, not to speak up in the temple at Bethel. In fact, he should leave there right away. He doesn’t have the credentials.
But the Prophet Amos replies: God calls him to speak out. That’s all the credentials he needs. Obviously, the reading is meant to support Jesus’ call of his twelve apostles in our gospel. (Matthew 6, 7-13) They’re not educated either, but God calls them.
The example of Amos can be applied to more than the twelve apostles, however. Let’s call it “The Amos Principle.” It can be applied to us all. We’ve all been called to live our faith and bring it to others.
Now Amos the prophet was a man; the apostles were all men. How about women? Let’s not forget what part they played in Jesus’ life and the part they play in the church today.
Consider some recent statistics from Rome. There are about 460,000 priests and men in religious orders in the church worldwide today. There are over 740,000 religious women. In many unsung ways, these women represent our faith to others. Do they get much recognition?
Though the gospels pay more attention to men, my guess is that more women than men supported Jesus in his lifetime.
Look at the gospels. Who was the closest to Jesus through his life? Wouldn’t it be Mary his mother? She was with him from the beginning, at his birth, in the years at Nazareth, as he suffered on the cross. She buried him in the tomb and saw him risen. St Luke says, “ She treasured all these things and kept them in her heart.” So much of what we know of Jesus comes to us from this woman.
The gospels tell of other women who believed in him. As an infant, Anna, the prophetess, sung his praises when he’s brought into the temple. The Samaritan woman (John 4,1-39) came to believe in him at the well and then brought her whole village to see him. The Syro-phoenician woman (Mark 7,24-30) calling him to help her daughter, the woman who touched his cloak in the crowd (Matthew 9,20-22), the woman who came looking for pardon for her sins represent the many women who believed in him.
When he came to Jerusalem for the feasts, Jesus must have stayed in nearby Bethany with his friends Martha and Mary and Lazarus. When Mary poured perfume on him in Bethany before his burial, Jesus says she will be remembered forever for her love, when that story is told.
In his parables you can see the high regard Jesus has for women. He praised the poor widow who gave her little coin in the temple, the woman who searched so earnestly for her lost money, the widow who looked for justice from the unjust judge.
St. Luke in his gospel speaks of the many women who followed Jesus from Galilee and actually supported him from their means. Luke names some of them: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and “many others,” (Luke 8, 2-3)
All the evangelists say that women were with Jesus during his last hours. They did not abandon him when he was taken prisoner, condemned and was crucified. His twelve disciples fled, but they didn’t. Mary Magdalen, one of his staunchest disciples, stayed with him during his passion and was the first one to go to his tomb on Easter morning. He meets her and sends her as witness and announcer of his resurrection the others. She’s called “the apostle to the apostles,” because of her faith.
The picture didn’t change in the early years of the church. True, Paul and Peter are featured in that early history, but look closely and you can see there were women with them. They were there at the beginning of the church and they have been with the church ever since.
A few days ago I took some visitors to the shrine of Elizabeth Seton on State Street in lower New York City, near the Staten Island Ferry. She is one of the founders of the Catholic Church in this country, the foundress of our system of Catholic schools and of a religious community of women, one of many, that worked tirelessly to establish the immigrant church. Not far from her shrine, Mother Cabrini cared for poor Italian immigrants who came to this country and sought their livelihood in a strange land.
We should not forget these women from our past, and we should not forget the women who belong to our church today. They have been called.