She Shall Crush Thy Head: 6 Examples of Women “Crushing” the Heads of Men in Scripture

Listers, in Genesis our first parents suffered a curse due to their fall into sin. One condition of the Fall was that God would place enmity between the woman and the serpent – but the phrase explaining the enmity and what will happen due to that enmity has been a matter of much debate. To wit, should it read he shall crush thy head or she shall crush thy head or even they shall crush thy head?1

Notice older translation below from the Douay-Rheims Bible:

“And the Lord God said to the woman: Why hast thou done this? And she answered: The serpent deceived me, and I did eat. And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” Douay-Rheims Bible2

Modern Catholic texts read he shall crush your head:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” RSV-CE

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” NAB3

Proponents of the prophecy reading and she shall crush often cite the strong biblical typology of women killing men by “crushing” their head. The typological pattern of a woman killing a man via “crushing” their head occurs three times in the Historical Books and five times overall in the Old Testament. The fulfillment of the prophecy comes with Mother Mary standing on Golgotha – the mount named the skull.4 Thus, you have a woman crushing the head of the serpent through the victory of Christ.5

 

And She Shall Crush: Typology in Holy Scripture

1. Jael

The debate is pertinent to the Book of Judges due to the story of Jael as a type cast of the woman “crushing” the head:

"Jael and Sisera, by Artemisia Gentileschi." Wiki.
“Jael and Sisera, by Artemisia Gentileschi.” Wiki.

Sisera, in the meantime, had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, wife of the Kenite Heber, since Jabin, king of Hazor, and the family of the Kenite Heber were at peace with one another. Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, my lord, come in with me; do not be afraid.” So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a rug.

He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink. I am thirsty.” But she opened a jug of milk for him to drink, and then covered him over. “Stand at the entrance of the tent,” he said to her. “If anyone comes and asks, ‘Is there someone here?’ say, ‘No!'”

Instead Jael, wife of Heber, got a tent peg and took a mallet in her hand. While Sisera was sound asleep, she stealthily approached him and drove the peg through his temple down into the ground, so that he perished in death. Then when Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, I will show you the man you seek.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg through his temple.6

 

2. The Tower & Abimelech

“The biblical account of the Battle of Thebaz begins in the middle of the siege. Already, Abimelech has taken most of the city and comes upon a heavily fortified tower. The civilians head towards the top of the tower while he fights his way through. Abimelech successfully fights most of the way towards the tower, however he was struck on the head by a mill-stone thrown by a woman from the wall above. Realizing that the wound was mortal, he ordered his armor-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, so that it might not be said he had perished by the hand of a woman.”7

Gustave Dore, "The Death of Abimelech." Wiki.
Gustave Dore, “The Death of Abimelech.” Wiki.

And Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city, and killed the people that were in it; and he razed the city and sowed it with salt. When all the people of the Tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the stronghold of the house of El-berith. Abimelech was told that all the people of the Tower of Shechem were gathered together. And Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the men that were with him; and Abimelech took an axe in his hand, and cut down a bundle of brushwood, and took it up and laid it on his shoulder. And he said to the men that were with him, “What you have seen me do, make haste to do, as I have done.”

So every one of the people cut down his bundle and following Abimelech put it against the stronghold, and they set the stronghold on fire over them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women. Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it. 51 But there was a strong tower within the city, and all the people of the city fled to it, all the men and women, and shut themselves in; and they went to the roof of the tower. 52 And Abimelech came to the tower, and fought against it, and drew near to the door of the tower to burn it with fire. 53 And a certain woman threw an upper millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and crushed his skull. 54 Then he called hastily to the young man his armor-bearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, ‘A woman killed him.'” And his young man thrust him through, and he died.8

 

3. Head of Sheba

“When David returned to Jerusalem after the defeat of Absalom, strife arose between the ten tribes and the Tribe of Judah, because the latter took the lead in bringing back the king. Sheba took advantage of this state of things, and raised the standard of revolt, proclaiming, “We have no part in David.” With his followers he proceeded northward. David seeing it necessary to check this revolt, ordered Abishai to take the gibborim, “mighty men,” and the body-guard and such troops as he could gather, and pursue Sheba. Perceiving Amasa to be delaying his pursuit of Sheba, David appointed Abishai and Joab to join the expedition. Having treacherously put Amasa to death, Joab assumed the command of the army. Joab and Abishai arrived in the North of the nation at the city of Abel-beth-maachah, where they knew Sheba to be hiding. They besieged the city. A wise woman from the city (unnamed) convinced Joab not to destroy Abel Beth-Maacah, because the people did not want Sheba hiding there. She told the people of the city to kill Sheba, and his head was thrown over the wall to Joab.”9

Illustration from the Morgan Bible of Joab approaching Abel-beth-maachah and Sheba's head being thrown down (2 Samuel 20). Wiki.
Illustration from the Morgan Bible of Joab approaching Abel-beth-maachah and Sheba’s head being thrown down (2 Samuel 20). Wiki.

