TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Supporting our Mission in the World

It seems that we are being invited to really consider the place of women in our world, and in our church over the coming week.

For the last three Sundays in Lent, the Cathedral Parish, at which I worship, will be listening to the readings from Year A instead of Year B, because we have catechumens who are preparing for the Sacraments of Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil. So today, Sunday, we listened to the reading from John’s Gospel about Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42) and not the one many of you would have heard from John 2:13-25 about Jesus’ reaction to the people in the temple selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. In the Year A reading, Jesus accompanies the woman while in the Year B reading, Jesus is disrupting those gathered in the temple. I think we are called to be both accompaniers and disrupters depending on the situation.

As I listened to the reading about the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, I was conscious of the hot weather we have been having and our need for thirst-quenching water. I was also mindful of how many people around our world do not have access to clean drinking water and the Caritas, Project Compassion story of Leaia from Samoa, who did not have access to water and how, with the help of Caritas, a water tank was installed in her home to harvest rainwater. This means that her family can now have access to clean water to drink and bathe. The time that was previously spent walking to collect water in buckets from a neighbour down the street can now be used for other essential tasks and, most importantly, her children don’t have to miss out on school. School is the doorway that opens onto a better world.

I also was mindful that on Friday 1 March, communities gathered for The World Day of Prayer, which is an ecumenical Christian laywomen’s initiative. It is run under the motto “Informed Prayer and Prayerful Action”. This year, people of Palestine were responsible for the preparation of the prayer and theme. The theme was “Pilgrims of Hope”, recalling a world suffering the impacts of war, the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a climate crisis. People around the world gather on this day praying for justice and peace. The following message accompanied the prayer prepared by the Christian women of Palestine:

We call on you, sisters and brothers in every part of the world, to bear with us in love. We call upon you to unite your prayers with ours for a just and peaceful solution that would bring an end to human suffering. We call upon you to stand in solidarity with us to achieve security and peace for all people around the world.

My mind also shifted to our Sisters of Faith Dinner which is to occur this Tuesday, when most of you will be opening and reading this message. This is a yearly initiative of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Council. About 100 women, from several faith traditions, will gather in the Victor Peters Suite to listen to Rabbi Jackie Ninio, a progressive rabbi from Emmanuel Synagogue, Sydney. She believes in the centrality and importance of community, and providing a place where people feel valued, included, and treasured. At these gatherings, we inspire others to value women’s inclusion and by doing so we collectively forge a more inclusive world for women.

And this this brought me to this coming Friday, March 8, International Women’s Day, with the theme, “Inspire Inclusion”. This theme is inviting us to imagine a gender equal world - a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination; a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive; a world where difference is valued and celebrated. When women are inspired to be included, there’s a sense of belonging, relevance and empowerment.

It seems that we are being invited to really consider the place of women in our world, and in our church over the coming week. Once again, in this Sunday’s Gospel, we find Jesus stepping outside of the cultural norms of his time, conversing with a Samaritan woman at the well in the middle of the day. He encounters his own thirst and that of the woman and it is through dialogue that both he and the woman discover the deeper reality of the other. The woman allows Jesus to express his mission and Jesus allows the woman to question him and explore her own longing.

This mutual encounter with Jesus and each other is my wish for your during this week, culminating in International Women’s Day.

In the Synthesis Report – A Synodal Church in Mission from the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the of the Synod of Bishops, Section 9 is about Women in the Life and Mission of the Church. Paragraph (a) says the following:

We are created, male and female, in the image and likeness of God. From the beginning, creation manifests unity and difference, bestowing on women and men a shared nature, calling, and destiny, and two distinct experiences of being human. Sacred Scripture testifies to the complementarity and reciprocity of women and men, and to the covenant between them that lies at the heart of God’s design for creation. Jesus considered women his interlocutors: he spoke with them about the Kingdom of God; he welcomed them as disciples, as for example Mary of Bethany. These women, who experienced His power of healing, liberation and recognition, travelled with Him on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem (Lk 8,1-3). He entrusted the announcement of the Resurrection on Easter morning to a woman, Mary Magdalene.

Interlocuters are people who take part in a dialogue or conversation. Paragraph (g) and (h) then go on to say:

Where dignity and justice are undermined in relationships between men and women in the Church, we weaken the credibility of our proclamation to the world. Our synodal path shows the need for relational renewal and structural changes. In this way we can better welcome the participation and contribution of all – with lay and consecrated women and men, deacons, priests, and bishops – as co-responsible disciples in the work of mission.

The Assembly asks that we avoid repeating the mistake of talking about women as an issue or a problem. Instead, we desire to promote a Church in which men and women dialogue together, in order to understand more deeply the horizon of God's project, that sees them together as protagonists, without subordination, exclusion and competition.

I hope you have been having conversations about the invitation to respond to the Synthesis report. We are being invited to consider the question “How can we enhance the differentiated co-responsibility in the mission of all the members of the People of God?”

During the past couple of weeks, I have participated in a few spiritual conversations with members of our various diocesan councils. They have been wonderful conversations, with surprising outcomes, which will be shared as part of our diocesan response to the Australian Catholic Bishops.

And to finish this week’s message, I provide you with some words from Bishop Michael Kennedy from the March edition of Aurora:

Our Church and Diocese have been greatly humbled by our failings. We have been torn down from our mountain, which is not such a bad thing. From the mountaintop we had to shout to be heard. But from the plain, where people live, work, and play, our quiet voices can be more easily heard, understood, and accepted by others.

Let’s continue our Lenten journey by listening to our world, each other and God’s word.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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