My grade 4 teacher told us never to use the words ‘nice’ and ’got’ in our weekly compositions, and reinforced this ruling with a lot of replace-this-word exercises. I still feel a pinch of guilt every time I write either word. And I get the same feeling when Lent or some other liturgical season comes around.
For many years, actually decades, I was faithful to the seasons, feasts and devotional practices that punctuate the catholic calendar, but every year as Lent, Easter, Advent and special feast days came around, I felt that the liturgy that was on offer, accompanied by the usual rev-up letters from the Bishop’s office, were taking me back to a time in my faith journey when I probably needed to be reminded of what it meant to be a catholic and how to go about it.
Now, along with many women and men of my generation and younger, I’ve taken advantage of opportunities to learn more about scripture, to broaden my knowledge of theology. I’ve learnt about prayer and the value of silence and appreciated retreat experiences – all things that in my parent’s generation were restricted to clerics and vowed men and women religious.
Pope Francis has said that he is ‘convinced of the urgency of offering spaces for women in the Church’. Sometimes our Bishops say it too. Just in the last few weeks Clara Geoghegan has joined the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference as an executive secretary and Susan Pascoe has been named chair of the Catholic Emergency Relief Australia Advisory Council, which will coordinate the Church’s ongoing response to the current bushfire crisis and future national emergencies.
These appointments, and others like them, are slowly pushing the boundaries of Catholicism. Women like these have not only found their voice but have been offered a platform where they can be heard, to listen and speak from their womanly experience. Well, that’s what I hope.
But what about the rest of us? We’ve got a voice too, but the Church leadership either doesn’t hear it or shuts the window to keep the noise out.
We’re not asking for positions of responsibility. An inclusive liturgy would be welcome, liturgies that actually recognise that we have lives outside the church door and we long to integrate them with the God-call inside, if only we had a bit more help; maybe intercessory prayers that come from the heart and recent personal experiences, not from a book and couched in terms that better suit a theologian. There a many, many women who could speak about the Sunday Gospel without making it a holily or a sermon, but more like a reflection, something to talk about for five minutes with those in the seat behind you or across the aisle.
Simple changes like that will probably be a long time coming. I’m reminded of TV shows I’ve seen where millimetre by millimetre an archaeologist scrapes away layers of soil before reaching a bone fragment or piece of long-buried pottery. It’s comparatively easy to invite women to be part of some ecclesiastical think-tank or committee, quite another to begin to scrape away accumulated practices that over centuries have so effectively obscured how Jesus, in his dealings with women, made it clear he considered them to be equal to men.
As for that pinch of guilt! Well, when I sit out on the edge looking back to what was, sometimes I wonder, what right do I have to question my childhood faith? Just sometimes!
Judith Scully (firstname.lastname@example.org)