Editor's Note: May 17 is the feast day of Saint Junia.
I keep finding myself repeating “it’s 2016,” to my friends and family, on social media, and in my head. We read about all these things in history books that actually didn’t even happen that long ago like women “winning” the right to vote, schools being desegregated, or the first president of the United States having some melanin.
It’s 2016 and women still get paid less than men for doing the same job. People are still outraged by interracial marriages. And the #OscarsSoWhite that people of color in Hollywood aren’t getting the credit they deserve.
Some might say we’ve come so far, but it is 2016 and there is still disagreement about Junia being an apostle.
I came to Washington, D.C., to serve as a Loretto Volunteer for a postgraduate service program started by the Sisters of Loretto, an order of Catholic vowed sisters. Our mission is to work for justice and act for peace guided by the values of social justice, community, simplicity, and spirituality. For 11 months we live in community with other volunteers while practicing those values and working at non-profits in either Washington or St. Louis.
When we first arrived in D.C., there was a big sign outside the house that was colorfully painted with the word “Junia.” Our coordinator told us the house was named Junia, after the saint and apostle. At the time, it made sense for a volunteer house started by Catholics to be named after an apostle, but we weren’t exactly sure why this one in particular. Not all of us are Catholic or avid Bible readers, so after doing some research we found out how Junia was mentioned in Romans 16:7, where St. Paul says, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”
She was said to be an apostle by some but her name was completely erased and replaced by the man’s name “Junias” in some translations. Many people believed only men had the honor of being apostles, but she proves otherwise. Junia could have paved the way for women having more highly regarded positions in the Bible, but that wasn’t the case. Instead her name was changed and forgotten.
When I first read more about her I was really confused as to why it would even be an issue for Junia to be an apostle. As a Catholic, it bums me out that women can’t become priests, but I’m glad I’m not alone in advocating for that. Junia is the perfect example of how ideas get passed down subconsciously and how easily women can be pushed aside. We become so accustomed to the norm that anything different than that cannot be right. The idea of a woman being an apostle seemed so outrageous that centuries later it is still being denied.
But it’s 2016. And just as it is past time to recognize Junia as an apostle, so it is past time for women to take their place in society as equals. Just because women can vote doesn’t mean we are represented properly. Look at the ratio of men to women in government — not to mention the laws that men are pushing for without even fully understanding women’s bodies. What good is it to have the ability to vote if there aren’t enough elected officials who can properly advocate for us? We need representatives who can fully grasp how important paid maternity leave is or get that going to any public restroom shouldn’t be an issue. Now, more women than men are going to college, and yet men are still making more money.
I’m glad I’ve been around long enough to see recent changes in American society like the federal legalization of gay marriage and a woman running for president and I’m excited to see what else changes in my lifetime. We are making progress, we really are — but we can do better. And recognizing Junia as an apostle is one way to do better.
It’s 2016. Let Junia be an apostle.