Apart from the act of mothering our own children, we are often called to bring the feminine gift to many other relationships and aspects of our lives. I recognise and hope that I bring the gift of motherhood, or the feminine, to the Church in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. This aspect of church life is very much at the forefront of much that is being written, at the moment, about the movement needed in the church, particularly in leadership. For me, it feels a bit like the movement that was occurring in the 70s when Allen and I began to have our family. Men had only just begun to enter the labour ward and to take an active part in the family home – cooking, cleaning, caring for the children, washing etc. This ‘revolution’ has been slowly embraced over the past 40 years. However, in many circles, there can exist resistance and denial of an equality of the roles in family life.
In the church, the movement, transition and transformation to acknowledge and accept the graces given to the feminine - that have been evident in the equivalent social shift of roles in families - will be slow and may result in the struggle, resistance, denial, opposition, conflict and hostility.
Pope Francis has the following to say in Evangelii Gaudium:
The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because “the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace” and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures. (103)
Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. (104)
The possibility of an equal sharing in the responsibly of leadership in the church was evident when I attended the ordination on 10 May of Sonia Roulston and Charles (Charlie) Murry at Christ Church Cathedral. It was a time of great celebration and expectation. I felt privileged to be there as the whole community affirmed both candidates before they were anointed with sacred oil, signifying their role of leadership within the royal priesthood of Christ’s people. They also received a copy of the Holy Scriptures, reminding them of their duty to proclaim the Gospel and of the centrality of God’s Word, and were presented with their Pastoral Staff, symbolizing their sharing in the ministry of Christ the Good Shepherd.
Their role of service to the community is not greatly different from the responsibilities which parents take on in bringing children into the world. I am conscious that both Allen and I have been charged with nurturing the faith of our children and grandchildren and their care and love. They are sacred to us and to the God who created them. We are called to nurture them and assist in making them fully human.
It is at this stage that part of the readings, from the weekend Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, resonated with me and our call to be the face, feet, hands, voice, ears and heart of Jesus in the here and now. Jesus ascended so that we would make his presence real for all time.
Let us read these passages, contemplate upon them, and share their meaning for us in the context of God’s mission in us and through us and with us:
John baptised with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit….. but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:1-11)
I, a prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all. …..
Each of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. …..
And to some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect human; fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself. (St Paul to the Ephesians 4:1-13)
Go and teach all people my gospel. I am with you always, until the end of the world. (Matthew 28: 19-20)
And I finish this week’s message with the opening prayer from our Mother’s Day Liturgy:
God with a mother’s heart
You gather us as your children.
You comfort and warm us in your warm embrace.
When we hurt your arms enfold us.
When we are afraid your wings protect us.
When we are hungry you feed us with the bread of life.
God with a mother’s heart.
Your love surrounds and supports us.
In good times and in tough,
In the midst of joy and pain,
Always and everywhere.
You will never leave nor abandon us.
God eternal and loving one.
God with a mother’s heart.
We thank you this day,
For being part of our family.
Prayer: © Christine Sine. godspacelight.com. Used with permission of author.
Allen and I will be away on holidays for the next couple of weeks and so Louise Gannon, Helene O’Neill and John Donnelly have offered to write in my place.
Please keep praying for the place of the maternal and fraternal in the beloved mission of our God, within and outside our church. May we be one, in this week of prayer for Christian Unity, which concludes next Sunday, Pentecost Sunday.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.