The Herodias Syndrome: Women, Contraception and Priestly Timidity
The priests must not surrender to this reaction, and on the contrary must remember that they -- and only they -- have the correct medicine for the wound we are discussing.
In the problem of contraception, we enter into a subject that exposes a deep intra-personal wound on the part of the woman affected: one that touches her core in a deeply personal way. What does this mean for our faithful priests?
For, in the problem of contraception, we enter into a subject that exposes a deep intra-personal wound on the part of the woman affected: one that touches her core in a deeply personal way.
Often she will almost rather suffer any other "negative" (including health complications), and take almost any risk, than expose this wound, and it underlines the importance of a true conversion experience, so that the wound can be healed definitively and the disabling "secret" safely sealed away, once and for all. This latter need, in turn (and unfortunately), exposes the neglect of priestly concern on the part of too many Catholic pastors (and a heroism of true pastoral charity on the part of a few others -- once again too few).
The Herodias story is familiar. I heard it once again at Mass. But I would like to highlight some of its more hidden features.
Herodias had been deeply shamed by her adultery with King Herod. Their carnal relations were marked by that dishonest type of deep "knowing" (cf. Gen. 4) that alone provokes deep shame, and a correspondingly deep anger when the dishonesty is exposed.
It is the woman most of all who feels this strong internal reaction, even when the man seems completely oblivious, as does Herod here. Note she was seeking "an opportunity", but for what? The opportunity had presented itself to have the apparent source of her shame eliminated and silenced once and for all. To have John the Baptizer beheaded presented just such a golden opportunity, one she had been on the lookout for. The hungry eye sees far!
That this kind of carnal shame is intuitive for women (and is the kind they experience with contraception too) also is made obvious by the fact that the daughter, no doubt tuned in to the mother's wrath, plays such a key role and is so cooperative. Even she intuits the mother's secret wound and comes to "help" her - in short, to help her not just to keep her shame secret, but to destroy its source altogether, in an attempt to forever silence it! And by using her daughter as an accomplice, Herodias could keep her shame all the more hidden since it could now portray the Baptizer as a threat to their family unit, and not just to her own emotional state.
The immediacy and haste of Herodias' daughter tell the hidden story too; there is surely urgency here: "And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter."
Notice too the element of Herodias punishing her husband the king, for she surely knew Herod would be very upset to be placed in this situation. Thus the "talking head" would not only be silenced, but would also be presented as gift to Herodias' daughter in the King's presence as a fitting outward sign by Herodias to her husband of hidden inward indignity: "See how this man can no longer expose me? See how you too must endure my provoked wrath? So you enjoyed talking to this fool the Baptizer? And at my expense? And not noticing my suffering? Now enjoy seeing his head on a platter!"
Like Lady Macbeth, she perhaps found that, unable to detach herself from her shame, she could at least detach its revealer from his own head, and force her husband to see it.
Similarly, why would the king agree to such a disproportionate and unreasonable request? Because of an oath alone? Only because he didn't want to break his word? It is more likely that Herod was all too fully aware (as men often are dimly yet strongly) of the wrath welling up in his wife.
And he acquiesced!
What does this mean for our faithful priests? For if it is true that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned (and it is), then it is certain that these priests experience this type of hidden wrath all the time, when trying to help their couples reconcile with the teaching of the Church on birth regulation.
We frequently hear that women in the congregation may politely listen to such homilies, saying nothing or perhaps limiting themselves to an icy stare, but just let a program be organized for adult formation and pastoral outreach in the parish, and they will often explode!
The priests must not surrender to this reaction, and on the contrary must remember that they -- and only they -- have the correct medicine for the wound we are discussing. This type of shame can only be cast out by a sacramental grace that effects true reconciliation, and therefore excises the shame completely, rather than burying it.
We must encourage our priests to engage themselves in this kind of pastoral work up to their eyeballs! Without it, there isn't much hope for the future. With it, we will once again have robust Catholic faith communities one day.
Dominic M. Pedulla MD, FACC, CNFPMC, ABVM, ACPh, a devout Catholic, lives in Edmond, Oklahoma with his wife Bernadette and their beautiful nine children. He is the executive director of the Edith Stein Foundation. Dr. Pedulla is an Interventional Cardiologist, Endovascular Diplomate, Varicose Vein Specialist, Noncontraceptive Family Planning Consultant, Family Planning Researcher and the Medical Director of The Oklahoma Vein and Endovascular Center.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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