And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah; they cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart; and they were battering the wall, to throw it down. 16 Then a wise woman called from the city, “Hear! Hear! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, that I may speak to you.'” 17 And he came near her; and the woman said, “Are you Joab?” He answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Listen to the words of your maidservant.” And he answered, “I am listening.” 18 Then she said, “They were wont to say in old time, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel’; and so they settled a matter. 19 I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel; you seek to destroy a city which is a mother in Israel; why will you swallow up the heritage of the LORD?”

Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy! 21 That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David; give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” 22 Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.10

 

4. Judith

In the Book of Judith, “The story revolves around Judith, a daring and beautiful widow, who is upset with her Jewish countrymen for not trusting God to deliver them from their foreign conquerors. She goes with her loyal maid to the camp of the enemy general, Holofernes, with whom she slowly ingratiates herself, promising him information on the Israelites. Gaining his trust, she is allowed access to his tent one night as he lies in a drunken stupor. She decapitates him, then takes his head back to her fearful countrymen. The Assyrians, having lost their leader, disperse, and Israel is saved. Though she is courted by many, Judith remains unmarried for the rest of her life.”11

Judith Beheading Holofernes (1610-1620), by Cornelius Galle der Ältere - Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris).
Judith Beheading Holofernes (1610-1620), by Cornelius Galle der Ältere – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris).

So Judith was left alone in the tent , with Holofernes stretched out on his bed, for he was overcome with wine. 3 Now Judith had told her maid to stand outside the bedchamber and to wait for her to come out, as she did every day; for she said she would be going out for her prayers. And she had said the same thing to Bagoas. 4 So every one went out, and no one, either small or great, was left in the bedchamber. Then Judith, standing beside his bed, said in her heart, “O Lord God of all might, look in this hour upon the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. 5 For now is the time to help thy inheritance, and to carry out my undertaking for the destruction of the enemies who have risen up against us.” 6 She went up to the post at the end of the bed, above Holofernes’ head, and took down his sword that hung there. 7 She came close to his bed and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, “Give me strength this day, O Lord God of Israel!” 8 And she struck his neck twice with all her might, and severed it from his body. 9 Then she tumbled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts; after a moment she went out, and gave Holofernes’ head to her maid, 10 who placed it in her food bag. Then the two of them went out together, as they were accustomed to go for prayer; and they passed through the camp and circled around the valley and went up the mountain to Bethulia and came to its gates.12

 

5. Queen Esther

Gustave Dore, "Esther Accuses Haman."
Gustave Dore, “Esther Accuses Haman.”

Along with being the New Ark of the Covenant and the New Eve, Mother Mary is also the new Queen of the Kingdom. One of the key roles of the queen-mother was to intercede for her people. In the Davidic Kingdom, Bathsheba comes before the throne of her son to intercede for the people. In the New Davidic Kingdom, Mary comes before her son and intercedes for her people. In light of this queenly intercessory role, Queen Esther serves as a type of Mary, because she interceded for her people as well. It is probably due to the already strong Marian underpinnings that Esther is traditionally also listed among the women who “crushed” the head of a man. As Judith decapitates a man by severing his head from the neck, Esther intercedes and a man is hung on the gallows by his neck. It also helps that Scripture states that the plot of Haman comes “upon his own head.”

For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to crush and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his wicked plot which he had devised against the Jews should come upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.13

 

6. Mary & Golgotha

The skull of Adam at the foot of the Cross: detail from a Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, 1435. Wiki.
The skull of Adam at the foot of the Cross: detail from a Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, 1435. Wiki.

