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Michele Marie Schumacher Thérèse, Woman in the Church Thérèse, the little flower of Lisieux and the Church's most recent (and most recently proclaimed) Doctor, hardly presents herself as a consultant for the often turbulent question regarding the role and place ofwomen in the Church. Indeed, she is far more likely to be regarded as a child than as a woman, although it has been argued that it is precisely her image as "sweet, childlike, obedient, tragic" that has made her "until recent times a cherished icon of Catholic womanhood."1 It is worth noting, moreover, that Thérèse never set out to write a theology, let alone a theology ofwomen or a treatise concerning their "place" or role in the Church, which is not to say that she does not have a serious contribution to offer to this discussion . On the contrary, this very absence bespeaks something of the nature of her contribution. Method and content form a harmonious whole for Thérèse, so that the manner in which she teaches is as much a lesson as what she has to say. Such an experiential approach reveals a certain "feminine genius," to borrow a term from Pope John Paul II.2 Concentrating upon the particularity ofher own vocation as she discerned it in a lively spirit offaith, Thérèse bypasses the often catLOGOS 3:3 SUMMER 2ooo THERESE, WOMAN IN THE CHURCH egorical and even dualistic thinking surrounding the question of "women in the Church" so as to focus upon the essential, that is to say, the much richer and deeper content ofwoman's mystery within the still greater mystery of the Church.3 What is truly amazing about the doctorate of Thérèse is not simply that it is awarded to a woman—although John Paul II does note this as significant4—butthat it raises to the level of Church teaching the content of a life experienced as a work ofgrace and a response offaith. In proclaiming her a saint, the Church judges her life as exemplary. In proclaiming her a doctor, the Church judges her teaching as exemplary. What is particular about this combination in the case of Thérèse is that her teaching is largely the story of her life, "the story of a soul," and a feminine soul at that! Simultaneously drawing from her life and doctrine as a harmonious whole, I will briefly present the challenge ofcurrent feminist theology in its confrontation with Thérèse (I), arguing (again briefly) that she breaks out ofmany ofthe stereotypes rejected by feminists as belittling women (II). This discussion will naturally lead to the question of Thérèse's desire for the priesthood and ofher amazing ability to surpass categorical, even dualistic thinking so as to regard the simultaneously personal and universal dimensions ofgrace and mission (III). Similarly, I will argue that her experimental approach, which will be presented as typifying a female manner of knowing, represents a positive contribution towards a more personal formulation of faith within the vision of the SecondVatican Council (IV). Such a vision of faith, moreover—one conceived as a gift of self to the living God who "loved us first" (i John 4: 19)—simultaneously coincides, I will maintain, with Thérèse's vision ofherself as a Bride ofChrist and with whatJohn Paul II speaks ofas the prophetic vocation ofwomen. Beyond this, her self-gift takes the form ofintercession for souls (especially priestly souls) and offaith lived in obscurity for the sake ofthose struggling to make even the most simple act of faith. This is but the beginning of Therese's vocation to spiritual i2i 26LOGOS maternity which is perhaps climaxed in the Church's declaration of her faith witness as itselfbespeaking the faith ofthe Church (VI). /. Thérèse and the challenge ofcontemporaryfeminist theology To present the story ofThérèse as exemplary for women, as revealing something ofthe role and mission ofwomen in the Church, is to beg the question that is at the very heart of the present feminist debate, namely, whether the particular manifests the universal, or even whether there is a universal at all. Is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 124-153
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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