(pic: St Theresa of Avila;
middle-St Thérèse of Lisieux;
bottom right- St Catherine of Sienna)
WOMEN: SET THE CHURCH ON FIRE!
BY BETH DOHERTY
"We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that. This enables us to do something, and do it well."
These are the words of the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero, spoken in 1980. The words of this famed cleric make sense to me today, on International Women's Day 33 years later.
I am struck by the experience of being a woman in the Catholic Church in Australia and the world, and the profundity that words of a converted Church leader have for me today.
It is an interesting time to be a woman in the Church. It is a time for reflection and prayer, as always. It is a time for questioning – and some things are not always easy to understand or accept. However, more positively, it is a time where, at least in this country, women can make our voices heard in many ways.
Women's participation in the Catholic Church more generally is at a crucial time, too. The election of the new Pope will have significance for more women than men, as women practice more than men in this Church.
So, what do the Archbishop's words have to say to us as Catholic women today?
We can't do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that, and this enables us to do something, and do it well.
In Australia, women make up in excess of 61.1 per cent of mass attenders. Women are now chancellors in dioceses and make up the majority of teachers in Catholic schools. We have a female Prime Minister, a female Governor-General and in Canberra where I live, a Canberra chief minister.
While it is true that women cannot do everything in this Church, neither can men. The Church cannot continue without women for obvious biological reasons. But on a spiritual level, women's attentiveness to the voice of the spirit seems to me to be keeping the Church alive in this country.
Recently, my girlfriends and I have been celebrating many aspects of our Catholic womanhood. We've been joking around ahead of the conclave that we should have a party to coincide with the event. We are being facetious of course, but all jokes aside, we are all quite passionate about what happens in this Church, and the part we might play in it.
We won't be dressing in red or sending billowing smoke up the chimney. Truth is, none of us have a chimney because they aren't great for the environment and red isn't really my colour.
However, we will be praying deeply for the Church.
We will be praying for the Holy Spirit's breath to enter into the Sistine Chapel over these days ahead, but more importantly even, for God's spirit to permeate the Church in the world.
The other night, I heard the passionate testimony of Lulu Mitshabu of Caritas Australia. The Africa programs coordinator told her story of fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo, a place called the worst place on earth to be a woman.
Leaving with nothing but the clothes on her back and her two daughters, aged six and four, she walked for two days to cross the border into Zambia.
It was her faith in God that sustained her and she shares testimony of this today. She made a promise to God that if she could escape her situation, that she would dedicate the rest of her life to improving the situation for Congolese women.
She has done that, and she is a shining example of Christian womanhood.
So, on an imperfect planet where women still do two thirds of the world's work, where women are exploited sexually, where their reproductive capacity is placed ahead of their humanity, and when violence is still prevalent, I have hope.
My hope is in God, as was the hope of three women doctors of the Church, indeed, these doctors were three women who at times struggled with hierarchy, but integrated this into their womanhood and faith and brought about positive, feminine change.
I am inspired by these quotes of these three women, as well as those words of Archbishop Romero which give an impetus to remain, seeking God's grace in this Church, and promoting a very genuine call to leadership that women have.
"God gave us faculties for our use; each of them will receive its proper reward. Then do not let us try to charm them to sleep, but permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher." (Saint Teresa of Avila)
"In trial or difficulty I have recourse to Mother Mary whose glance alone is enough to dissipate every fear." (Saint Thérèse of Lisieux)
"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." (Saint Catherine of Siena)
As women (indeed as men) we can’t do everything, though we do a lot. We are life givers and bearers. So, this international women’s day, let our freedom be in doing what we can to build up the Body of Christ and playing out part – and we will indeed set the world (and the Church) on fire.
Beth Doherty is media director for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
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