The fulfillment of the prophecy comes with Mother Mary standing on Golgotha at the foot of the Cross. “In some Christian and Jewish traditions, the name Golgotha refers to the location of the skull of Adam. A common version states that Shem and Melchizedek traveled to the resting place of Noah’s Ark, retrieved the body of Adam from it, and were led by Angels to Golgotha – described as a skull-shaped hill at the centre of the Earth, where also the serpent’s head had been crushed following the fall of man. This tradition appears in numerous older sources, including the Kitab al-Magall, the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, the Cave of Treasures, and the writings of Patriarch Eutychius of Alexandria. It is also suggested that the location’s landscape resembled the shape of a skull, and gained its name for that reason.”14

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; 24* so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the scripture, “They parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” 25* So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26* When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. 28* After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.15

 

  1. Jimmy Akin: For an in depth treatment of the languages, see Who Will Crush the Serpent’s Head? []
  2. Note on v. 15 from DRB commentary – [15] She shall crush: Ipsa, the woman; so divers of the fathers read this place, conformably to the Latin: others read it ipsum, viz., the seed. The sense is the same: for it is by her seed, Jesus Christ, that the woman crushes the serpent’s head. []
  3. Notes on v. 15 NAB – “He will strike . . . at his heel: since the antecedent for he and his is the collective noun offspring, i.e., all the descendants of the woman, a more exact rendering of the sacred writer’s words would be, “They will strike . . . at their heels.” However, later theology saw in this passage more than unending hostility between snakes and men. The serpent was regarded as the devil (⇒ Wisdom 2:24; ⇒ John 8:44; ⇒ Rev 12:9; ⇒ 20:2), whose eventual defeat seems implied in the contrast between head and heel. Because “the Son of God appeared that he might destroy the works of the devil” (⇒ 1 John 3:8), the passage can be understood as the first promise of a Redeemer for fallen mankind. The woman’s offspring then is primarily Jesus Christ.” []
  4. Golgotha: ORIGIN from late Latin, via Greek from an Aramaic form of Hebrew gulgoleth ‘skull’ (see Matt. 27:33). []
  5. Women of the Gen. 3:15 Prophecy: in Judges you have Jael and the woman who drops the millstone on Abimelech in chapter nine; the head of Seba in II Samuel 20:16; it occurs again with Judith and in the book of Esther. []
  6. 4:17-22 []
  7. Abimelech. []
  8. Judges 9:45-54. []
  9. Sheba, Son of Bichri. []
  10. II Samuel 20:15-22. []
  11. Judith. []
  12. Judith 13:2-10 []
  13. Esther 9:24-25; cf., “You will therefore do well not to put in execution the letters sent by Haman the son of Hammedatha, because the man himself who did these things has been hanged at the gate of Susa, with all his household. For God, who rules over all things, has speedily inflicted on him the punishment he deserved.” 16:17-18; also, “Three selections from the Book of Esther are used in the Mariology of the early Christian writers and in the Catholic liturgy (Est 2:16-18; C:12, 14-15, 25, 30; and 8:3-8, 16-17).” []
  14. Wiki, citing,  Mount Calvary. Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. III (New York: Robert Appleton Company). 1908. []
  15. John 19:17-30; cf., “And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).” Mark 15:22; “And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).” Matthew 27:33; Luke 23:33. []

9 Quotes on the Dignity and Value of Women in the Catholic Church

Listers, the Catholic Church has often been accused by her opponents as a misogynistic institution; however, this false accusation can be easily refuted by a careful look at what the Church actually teaches on the dignity of women. I believe that the reason for this misguided accusation streams from a faulty view of service and vocation, and the perpetuated ideal that man and woman are in competition for God’s love.

For some reason, since the Fall man and woman have been fighting this ridiculous and fruitless “battle of the sexes;” however, “in the beginning it was not so.” God created man and woman not for competition for His love, but as a service to one another as they grow in relationship with God. The song “Anything You Can Do” has become a mantra of the secular feminist movement, and it also shows that once again the secular feminist movement has completely missed the point. In this age after the Cross, there is no competition between man and woman. There is only love expressed through true vocation and the selfless act of service. Perhaps that is why they cannot understand the Catholic Church’s stance on the dignity of women. What we see as the beautiful and freeing defense of women’s exclusive and honored place in the Church as “mother” and “virgin”, the world sees only as another doctrine that limits and atrophies the abilities of women.

