Women of our Church, we salute you!
We stand in the light of your strength and accomplishments, your will power and determination to stand up against unbelievable odds to do God's work, to take giant strides towards the salvation of our Church and our world.
Woman has always played a major part in God's plan. When God made woman of man's rib, He formed unity. "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one." (Gen 2:24-25)
It is interesting to note that Adam, from whom Eve was taken, was placed by God into a deep sleep. Was it that Eve was to be brought forth by God Himself, of man but not by man? Could it be that God did not want Eve to be a cause of pain for Adam but a loving partner and companion?
When Eve disobeyed God's mandate not to eat the forbidden fruit, her action was to cause a reaction that not only would affect her happiness and life but that of her Adam and all generations to come. It reverberated down through the centuries, not to be overturned until, thousands of years later, another woman, a second Eve, was to make her Fiat with the words "I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your will." (Luke 1:38)
Eve's act of disobedience was to give birth to other acts against our loving God by the family of man that would follow. But God is a God of mercy, love and forgiveness, a forever God of Faithfulness to a very often unfaithful people. When I think of how lovingly God fashioned Adam and Eve, the joy He felt as He looked about at the life they would have, I cannot help grieve with Him as He, the Loving Parent saw them throw it all away. But our Compassionate God could not close the door on His Children.
To know of God's Love for woman down through the centuries, one only has to begin with the women of the Old Testament. If we listen to God's Word carefully, we see Mother Mary, the New Eve in God's promise to the serpent, of the woman whose "offspring will crush your head." (Gen 3:15) As one woman's "yes" was to lead to betrayal, God accepted another woman's "yes" to redeem that betrayal.
The echoes of the women before us resound even to the most sacred times in our lives. During the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony, one reading recalls Ruth's faithful response to her mother-in-law Naomi's plea for Ruth to leave her, "Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God." (Ruth 1:16)
Under pain of death, mid-wives disobeyed Pharaoh's order to kill all male children born to Israelite women. Because of one woman's courage, his mother, Moses was born and sent down the river in a basket. Another woman, Pharaoh's daughter, showed her strength by taking the Jewish baby Moses into her home and raising him. Because of their yes'es, the Jews were freed from the clutches of Pharaoh, and brought to the Promised Land. (Exodus 2:1-10)
In the tradition of our Jewish ancestors, for centuries women have begun the Sabbath on Friday night with the lighting of candles and recitation of prayers. The Faith of the Jews is passed on by the woman; for the children to be Jewish, the mother, not the father, must be Jewish.
Children have been taught by the mother from time immemorial. In our own modern society, the tradition is carried on. We gave a talk to a group of women in Louisiana. We said to them, "Are you aware that 85% of what is taught in your home to your children and your husband, is done by the wife? The bulk of informational material that comes into the house comes from the wife and mother."
We believe it's been part of God's plan from before the creation of man, that woman could bring us to the depths of despair, or to the heights of ecstasy. They have been given this power by God to be instruments of the greatest good, as with Mother Mary or, as in the case of Eve, the worst evil.
The focus of this book is on those who have glorified God, who have given their sisters role models to follow, reason to hold their heads high. These are women who have contributed to a heritage of which we can all be truly proud. When we began researching the lives of powerful women in the Church, living and dead, we were hoping to be able to find something in them that could be used to affirm the women of today. We really believe that women have been victims of a plot to separate them from the Church, by destroying their self worth. We were praying that something we would find could be used to lift their spirits, and let them know how important they are to the Church.
What we found was such an abundance of contributions, such a bastion of strength, such love, such example, not only in those who have lived and died, but in those who are still among us. They have all fought against the same defeatist elements, those that would destroy not only women, but the Church itself, only to rise up victoriously against the enemy, and to shine brightly in the heavens. We thought at the beginning that our major problem would be finding enough women we could hold up as examples. What we found was that there were and are so many, we have to eliminate some or there would be so many pages, and the book would be so heavy, it would be impossible to ever finish it. But how can you eliminate so many women who have made such an impact on the life of the Church? You don't. You write a second volume. We felt such an urgency to get this book out to you in the shortest possible time, we committed to a Volume II, and a Volume III, if necessary. Whatever it takes to let women know what a heritage they have in their sisters of yesterday and today, we'll undertake it.
