My Papa’s Secret: A Response To Frank Bruni


ROME, ITALY – He had a spark in his grin.

It was 6:00 AM and I saw a flash of him as I ran past.  Yes, it was 6:00 AM and I was running for my life.  I had to make it.  I had to get to the front row.

At the papal audience, that morning.  I did not care if upon arriving I would wait seven hours without food, bathroom, or drink.  I wanted to see my Papa.  I wanted to hear his secret.

Why, you might ask, would a twenty-first century feminist want anything to do with this old man and his antiquated, patriarchal system that, as Frank Bruni in the New York Times Op-Ed stated so clearly, undervalues women?

Well, because it is the only system speaking honestly about what it means to be an influential woman of today.

Let’s be clear.  Pope Francis cares about women’s equal pay the same way he cares about the rich, lonely man in a London apartment; along with the way he cares about the poor in Bolivia.  He cares the same for each and every person because he knows the dignity of each and every person, and that that dignity is of equal value.

In the eyes of Pope Francis, the world is not a feminist world.  Nor is it a patriarchal one.  The world is God’s world.  And it is his job as Pope to care for it.

‘But, the Church should have women behind the altar!  It should look to progress, and change!  Women should be wearing Cardinal robes and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious should be accepted, all bars none!’

Frank makes his point that the Church has looked upon women as second-class citizens for centuries.  They are not allowed in positions of leadership.  They cannot work behind the altar…  So the real question is: does he have it right?  Am I nothing more than an afterthought to Pope Francis?

I made it to the front row, panting.  Arms doubled over and resting on my knees, I tried to catch my breath.  Blood was pumping through my veins and all I could focus on was the feeling that came rising from within: elation.  I had done it!  I had beaten the crowd!  I had won the front row!

Dumping my sack on the concrete floor, I quickly reserved off two of the best seats in St. Peter’s Square, and looked up.  The sky was clearing out to be a brilliant, cloudless blue.  Today, I would discover his secret.

Pope Francis steps on stage every Wednesday in the Vatican Square at 10:30 AM.  He gives a little teaching to the crowd of thousands, and then returns to the rest of his day.  Those thousands leave with a message from the heart of the pope.  A message like the one addressed to women in the 1960’s when Catholic bishops around the world came together to decide what they would do in this modern era.  Those bishops ended that Second Vatican Council with a message addressed to women: “Reconcile people to life!”

Sure, our society has paved the way for women to be recognized as equal to men in the work place.  I have an education.  I have a career.  I provide for myself.  But what happens when the clock strikes five?  The work place is not consummate of people’s lives.  At some point they have to go home.

Our progressive culture wants more for women, but solely in regards to work.  Frustrated with the Catholic Church, Frank shuns it for its refusal to allow women entrance into specific jobs within its hierarchal structure.  He too has caught our society’s impoverished view of women.  He and everyone else, it seems, except the Catholic Church – who for centuries has resolutely defined women as more than simply what they do.

The German politician, Ernst Niekisch, placed the “worker” on a pedestal last century, calling him an “imperial figure.”  Later Ernst Jünger, philosopher and writer, sketched out further the “worker-type” modern idea of what it means to be a human at one’s best.  Josef Piper describes all this in his book: Leisure, the Basis of Culture.

‘Lead the charge!  Out-work your fellow man!’

The word “work” originates from the Latin and means “not leisure.”  So, what is our goal when we stop working and are at leisure?  Jimmy Buffet tells us it is five o’clock somewhere as he meets up with friends in Margaritaville.  Am I supposed to then just work… and drink?

Pope Francis took the stage and it was time for me to hear my Papa’s Secret.  My American culture has taught me well in regards to work, but there it draws the line and teaches me no more.  Up front and center, I sat ready to learn what I am to do as a woman in the remaining aspects of my life.  In the fullness of what it means to be human: at home, in relationships, and at leisure.

He told me that life is worth living even if we do not get to “do” much.  For those who have come and gone without fame or fortune, were they of lesser value or worth?  On the contrary; no.  They too knew what it meant to be alive.  They too had a life and lived it.

Contrary to Frank, and his ilk, to truly be an influential woman does not mean to be at the top of the professional ladder – because that would mean that all women who are not there are of no influence.  But look at your own mother.  You know that is not true.

And so, you see that my Papa’s Secret does not disregard progress, the value of work, or even women’s value in the work place.  Rather, it ups the ante.  It proves that women’s power is not in her scope of professional influence but instead in the inherent influential value that comes from being a woman, and not a man.  This secret I did not want to steal.  I wanted to share it with the world.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Ashley Sheridan Fox is a director of religious education in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.  She has an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and specializes in Catechetics.  In her spare time, she writes on dating at Verily Magazine.  Follow her on Twitter @ashleyspfox.

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