I personally believe that it is the secular feminist movement that is prevalent in today’s society that has enslaved modern women to be female eunuchs serving the false idol of “sexual freedom.” For me it does not make sense that to be sexually free we must deny what makes us women by prohibiting our fertility, regretting our children, and demeaning our men. To be free, women must deny what makes them inherently women? Women must begrudge themselves their distinctiveness in order to be truly free? It just does not follow. This issue, of course, cannot be completely refuted in matter of two paragraphs. For a more thorough and theological look at the Church’s teaching of the dignity of women, I ask you all take a gander at Blessed John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem. Now on to the quotes:

1. Women of Grace, Brave and Invincible

I feel an indescribable pleasure in reading the Acts of the Martyrs; but when the Martyr is a woman, my enthusiasm is doubled. For the frailer the instrument, the great is the grace, the brighter the trophy, the grander the victory; and this, not because of her weakness, but because the devil is conquered by her, by whom he once conquered us. He conquered by a woman, and now a woman conquers him. She that was once his weapon is now his destroyer, brave and invincible. That first one sinned, and died; this one died that she might not sin. Eve was flushed by a lying promise, and broke the law of God; our heroine disdained to live when her living was to depend on her breaking her faith to Him who was her dearest Lord. What excuse, after this, for men, if they be soft and cowards? Can they hope for pardon, when women fought the holy battle with such brave, and manly, and generous hearts? — John Chrysostom, Homil. de diversis novi Testamenti locis, quoted in Alice von Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, 61. 

 

2. Women Are the Reflection of Loftiest Goals of All Human Hearts

This Marian dimension of Christian life takes on special importance in relation to women and their status. In fact, femininity has a unique relationship with the Mother of the Redeemer, a subject which can be studied in greater depth elsewhere. Here I simply wish to note that the figure of Mary of Nazareth sheds light on womanhood as such by the very fact that God, in the sublime event of the Incarnation of his Son, entrusted himself to the ministry, the free and active ministry of a woman. It can thus be said that women, by looking to Mary, find in her the secret of living their femininity with dignity and of achieving their own true advancement. In the light of Mary, the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement. — Blessed John Paul II Redemptoris Mater (46)

 

3. The Church Is Primarily Feminine

The Church is primarily feminine because her primary, all-encompassing truth is her ontological gratitude, which both receives the gift and passes it on. And the masculine office, which has to represent the true giver, the Lord of the Church (albeit within the Church’s feminine receptivity), is instituted in her only to prevent her from forgetting this primary reality, to ensure that she will always remain a receiver and never become self-assertive possessor and user. From a certain point of view, the Church’s structure is primarily matriarchal and only secondarily patriarchal, although these sociological categories can be applied only in a very loose sense to the Church. We use them here because there can be a demand for ecclesiastical office only when there is a failure to appreciate the real dignity of women in the Church (as the Church). — Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Mary: The Church at the Source, page 140)

 

4.The Exclusive Male Role of Priesthood in No Way Detracts from the Value of Woman but Underscores it

In this perspective of “service”-which, when it is carried out with freedom, reciprocity and love, expresses the truly “royal” nature of mankind-one can also appreciate that the presence of a certain diversity of roles is in no way prejudicial to women, provided that this diversity is not the result of an arbitrary imposition, but is rather an expression of what is specific to being male and female. This issue also has a particular application within the Church. If Christ-by his free and sovereign choice, clearly attested to by the Gospel and by the Church’s constant Tradition-entrusted only to men the task of being an “icon” of his countenance as “shepherd” and “bridegroom” of the Church through the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, this in no way detracts from the role of women, or for that matter from the role of the other members of the Church who are not ordained to the sacred ministry, since all share equally in the dignity proper to the “common priesthood” based on Baptism. These role distinctions should not be viewed in accordance with the criteria of functionality typical in human societies. Rather they must be understood according to the particular criteria of the sacramental economy, i.e. the economy of “signs” which God freely chooses in order to become present in the midst of humanity.

