St Hedwig

Widow (entered heaven this month in 1243)

Dear Heidi,

I have always been able to speak plainly to you.  I will not stop doing so now. Your last note was utterly illogical, sacrilegious, and, well, foolish.  I am sure it was written in a moment of thoughtless rebellion spurred on by your ultra-popular and charismatic women’s studies professor.  Look, to leave the Catholic Church because it is supposedly a “bastion of unqualified misogyny run by a gaggle of repressed celibate clerics” is flat out ridiculous.  True, the Catholic Church does not ordain women to the priesthood, just as Jesus Christ didn’t ordain women to the priesthood, but is that “misogyny”? Is it even in any way discrimination?  Hardly! That’s like saying God was discriminating against men because he didn’t give them the possibility of becoming mothers. It’s a contradiction in terms. God invented the priesthood and bestowed it on the Church as a gift.  No one, either man or woman, has a right to it. But besides that, just look at the heights of sanctity and influence to which Catholic women through the ages have soared – that, my moody niece, is the proof in the pudding. You don’t need to be a priest in order to be holy or happy, so it can’t possibly be a right that everyone should demand.  Just take a quick look at today’s saint if you doubt me.

She was married to the Duke of Silesia (in Poland) and they had seven children before they made a mutual vow of continence (on her initiative).  That freed her to dedicate herself (and her money and influence) to serving the poor and mediating peace among nobles. She was remarkably successful in avoiding military conflicts through mediation, except with her own sons, who battled to wrest from each other their inheritances.  This was her greatest cross, and it taught her humility and dependence on God, but it wasn’t comfortable. She was devoted to prayer and sacrifice, and with her husband built and maintained a large number of monasteries, convents, and hospitals all over their duchy, thus encouraging not only the spread of religion, but also the spread of culture and tranquility.  She herself would often spend time in the convents she founded, and even took the habit after her husband’s death, but didn’t make any vows, as she felt God was asking her to continue distributing her wealth to aid the needy. She used to wear the same light cloak in winter as in summer, and was often caught walking through the snow barefoot. Once an abbot gave her a new pair of shoes and insisted that she wear them.  She gratefully accepted, but the next time he saw her she was barefoot again. He inquired, and she produced the shoes from under her cloak, saying “Oh I always wear them, right here!” Her charity extended to the detail, as is shown by the time she took ten whole weeks to instruct an old woman how to pray and understand the Our Father (the old lady was very old, and a very slow learner, but Hedwig’s patience and persistence won out in the end).  Towards the end of her life she was granted the graces of miracles (a blind nun was cured by Hedwig’s blessing) and prophecy (she predicted her son’s death in battle against the Tartars, and her own, even before she fell sick).

Only in heaven will we know the extent of influence this holy woman had on Europe and the world.  But glancing over her biography, do you get any impression that not being able to receive priestly ordination hindered her in the least from living a full, fruitful, fulfilling, and influential life?  And just think, she’s one of THOUSANDS of women whom the Church has raised to the highest honors. When it comes to understanding and promoting the greatness of the feminine genius, I dare say that the great Catholic women may have something to add to the debate.  And if you’re wise, you’ll give them more of a hearing than you will to disgruntled and small-minded guest speakers – no offense or disrespect meant to their sincere intentions, however.

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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