TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Our struggle with inequality

I am writing this message on the Sunday night of the long weekend, with the AFL grand final having been played on Saturday and the grand final of the NRL just having finished with the winners, the Townsville Cowboys, jubilant in their amazing win.

What thrilled me was Jonathon Thurston’s acknowledgement of his family, and the many players from this club who walked the stadium holding their young children. This looks like a family club and the children looked at home in the environment. What great role modelling for the many families who were at the game, and for those who had tuned in to watch the game in so many homes and venues across the country.

It is a timely reminder, that as many people use this long weekend to catch up with family, in Rome, the Synod on the Family has begun. I ask that you pray for the spirit to deliver to those gathered, the gift of wisdom. In our deepest core, we know that family, for us as individuals but also for the community, is central for the whole wellbeing of society. And clearly we are living in times when the traditional definition of family is being debated and challenged.

The Synod on the Family is an effort of the Catholic Church to explore the current experience of marriage and family and to offer some help. There is a need for the church to do a better job of supporting couples and families. Our diocese participated in a listening exercise earlier this year, and made a submission to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

Over the past couple of weeks the media have been covering more fully the issue of the crisis facing refugees and asylum seekers, and the destructive nature of Australian detention centres, as well as the terrible effects of domestic violence on so many individuals and their families.

The readings for this weekend invited us to reflect upon the companionship of men and women, who are made equal in the image and likeness of our God. They are designed to become one flesh, and in doing so, to commit to each other and care for each other. Unfortunately this is not the reality for many women. Many families become wounded when the relationship between the man and the woman is broken.

Joan Chittister OSB wrote a letter to Pope Francis on 19 September, while he was visiting America. She begins by applauding the Pope on his model of pastoral listening, and the hope that Pope Francis is giving the church as a place of integrity and holiness, because of his commitment to poverty and mercy to the lives of the poor. She goes on to raise two issues:

The first is the dire poverty to which you draw our attention ceaselessly. You refuse to allow us to forget the inhumanity of the barrios everywhere, the homeless on bank steps in our own society, the overworked, the underpaid, the enslaved, the migrant, the vulnerable and those invisible to the mighty of this era.

You make the world see what we have forgotten. You call us to do more, to do something, to provide the jobs, the food, the homes, the education, the voice, the visibility that bring dignity, decency and full development.

But there is a second issue lurking under the first that you yourself may need to give new and serious attention to as well. The truth is that women are the poorest of the poor. Men have paid jobs; few women in the world do. Men have clear civil, legal and religious rights in marriage; few women in the world do. Men take education for granted; few women in the world can expect the same. Men are allowed positions of power and authority outside the home; few women in the world can hope for the same. Men have the right to ownership and property; most of the women of the world are denied these things by law, by custom, by religious tradition. Women are owned, beaten, raped and enslaved regularly simply because they are female. And worst of all, perhaps, they are ignored – rejected − as full human beings, as genuine disciples, by their churches, including our own.

It is impossible, Holy Father, to be serious about doing anything for the poor and at the same time do little or nothing for women.

I implore you to do for the women of the world and the church what Jesus did for Mary who bore him, for the women of Jerusalem who made his ministry possible, for Mary of Bethany and Martha to whom he taught theology, for the Samaritan woman who was the first to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, for Mary of Magdala who is called the Apostle to the Apostles, and for the deaconesses and leaders of the house churches of the early church.

Until then, Holy Father, nothing can really change for their hungry children and their inhuman living conditions.

We're glad you are here to speak to these things. We trust you to change them, starting with the Church itself.

Fr Andrew Doohan, the Dean of the Cathedral, spoke of such inequality during his homily as well. He urged those in attendance to use their voice to speak out against the way in which women are treated. The silence of domestic ‘abuse’ must be broken, the abuse that happens behind closed doors, but also in many settings in which women find themselves.

The Newcastle Herald has run a week of articles on this situation – End the cycle of violence against Women. The following front page image spoke powerfully to me. (Newcastle Herald, 28 September)

Joan Chittister is inviting Pope Francis to address what she perceives as the root cause of many of the issues we face - the inequity in the way in which women are treated.

Pope Francis himself used the following words when he addressed the US Congress:

A nation can be considered great when it defends its liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work; the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In Philadelphia, Pope Francis explored the evangelical mission of the church, which is not a mission to try to hold onto large church buildings of past centuries, but rather hearing a personal call to go forth and show concern for others. It is a story about generation after generation of committed Catholics going out to the peripheries, and building communities of worship, education, charity and service to the larger society. He went on to say “One of the great challenges facing the church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfil that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world.”

In this month of October, the month of Mary, I invite you to consider the role of women in your life and to actively speak out for those whose voices are diminished by the inequality of age-old systems and practice. This is a good month to pray to Mary so that men and women of all faiths and cultures show respect and integrity to each other for the good of the whole of humanity and creation.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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