If we look at the Gospel stories of the Passion and death of Jesus, as well as the Stations of the Cross, we don’t see very many women mentioned. Starting with the Last Supper, we hear about a number of men: Peter, John, the other Apostles, Herod, Pilate, the chief priests, Judas, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the soldiers, Simon of Cyrene, and the thieves crucified with Jesus. We also hear about some women: the servant-girl who accuses Peter of knowing Christ, Pilate’s wife, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary of Magdala, the otherwise unmentioned Joanna and Salome, at least one other Mary, and other unnamed women.

Pope St. John Paul II has noted, as has Alice von Hildebrand, that the women of the Passion narratives stand in stark contrast to their male contemporaries. John Paul II writes in On the Dignity and Vocation of Women: “John was the only Apostle who remained faithful, but there were many faithful women…. As we see, in this most arduous test of faith and fidelity the women proved stronger than the Apostles. In this moment of danger, those who love much succeed in overcoming their fear.”

As we see, in this most arduous test of faith and fidelity the women proved stronger than the Apostles. In this moment of danger, those who love much succeed in overcoming their fear."

Alice von Hildebrand writes that “No woman was privileged to see Christ transfigured on Mount Tabor, but they were there at the Crucifixion. This is… deeply meaningful: They were not given to see Him transfigured; but they were permitted to see Him ‘bruised for our iniquities, smitten by God and afflicted.’ The apostles had fled.”

Except that… women do practically nothing in the Passion narratives. This is why it’s so intriguing to look a little closer at the women in the Passion narratives. I would argue that it’s not simply interesting, but crucial to a proper understanding of Christianity, to look closer at these women than perhaps we’re accustomed to doing, and to learn to imitate their virtues in our own lives. Below, I’ve chosen six moments in the Passion and looked for a particular virtue in each that we can learn from the women present.

1. Encouragement – Jesus meets his mother (4th Station)

The 3rd Station of the Cross: “Jesus falls for the first time”. Jesus had had no sleep the previous night, has been beaten and scourged, has begun to carry His cross, and has now been crushed beneath its weight, all the while knowing that getting up only means moving closer to more torture and, ultimately, death. Mary is helpless, watching her Son suffer so greatly. It must break her heart not to beg Him to stop all of this. All she can offer Him is her deep love and steadfast trust; she can encourage Him that He is not alone, and to keep going. When they meet, Jesus is strengthened.

2. Comfort – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus (6th Station)

Like Mary, Veronica cannot help Jesus. She can’t take on any of His physical pain, so she reaches out to make the journey even just a little bit more bearable. For a moment, she tenderly wipes away the blood and sweat falling into His eyes. She gently cleans His face where the soldiers have spit on Him. She must know this relief will only last a moment, but ultimately it’s not so much about the physical comfort as it is about the love that inspires her to give it.

3. Compassion – Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem (8th Station, Luke 23:27-31)

To have compassion doesn’t just mean to have sympathy for someone, or to feel bad for someone. It means to “suffer with” someone. The women of Jerusalem suffer with Jesus. They suffer with each other. At the same time, Jesus sees them and has compassion on them: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children”. They find strength in facing their suffering together.

Compassion... means to 'suffer with' someone.

4. Presence – “Behold your mother” (John 19)

If anyone ever had reason to become hysterical, overcome with grief, and filled with self-pity - it was Mary. But she does none of these things. She stays with her Son until His death, knowing that her presence and compassion is the only comfort she can give. And when He gives her John as her son, she accepts. In accepting this motherhood, she accepted to be the mother of the whole Church. It seems a bit strange – why now? Jesus was going to be back in a few days. And yet I think, on a spiritual level, as well as on a very human level, Jesus did not want to leave us alone, not even for a moment – not John, not Mary, and not the Church. Jesus had experienced terrible loneliness during His Passion. He knew what strength Mary’s loving presence provided, and He knew we were in desperate need of her love and support.

5. Faithfulness – Resting on the Sabbath (Mark 15:47)

That first Holy Saturday must have been torturous. Several of the women who watched Jesus die “took note of where he was laid,” but had to wait an entire day before returning to the tomb, in order to observe the Sabbath rest. They were unable to prevent Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. Now that they wanted to honor Him in death, they once again had to watch and wait, trusting God in their grief.

6. Generosity – Going to the tomb of Jesus (Luke 24:1-12)

After resting on the Sabbath, the women bring spices to anoint Jesus’ body in the tomb. There, they receive the news that Jesus has risen from the dead, and they rush off to share the good news. Because of their desire to honor Jesus even after His death, they are the first to learn that He is alive. They are the first to receive the great gift and joy of the Resurrection, and they immediately run to share it with the other disciples.

It is true of a lot of things in the Christian life that there is more there than meets the eye. The people in front of you in the Confession line? Not only are they human beings made in the image of the Creator – which alone should fill us with awe – but God wants all of you to share eternal happiness together in heaven. That annoying family who sits behind you in Mass? They’re a little reflection of the Holy Trinity here on earth. That piece of bread on the altar? Actually the God of the Universe. This is one of the great paradoxes of reality, that God reveals himself in hiddenness.

The women in the Passion narratives are models for every single Christian. So it’s not that the Gospel writers were simply bound by their own cultural norms, and therefore practically ignored the women in the Passion narratives. It’s not even necessarily that the women were too oppressed and restricted by society to do more than walk after Jesus as he carried his cross. I mean, that’s possible. But it really wouldn’t change their example of heroic virtue. If anything, it would make their example of a Christian life that much more significant.

While everyone around them seemed to be giving up or giving in to the incredible evil of that day, these women responded to suffering, not with resignation, but with courageous, defiant, and tender love.

While everyone around them seemed to be giving up or giving in to the incredible evil of that day, these women responded to suffering, not with resignation, but with courageous, defiant, and tender love.

Emily Archer

Emily Archer is a recent graduate of Baylor University, having written her undergraduate honors thesis on her three great loves: authentic feminism, faithful Catholicism, and traditional fairy tales. When not reading or writing or trying to cut down on Netflix, she works as a speech and feeding therapist in her clinical fellowship year.

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