The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us “Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God”, writes the Office for the Participation of Women's Andrea Dean. Source: ACBC Media Blog.
Last week, Brisbane’s Sunday Mail carried the headline “Brisbane girls’ schools go gender-neutral”.
The story, perhaps intended to sensationalise, was about how these schools would refer to God during prayer.
As the director of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Office for the Participation of Women, my opinion was sought and I was happy to comment on the positive move by these schools.
You see, I have a page of cartoons that depict caricatures of a “God figure” on a cloud. Some have God acting like a policeman who notices when we do wrong and shakes a finger. God is depicted as a puppeteer who controls our lives by pulling strings, a disconnected figure who does not care to intervene in our times of need, and so on.
These limited images are inadequate for adult Christian faith, but often – simply by default – we find ourselves ascribing characteristics to God in order to make sense of the mystery.
Boston College professor of theology Thomas Groome wrote in 1991 about the importance of using gender-inclusive language in worship. Others, such as the Archdiocese of Adelaide in 1992, released guidelines for liturgy, so this is not a new debate.
In the Bible, there are a number of metaphors for God that explain how God engages with the world such as wind, powerful and invisible, and breath, source of life. God, as rock, suggest God endures and protects; God, as fire, suggests God warms and purifies.
A common Christian metaphor for God is Father. The biblical roots of the term describe an intimate father who is nearby and who may be trusted to give good gifts to his children. Sometimes God is described as mother, creating and nurturing. The wisdom of God is personified as a woman, Sophia.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church cautions us “Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about God is equally so … Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God.”
God is beyond human comprehension and beyond human language.
Jesus entrusted the disciples with the fundamental Christian prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, and with a profound way of naming God: Father. This prayer has been passed down through the ages and is celebrated in the Catechism as the summary of the whole Gospel, the most perfect of prayers and the quintessential prayer of the Church.
A statement of principles from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (2001) affirms: “Calling God Father and Lord must remain in Catholic liturgical prayer, but should be balanced with other non-gender-specific forms of address.”
Thus, we also draw on rich scriptural images for God to convey something of the mystery and compassion of God. I would argue that, therefore, the move of these girls schools is an extremely positive theological step. They are by no means the first to make a move such as this.
Scripture offers rich imagery of God’s nature (ACBC Media Blog)