The Lord has given us a message through this book, which we gladly pass on to you. Have faith! Go before the Blessed Sacrament and lay your problems out before the Lord. These are simple teachings that we learned in Grade School, but have either forgotten, or given up on. When the latest theories in Science or Psychology come along, we throw away the power the Lord has given us in simple things, like having faith, and appealing to Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament. But they work! They always have. They worked for Mother Thecla, St. Bernadette, Teresa of Avila, ThÇräse of Lisieux; they work today for Mother Angelica, for Sister Briege, and for all the women we're writing about in this book. Why would you think they wouldn't work for you? We hear excuses like "They (the saints) aren't relevant today!" or "It's different now!", or "Our problems are unique to our time". Think again! Read the struggles of the women in this book. Don't buy into the lie.
We have to share a little problem we have had in writing this book. It's easy to write about the virtues, the holiness and spirituality of canonized Saints like the Saints we've chosen for this first volume. It's all after the fact. The Church has already proclaimed them Saints.
We have never written about living Saints before. We talk of them often, because we truly believe that these special people are doing God's work on earth. There are times when speaking about people like Mother Angelica, Sister Briege or Mother Thecla, that we can't help putting them in the same category as the brothers and sisters before us who have been proclaimed members of the Communion of Saints.
We don't believe for a minute that Sainthood is a hit-and-miss proposition. We're all called to be Saints. It's a decision we make. Little ThÇräse of Lisieux knew for a fact that she would be a Saint, and you know the power Our Lord Jesus has given her. Penny and I maintain that we will be in the Kingdom. We probably will never be canonized, and we most likely will take a little side trip to Purgatory, but we're on our way there. We believe the Lord has called Mother Angelica, Mother Thecla Merlo, Sister Briege, and many more of the women of this world who are making a mark in the fiber of our Church, to be with Him in the Kingdom, to be Saints.
We don't mean that we're anticipating, or trying to dictate what decisions the official Church will or should make regarding the sanctity of any of us. Canonization is a gift from God given for a specific reason, which we're not required to understand. But there are Saints all around us. We have seen Sainthood in action, and met Saints in our lives. We believe the people we're writing about are some of those Saints. So bear with us when we speak of what we term "Living Saints" with a little awe. We've studied these women. We know them. They've earned the love and respect of the mystical body of Christ.
A gift the Lord has given us in researching and writing the biographies of these powerful women in the Church, is the effect they have had on the generations to come. It's nice to be able to read about attributes that the people of God, our relatives the Saints, have had in their lifetimes. We get warm and fuzzy, and a little proud of our Church when we read these stories. But warm and fuzzy do not necessarily mean power. The ladies the Lord has chosen for this first volume of Saints and other Powerful Women in the Church, have been women who have left their mark not only on the Church of their day, but on the women to follow them.
There is a cross-section of personalities of the women in this book. There is something in each of the accounts that will touch a woman of today. But in addition, we believe there is a special sister waiting for you in these pages whom you can embrace wholeheartedly, because there is so much in her that you can relate to, no matter who you are.
Because of the sensitivity of the subject matter, and the high visibility of the powerful women we have written about in this book, we have taken great care to be as factual as possible. We have enlisted the aid of many researchers more knowledgeable in the lives of these women than we. But there are times when there are blank spaces in the biographies, one-liners that tell such stories, or insights that cry out for us to go down on our knees and beg the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to fill in the gaps. At these few times, we have asked the Lord to guide us in employing the "What if" or "Dare to Dream" philosophy into our narrative.
While these instances are few and far between, they are used to bridge the gap between what is known, and what might have been. We have come to know and love these women so dearly, and have become so much a part of them, we feel justified in these few artistic licenses. We are encouraged in this by the words of author Murray Bodo in his Foreword on the life of St. Clare of Assisi1. He states,
"The story is not necessarily always factual, but to me it is true. And if you believe, as I do, that the imagination sometimes brings us closer to truth than does fact, then perhaps you can dare to believe that the imagination can also remember something history has failed to record."
We invite you now, ladies and gentlemen, to let your hearts fill with pride, as you share the joys and sorrows of your sisters, Saints and Other Powerful Women in the Church.