So began a day titled “The Valiant Woman” and led by Dr Lauretta Baker rsj at St Joseph’s College, Lochinvar, on Saturday 30 June. The day was the outcome of a collaboration between the local contact group of the Council for Australian Catholic Women (CACW) and the Catholic Women’s League Australia (CWLA).
Sr Lauretta began by examining Jesus’ attitude to women as shown through the gospels. Clearly, Jesus approached women with love and respect, going far beyond the mores of the day. Women were among his closest disciples. He ignored the restrictions of ritual impurity in favour of compassion; he spoke respectfully to foreign women; he expressed concern for widows; he condemned the power of men to divorce without notice or reason; he was sometimes in dispute with men regarding women.
In summary, Jesus vigorously promoted the dignity and equality of women in the midst of a very male-dominated society and a religious tradition (Judaism) that had clearly defined roles for women (and men).
In spite of the frustration of many, as Ellen Hazelton, Chair of the local CACW contact group, said, “We’re still here, tying ourselves to Jesus, although it would be easier not to do so.”
While there can be a perception that popes have not always been vocal about the dignity and gifts of women, Sr Lauretta pointed out statements of Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI that challenged that perception…however, as she said, “We preach justice but practise injustice.”
And then there’s Pope Francis!
The church of which Pope Francis both dreams and writes is, in the words of the hymn we sang, “Fresh as the morning…” Lauretta described the Pope’s first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: The joy of the gospel as “the statement of a free man, freeing us to dream” ‒ and encouraged us to read it!
Mary of Nazareth – rather than “Our Lady” ‒ was presented as an example par excellence of the valiant woman, although regrettably, we’ve successfully ‘unsexed’ her – just look at so many of the statues!
An insight I found particularly helpful is that the ‘twin pillars’ of Scripture and Tradition are becoming triple pillars, with ‘reflection on experience’ being increasingly recognised as valuable.
In terms of ‘where to from here’, Sr Lauretta urged her audience to ‘”Be informed, keep up to date…know what’s going on” and various avenues for doing this were suggested:
The Tablet (UK)
Lauretta also encouraged paying close attention to the language we use, particularly with regard to gender, because the words we use describe – and prescribe – our reality. She said, “I’m calling for a new translation of the scriptures.
“We live at a time when lay people are central….the greatest obstacle to innovative thinking is familiarity.”
The Plenary Council that is being prepared for currently and will begin formally in Adelaide in 2020 is an opportunity to have a voice in the Australian Church. On 22-24 February 2019, also in Adelaide, a colloquium of the Council for Australian Catholic Women will offer another opportunity, timed to feed into the 2020 Plenary Council.
Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries, Teresa Brierley, informed her audience of the Council for Mission that is coming to life in our diocese – a place for “imagining, discerning people” ‒ of changes to diocesan structures and of a diocesan synod proposed for next year, ahead of the national Plenary Council and perhaps to follow the Plenary Council.
Finally, Lauretta shared her experience of seeing a new production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, in which Joan implores, “Dare! Dare! Dare! Dare!”
Let us do likewise!
Footnote: The 14th National BBI-ACBC eConference on Wednesday 8 August from 10am-2.05pm, addresses “Synodality in Practice: Listening to the Spirit and Leading Change”. Speakers and panellists include Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Mrs Lana Turvey-Collins, Professor Massimo Faggioli, Professor Richard Lennan and Dr Gemma Cruz. Further information P 9847 0030 or email.