Recently I got drawn into a Facebook discussion about how downtrodden women have been throughout the ages – always at the hands of the “male patriarchy”. There was much feminist fervour of a knee-jerk kind. When I mentioned that the Jews of the Old Testament, the original “patriarchs”, also included strong women throughout their history, along with a noble tradition of “matriarchy” within the family structure, I was ignored. One kind gentleman defended me; he had visited the German places associated with Hildegard of Bingen and knew something of her life.
Feminists generally do not study history and with rare exceptions, such as the redoubtable pro-life writer and novelist, Fiorella Nash, their outlook is entirely secular. This is a great limitation in their perspective. I have just been reading Holy Handmaids of the Lord by Julie Onderko (Sophia Press), a study of certain women saints and it has struck me that if the lives of these amazing women were generally known they would force the feminist brigade to change its opinions.
Sub-titled “Women saints who won the battle for souls”, Onderko’s book selects martyrs such as SS Perpetua and Felicity, St Monica, St Faustina Kowalska, St Margaret Bosco and St Jane de Chantal to demonstrate their courage against often overwhelming odds, their faith and their perseverance. None of them were hostile to men; some were married and, like Zelie Martin and Jane de Chantal, dearly loved their husbands, their children and their family life. I was touched to read that St Monica, whose husband was both unfaithful and violent when drunk, had asked to be buried with him when she died, such was her fidelity to her marital bond.
Margaret Bosco was prepared, aged 60 and finally settled peacefully in her farmhouse with her oldest son and his family, to leave it all and travel 50 miles on foot to Turin with her son, St John Bosco, there to live a life of constant hard work and demands by the orphaned boys taken in by him until her death. St Perpetua, tossed by a mad cow in the amphitheatre in Carthage, had to harden her heart against the anguished pleas of her loving family to pay lip service to the pagan emperor, as her father begged her, “Lay aside your courage and do not bring us all to destruction.”
That all these women stood resolutely in the front line of those battling to save souls from eternal separation from God is shown in the dramatic story of St Therese of Lisieux’s prayers, as a teenager, for the conversion of a notorious murderer, Henri Pranzini, condemned to be guillotined. He had resisted all the entreaties of the prison chaplain, but just before his execution, as the chaplain later related in his prison memoirs, “He cried out in a voice choked with anguish, in a cry full of repentance and faith, “Father, bring me the crucifix” which he then kissed fervently three times, seconds before he died.
Divided into three parts, the first concerning women saints, the second on the complementary mission of women in salvation history and the third concerning Mary “the ultimate warrior woman”, which relates her influence on St Louis de Montfort, St Maximilian Kolbe and St John Paul the Great who all consecrated themselves to her Immaculate Heart, this book should be put into the hands of all the warrior feminists we know: it might prove an unusual but powerful apostolate.