14 March, 2011

Women in the Church

I was recently asked to reflect on the importance of women's spirituality opportunities from my role as a speaker and facilitor for Catholic women's events. This was the testimony I wrote for a parish facing questions about the importance of their women's events.

As Catholic women, I think we are in a unique time. In society today, more and more women are taking on the role of the spiritual head of household. They are hungry for time in the Red Tent; time with other women, time to grow, and the nourishment to feed their souls. From a Catholic standpoint we’ve spent a lot of time trying “not to loose” our Christian women because we need their service and their gifts instead of trying to inspire and offer opportunities for growth in our uniquely CATHOLIC faith. Many women are finding support in other ways like online communities and evangelical Bible studies. I believe that women who call themselves Catholic deserve more attention than we as a church are currently giving them.

From someone who has seen HUGE response to Catholic women’s programs here in Green Bay, I can say that everything we hear from women is that they need community and formation that comes from the other women in their community. There is no one who understands the experience of a woman better than another woman. In a world where we don’t have our mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunts as readily available to teach us about the faith journey of a woman, our parish community has become more important, not less, in our life journey.

When we ask women to evaluate their experiences after an event, most of our women indicate that they are still hungry. They want more. They want opportunities to learn about women in the Bible. They want evenings to gather and discuss relevant books. They want regional pilgrimages, weekend retreats, and mother/daughter opportunities. They also want to see the men in their lives be offered similar experiences. There is no lack of need in the lives of the women I serve, but a lack of supply of Catholic speakers, parishes, and dioceses that are willing and able to provide these experiences.

The women at the Red Tent event at your parish said all that needs to be said about experiences like this. At the beginning of the event each woman shared their unique reason for being there, but all of them indicating a need for growth and understanding. One woman stopped me at the lunch hour and said, “I can’t believe it’s noon already! I thought I was going to go home after lunch and get some of the stuff I thought I “needed” to get done, but I have realized through the morning that this is what I need.” And another said, “It is nice to have someone else tell me that my spiritual life is important and someone who makes time to help me grow.”

For a Church and religion that puts such an emphasis on the role of our mother Mary and relies so heavily on the day-to-day contributions of women we cannot simply leave our unique spirituality and formation to adult formation and catechesis. We need significant experiences of Christ and Christ’s community of women to continue to motivate us and by extension our families to live holy lives.

From a more practical standpoint, while there are certainly women in the local community that could be called upon to offer reflections and retreat days, it is often important to bring in speakers who are from beyond your community. Just like children are more likely to listen to the advice of adults other than their parents so are women who believe that the message being offered them isn’t tempered by the needs of their parish.

Most certainly, speakers cost money. Having spent time talking with other women who speak like I do, we do our best to balance the financial needs and limitations of the communities we serve and our need to help support our families. When you pay a Catholic speaker, you are not simply writing a check to a faceless corporation for a material or service. You are often writing a check to a Catholic family that uses the money to further support the mission of the Church. For my family, the stipend for the presentation I gave this weekend will allow my husband and me to take an extra day off this summer in order to stop and stay a day at a pilgrimage site on our way to a family vacation. It is the first of what we hope will be many trips for our young children that will define the national and international reach of their faith family.

Working for a parish I know as well as anyone the annual back and forth of balancing a budget. I know the cost/benefit analysis that surrounds every good thing that we do. I do encourage you to continue having meaningful conversations about the spiritual growth and priorities of the women in your community. John Paul II called us to a “New Feminism” and there is no better time than now to embrace that call and empower Catholic women in service of the Gospel.

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