Furthermore, precisely in line with this economy of signs, even if apart from the sacramental sphere, there is great significance to that “womanhood” which was lived in such a sublime way by Mary. In fact, there is present in the “womanhood” of a woman who believes, and especially in a woman who is “consecrated”, a kind of inherent “prophecy” (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29), a powerfully evocative symbolism, a highly significant “iconic character”, which finds its full realization in Mary and which also aptly expresses the very essence of the Church as a community consecrated with the integrity of a “virgin” heart to become the “bride” of Christ and “mother” of believers. When we consider the “iconic” complementarity of male and female roles, two of the Church’s essential dimensions are seen in a clearer light: the “Marian” principle and the Apostolic- Petrine principle. — John Paul II “Letter from John Paul II to Women.” (11)

 

5. The Gateway to Redemption

The feminine sex is ennobled by virtue of the Savior’s being born of a human mother; a woman was the gateway through which God found entrance to humankind. — Edith Stein (aka St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) “Vocations of Man and Woman” Essays on Woman (70)

 

6. All Women Are Called to the Religious State at All Times

Women just as men have been called to the religious state at all times. And when we consider the manifold ramifications of contemporary religious life, when we acknowledge that the extremely diverse works of charity in our times are practiced by the feminine Orders and congregations, we can see only one essential difference which still exists in reality: The actual priestly work is reserved for men. This introduces us now to the difficult and much debated question of priesthood of women.

If we consider the attitude of the Lord Himself, we understand that He accepted the free loving services of women for Himself and His Apostles and that women were among His disciples and most intimate confidants. Yet He did not grant them the priesthood, not even to His mother, Queen of the Apostles, who was exalted above all humanity in human perfection and fullness of grace. — Edith Stein (aka St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) “Vocations of Man and Woman” Essays on Woman (83)

 

7. All Women are Called to Be Mothers

Finally, woman’s intrinsic value can work in every place and thereby institute grace, completely independent of the profession which she practices and whether it concurs with her singularity or not. Everywhere she meets with a human being, she will find opportunity to sustain, to counsel, to help. If the factory worker or the office employee would only pay attention to the spirits of the person who work with her in the same room, she would prevail upon trouble-laden hearts to be opened to her through a friendly word, a sympathetic questions; she will find out where the shoe is pinching and will be able to provide relief. Everywhere the need exists for maternal sympathy and help, and thus we are able to recapitulate in the one word motherliness that which we have developed as the characteristic value of woman. Only, the motherliness must be that which does not remain within the narrow circle of blood relations or of personal friends; but in accordance with the model of the Mother of Mercy, it must have its root in universal divine love for all who are there, belabored and burdened. — Edit Stein (aka Teresa Bendecita of the Cross) “Woman’s Value in National Life” Essays on Woman (264)

 

8. The Level of Woman = The Level of Civilization

The level of any civilization is always its level of its womanhood. In as much as woman is loved, it follows that the nobler a woman is, the nobler man will have to be to be deserving of that love. That is why the level of any civilization is always its level of its womanhood. — The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen “Women Who Don’t Fail.”

 

9. Women Were Made to be Mothers

Every woman in the world was made to be a mother either physically or spiritually. Here we are not talking of physical motherhood, we are speaking of spiritual motherhood. A women in professional life is happy when she has the occasion to be feminine. The man is the guardian of nature, but the woman is the custodian of life. Therefore in whatever she does, she must have some occasion to be kind and merciful to others […] The women who does not fail in the professional life, is the woman, therefore, who manifests this feminine quality that we call equity. — The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen “Women Who Don’t Fail”

The Edith Stein Charm School: 3 Lessons from St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross on Being a Lady

In this modern society it is hard for a woman to understand precisely what it means to be a woman. Women are torn between a multitude of different theories concerning what the true feminine vocation is.

Listers, in this modern society it is hard for a woman to understand precisely what it means to be a woman. Women are torn between a multitude of different theories concerning what the true feminine vocation is. When I was younger I felt as if I was being pulled between the “Girl Power” mentality and the supposed “Make me a sandwich” mentality. I know that I hated it when my brothers teased me by saying that I should “Shut up, and know [my] role,” but I also seethed with contempt when some said to me “You go, girl!” while saucily snapping their fingers (clearly, I am a child of the nineties). None of those ideals seemed to work for me. None of these theories were enough. Being a woman had to be more than just being blindly submissive or just being intolerably proud. Both theories seemed either self-deprecating or selfish. By the time I entered college, I was confused and disgruntled because there was no clear answer for me. Then, when I decided to convert Catholicism, the whole game of feminine vocation changed for me. I was directed by my priest (Msgr. Gaalaas) to read a series of essays by Edith Stein. It was then when I started to realize that my role as a woman was to serve…the Lord. That simple truth made all the difference.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (aka Edith Stein) lived a very fascinating and tragic life. She was born a Jew and later converted to Catholicism. She received her doctorate in Philosophy in 1916. She became a Carmelite nun April 21, 1938. She was arrested by Gestapo and was sent to Auschwitz where she died in the gas chamber August 9, 1942. She was canonized May 1, 1987. Her life is very interesting and I recommend reading further on the Vatican website.

