BY JUDITH LYNCH
When my mother turned 70 we gave her a surprise party. She was very surprised and not particularly amused, mostly because she hadn’t had her hair done that week.
But the real surprise of that birthday was the passion it freed. In a creative, left-field kind of moment we had given her a birthday present of paints, brushes and an easel with an unspoken invitation to have a go.
Not wanting to ‘waste’ the present, she enrolled in a painting class and until her accidental death nine years later, painted every day – that is when she wasn’t playing golf. I recall her complaining in her gentle, ladylike manner what an imposition it was, having to stop painting to “get your father’s lunch”.
A passion is more than an interest. It’s only in hindsight that you recognise how it has danced you into unexpected twists and turnings. It’s got you up in the morning and plodded alongside you in the times when you wanted to be somewhere else - anywhere else.
That very male-centred gathering known as Vatican II was the catalyst which fanned my vague, birthday candle sized flame of passion for God and Church into something much bigger.
Vatican II was like a cool change after three or four Melbourne days in the high 30s. In its aftermath I attended seminars, lectures and workshops that translated the formal language of the documents into affirmation and possibilities.
“We are the Church. I am the Church” sang through every word. With dawning clarity I listened to the disquiet I was experiencing living in religious life and realised that there were other ways open to me to live out my baptismal call. So, years after all my school friends had married and moved on, I was doing things like learning to drive, renting a flat and going to job interviews.
Once, in response to a teacher’s query about my occupation, my youngest daughter replied nonchalantly, “Oh, she’s religious. She works for the Church.” And so I did. My prayer and reflection, the reading had told me that it wasn’t enough to say, ”I am the Church”. What if I meant it?
Well, I learnt quickly that it didn’t pay very well and can be quite a conversation stopper when someone asks “What do you do?” As a woman brightly responded when I replied that I was a Pastoral Associate, “It must be really nice to work on a farm. “
In the early years post Vatican II I really thought that the euphoria would last forever, that maybe we could be Australian Catholics, not tagged as RCs, that women would gradually take their place alongside men, baptising babies, anointing the sick to whom they took Communion, bringing a feminine perspective to the Sunday homilies.
Then some of our priests fell off the pedestals where we had placed them and we despaired, maybe not understanding that this had to happen, and is happening still, to give the energy of Vatican II the space to move.
Maybe the early years post Vatican II were like the honeymoon stage of a marriage when everything is exciting and filled with boundless possibilities, before the nitty gritty of teething babies, mortgage repayments and arguing parents begins to take its toll. But of course that’s when love grows up and becomes adult.
Now, forty seven years after the last Vatican II document was printed and distributed, the expectations and possibilities it opened up have become entangled in the very real costs of change. I don’t know which I find more frustrating – Church authorities who take refuge in church-speak whenever they are challenged or the indifference of the majority who take advantage of our education system.
Sometimes I have envied my mother her late-blooming passion because something like painting is so understandable and socially acceptable. Just two weeks ago a woman labelled me as “modern” because I politely declined her offer to participate in a devotion that I don’t find life-giving or even religiously healthy.
Living out of a Vatican II theology, saying one’s Yes to God in that spirit, doesn’t win one many friends these days.
But somehow, through all the challenges and frustrations of these Vatican II year, I have never quite lost the energy, the buzz, the breath of the Spirit that keeps my passion for Church alive.
As a Catholic woman I would like to have the same rights and possibilities that would be mine if I had been born male. On the picky side I would love to get rid of those funny hats that Bishops wear and I would like the conservative element to stop posting snaky responses to my occasional blogs, responses seemingly written to put this rebel, feminist woman back into her place.
Sorry boys! Vatican II opened that window and it’s staying open.
Judith Lynch is a writer who lives in Melbourne. More of her writing appears at tarellaspirituality.com
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