BY DONELLA JOHNSTON
It is frustrating being a woman in the Catholic Church in 2012. I still find myself wondering from time to time how I manage to still be here. What exactly is it that makes me stay?
Firstly, it’s part of who I am. I was baptised into this Church and it is an essential part of my spiritual heritage. I love the Mass. I love the Gospels. I love the simplicity of the Jesus’ message of love – so simple and yet such a challenge.
I love the communion of the saints. I love the rhythm of the liturgical calendar. Seasons such as Lent and Advent remind me to slow down and think about my life and how I’m living it. I love the fellowship of other Catholic women and men. I love the beautiful retreat centres where we can go and recharge.
I love the charisms of the various orders, the Sacred Heart, Ignatian, Marian, Franciscan, Benedictine to identify a few that have left their holy fingerprints on my spirituality. I love that no matter where I travel in the world I can find a cathedral, walk in and follow the order of the Mass and be quite at home.
I can actually feel my blood pressure drop when I walk into a church. The ritual actions of blessing and genuflection are physical reminders of where I am and what I am there for. These are the Church’s great gifts.
I made a decision a number of years ago to focus on the positive aspects of my Church.
This doesn’t mean I don’t notice injustice and inequality. I do – all the time. This does annoy me and sometimes it affects the quality of my prayer – if I allow it.
It is important to turn our attention to the things that give us life, rather than those that diminish it. We are living in a watershed point in history where Catholic women are being called to play an increasingly important role in almost every aspect of life in the Church and they are stepping up to this challenge splendidly.
It is a sign of hope and a reason to celebrate that over ten years ago the Australian Catholic Bishops sought to address the concerns of women in the Church and not only commissioned the largest research project ever conducted by the Australian Church in the Women and Man: One in Christ Jesus Report on the Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia but also established an Office for the Participation of Women in the Church.
I think this demonstrates a genuine prophetic vision and a sincere receptivity to deep, reflective listening and dialogue – areas that I believe will be vital for healing and grace to occur in our wounded Church and world.
How do I encourage other women to participate in the Church? A gentle personal invitation is probably the most effective way.
A few weeks ago I was at Mary MacKillop Place in Sydney. I’d just been to Mass and was enjoying a quiet coffee in the sun. A little boy of around five came up to my table and introduced himself and asked me where I was from. We started talking and soon realised that we were not only from the same city but lived in the same suburb. Meanwhile an elderly lady sitting at a nearby table had heard our conversation and declared that she too was from the same city and joined us.
It felt like one of those grace-filled moments. Three generations of travellers connected by a thread of faith in that holy place. The little boy’s mother came over and introduced herself and I invited her to call me if she wanted to go to Mass in my parish. On Ash Wednesday morning she called and I picked her and her son up and took them to the evening service. The next weekend she came to the 6pm Mass with the rest of her family.
Sometimes I invite people to come to Mass and they look at me as if I’m bonkers, “Why would I want to do THAT – on the weekend?!” Sometimes the invitation is taken up and who knows how God’s good grace might work in their lives – or in mine?
Happy International Women’s Day! Have hope. Celebrate!
Donella Johnston is Director for the Office for the Participation of Women (OPW) and as the Executive Secretary to the Bishops' Commission for Church Ministry (BCCM).
Image: Office for the Participation of Women
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