Her essays on the vocation and spirituality of women certainly can help guide Catholic women through the muddled mess of the rhetoric and pressure of modern society. She delves into the ideas of the religious and secular life in a balanced and thoughtful manner. She makes a distinction between three kinds of vocations for women:

  1. The Natural Vocation — Wife and Mother
  2. The Other Natural Vocation — Worker in the Secular Arena
  3. The Supernatural Vocation — The Consecrated Life

The following list is three reflections from one of her essays entitled “The Ethos of Women’s Professions” where she discusses the different options to fulfill the feminine vocation. You can find this essay in the book entitled Essays on Woman.¹ Now onto the 3 lessons on being a lady:

1. When in Doubt, Ask Yourself “What Would Mary do?”

Were we to present in contrast the image of the purely developed character of spouse and mother as it should be according to her natural vocation, we must gaze upon the Virgin Mary. In the center of her life stands her son. She awaits His birth in blissful expectation; she watches over His childhood; near or far, indeed, wherever He wishes, she follows Him on His way; she holds the crucified body in her arms; she carries out the will of the departed. But not as her action does she do all this: she is the Handmaid of the Lord; she fulfills that to which God has called her. And that is why she does not consider the child as her own property.: she has welcomed Him from God’s hands; she lays Him back into God’s hands by dedicating Him in the Temple and by being with Him at the crucifixion. Should we consider the Mother of God as spouse, we find a quite, limitless trust which in turn depends on limitless, trust, silent obedience, and obviously faithful communion in suffering. She does all this in surrender to the will of God who has bestowed her husband upon her as human protector and visible guide.

The image of the Mother of God demonstrates the basic spiritual attitude which corresponds to woman’s natural vocation; her relation to her husband is one of obedience, trust, and participation in his life as she furthers his objective tasks and personality development; to the child she gives true care, encouragement, and formation of his God-given talents; she offers both selfless surrender and a quiet withdrawal when unneeded. All is based on the concept of marriage and mother as a vocation from God; it is carried out for God’s sake and under His Guidance. –Page 45-46

2. A True “Liberated” Lady Lives A Eucharistic and Prayerful Life

To have divine love as its inner form, a woman’s life must be a Eucharistic life. Only in daily, confidential relationship with the Lord in the tabernacle can one forget self, become free of all one’s own wishes and pretensions, and have a heart open to all the needs and wants of others. Whoever seeks to consult with the Eucharistic God in all her concerns, whoever lets herself be purified by the sanctifying power coming from the sacrifice at the altar, offering herself to the Lord in this sacrifice, whoever receives the Lord in her soul’s innermost depth in Holy Communion cannot but be drawn ever more deeply and powerfully in to the flow of divine life, incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, her heart converted to the likeness of the divine heart

Something else is closely related to this. When we entrust all the troubles of our early existence confidently to the divine heart, we are relieved of them. Then our soul is free to participate in the divine life […] Therefore, the life of an authentic Catholic woman is also a liturgical life. Whoever prays together with the Church in spirit and in truth knows that her whole life must be formed by this life of prayer. –Page 55-56

3. A Lady is Born to Serve…the Lord

Must all women become religious in order to fulfill their vocation as women? Certainly not. But it certainly does mean that the fallen perverted feminine nature can be restored to its purity and led to the heights of the vocational ethos which this pure nature indicates only if it is completely surrendered to God. Whether she is a mother in the home, or occupies a place in the limelight of public life, or lives behind quiet cloister walls, she must be a handmaid of the Lord everywhere. So had the Mother of God in all circumstances of her life, as the Temple virgin enclosed in that hallowed precinct, by her quiet work in Bethlehem and Nazareth, as guide to the apostles and the Christian community after the death of her son. Were each woman an image of the Mother of God, a spouse of Christ, an apostle of the divine Heart, then would each fulfill her feminine vocation no matter what conditions she lived and what worldly activity absorbed her life. –Page 52

St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross, pray for us

 ¹All quotes were taken from the following book:
Stein, Edith. Essays on Woman from The Collected Works of Edith Stein Vol. 2. Washington D. C.: ICS Publications 1987.