'We are no longer girls'

LCWR members honor outgoing past-president of LCWR Florence Deacon, left, a Franciscan sister, as the nation's largest organization of women religious transferred leadership Aug. 15 in Nashville, Tenn. Second from left is Sr. Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph, who moved from president to past president; second from right is Sr. Sharon Holland, of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who moved from president-elect to president of LCWR. Right is Marcia Allen, a Sister of St. Joseph, who became president-elect. (Dan Stockman)

Assistant editor Tracy Abeln and I were at the LCWR National Assembly staffing the NCR/Global Sisters Report exhibit booth. We were excited by all the energy around Global Sisters Report. Thanks to all who stopped by our booth to greet us, exchange ideas and establish relationships. Building networks is part and parcel of the mission of Global Sisters Report.

As exhibitors we were able to attend the major presentations. I’ll be reflecting on Nancy Schreck’s insightful and thought-provoking keynote presentation for days to come. For now, one quotation Nancy included continues to resonate with me. It’s the one by Alice Walker which provoked immediate applause:

"We are no longer girls. And to continue to act as though we are robs the world and the coming generations of our insights.”

For me, this pretty much sums up the struggle of women religious in the church. Really, all women in the church.

I’m old enough to have experienced the flowering of the women’s movement. I can still remember when I finally identified why I was feeling somewhat disoriented, alienated. My experience was not matching the messages of society. Structures and ways of operating had been designed by men, and in most arenas, men ended up establishing the norm, defining reality. We women began to awaken our consciousness and started claiming our own experience, articulating it, trusting it. I suppose in a sense it is a journey of maturing, of no longer being girls. And the journey continues with new generations of women reflecting on their experience, contributing their insights and gifts to our world.

Some would rather we remain girls. Perhaps, at times, we would prefer that ourselves. Not having to be an adult with all the responsibilities and complexities seems easier.

Just the day before Nancy gave her presentation, I was listening to Franciscan Sr. Florence Deacon, past president, introducing Sister of Saint Joseph Sr. Carol Zinn prior to her presidential address. Florence was mentioning Carol’s educational background, her previous ministries and the wide range of global issues she was involved in as Education Program Director for Global Education Associates and as her congregation’s NGO representative at the U.N. My mind started wandering to the April meeting at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with Cardinal Müller. I tried to imagine what it had been like. Did Cardinal Müller have any idea of Carol’s education and global experience? Multiply that by three to include the wealth of wisdom of Florence Deacon and Janet Mock, who were also present. I pictured Cardinal Müller reading his (now notorious) opening statement to them. How must they have felt? Like little girls being scolded? I sensed their struggle to respond with honesty and integrity, to mutually engage in dialogue as mature adults.

And then came the Gospel reading for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time about the Canaanite woman begging Jesus on behalf of her daughter. Jesus had a focused mission “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman kept crying out. Did I read this correctly? It sure sounded to me like Jesus called her a dog. Yet, she didn’t let that deter her from her faith and from seeking help for her daughter. She persisted. She responded. She called Jesus to expand the mission he was on. And Jesus recognized her great faith. Her daughter was healed.

I know the anguish and deep desire of women to bring our perspectives, insights and wisdom borne of our experience and faith to the church. Nancy challenges us “to bear witness to what we know” and to “offer our mature love” to our church and our world. The Canaanite woman speaks to us of persistence, in faith, on behalf of others.

And so, we persist, we bear witness and we offer. Will the church and coming generations be robbed?

[Jan Cebula, OSF, is U.S. liaison for Global Sisters Report.]