I have written about this before. But it bears repeating.
On Monday of the fifth week of Lent we have a rather striking pair of readings which, it seems to me, demand some mention of gender justice. Yet I wonder how many people attending mass today actually hear anything of the sort. Did the homily say anything about the fact that both readings today focus on a woman who has been wronged and treated differently just because she is a woman? Were prayers offered for victims of domestic violence, or sex trafficking? Or did the prayers and the homily treat this day with these readings just like any other day?
I faced these questions myself when these readings came up during my first year of priesthood (see “Angry Mass”). My homily that day did discuss how Susanna had been wronged, sexually accosted by men who, when she rebuffed them, accused her of adultery. The men, of course, were given the benefit of the doubt, and would have succeeded in having her shamed and executed for refusing them, if not for the intervention of the prophet Daniel. God took her side against the evil men who, confident that they had all the power, treated her as if she had no dignity to be concerned with. Today of all days then, shouldn’t we encourage our fellow Christians to, like Daniel, to take up the cause of women who are still treated unequally and as if they have no dignity? I said something to that effect that first Lenten Monday, and was immediately struck after the homily that the prayers of the faithful prepared for that day said nothing of the sort! As if we hadn’t heard the readings that we had just heard!
Perhaps some hesitate though because while Susanna is innocent, and courageous in her resistance, there is no question that the woman in the Gospel reading for today is guilty of the adultery of which she is accused. Still, it’s hard to ignore that the man who was complicit in her adultery is not being threatened with the same punishment that she is, or any punishment whatsoever. Doesn’t Jesus’ intervention on her behalf in essence tip the scales aright, such that the male accusers are forced to abandon any notion that they are above reproach? (And, some have wondered whether her partner in adultery might have been among the men ready to stone her to death) Sure, it might be enough to focus on the Gospel as a statement about God’s mercy even for the guilty, and leave it at that. But I can’t help but imagine that many in the congregation, especially the women, would see that as ignoring “the elephant in the room.” Sadly, I worry that many a priest would fear that taking up this topic even for one day might risk him being labeled a “feminist”or, given Cardinal Burke’s recent comments, as somehow contributing to the “feminization” of the Church.
Perhaps a modest proposal could be offered that would make a focus on gender justice (which is indeed a concern of the Church, even if sometimes it doesn’t appear that way) more likely in our prayers and homilies on this day. Why not designate Monday of the fifth week of Lent “Gender Justice Monday,” or something to that effect? Make it a day during Lent that we can reflect on the inequities that still exist in the treatment of men and women both in our society and around the world, and a day that we can speak out against rampant crimes such as domestic violence and sex-trafficking. Maybe feeling obliged to do it for at least one day might give us the courage to talk about it more, and bring an end to the sins which have their root in the kind of attitudes that, it seems to me, God challenges in both the stories of Susanna and the woman caught in adultery.