Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ October prayer intention for the laity, and especially women, in our Church.
We open our reflections this month with a reminder of Pope Francis’ prayer intention: That by the virtue of baptism, the laity, especially women, may participate more in areas of responsibility in the Church.
There is much to consider in this call to prayer. We can pray that all Catholics will live in cooperation with the graces and in response to the call they received at their Baptism. This alone would go far towards solving many of our world’s problems. However, Pope Francis asks us to focus on the laity and in particular, on women. So, as women religious, let us consider the role of woman in today’s Church.
In 1995 Pope John Paul II, in his Letter to Women, wrote: “A certain diversity of roles is in no way prejudicial to women. If Christ, by his free and sovereign choice, attested to by the Gospel and by the Church’s constant Tradition-entrusted only to men the task of being an “icon” of his countenance as “shepherd” and “bridegroom” of the Church through the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, this in no way detracts from the role of women, or for that matter from the role of the other members of the Church who are not ordained to the sacred ministry, since all share equally in the dignity proper to the “common priesthood” based on Baptism.”
So, we see that women are not “second class citizens” of the Kingdom, but rather citizens of this Kingdom who have been given a particular work. So, then what is this role of women in the Church? St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, formerly Edith Stein, declared, “The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what women are.” God created woman uniquely, with gifts that are needed in God’s family. It may be good for us to ponder what we are that informs our service in the Church.
In St. Francis’ Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he sings out in many praises of Mary in various images. We says: “Hail His Palace! Hail His Tabernacle! Hail His Dwelling!” All of these relate to the concept of being a home for the Great God. Mary had the privilege of living this reality in a physical way, but we are similarly called to nurture, give birth to, and reveal the presence of God in our world. As the “palace of Jesus”, we recognize Him as King and source of our power. As the “tabernacle of Jesus”, we know and proclaim His holy Presence—a Presence He himself planned, willed and instituted. We are to be that vessel of gold. Gold is the most precious substance we can provide for this tabernacle. We bring the best of our own giftedness with which to craft a place for the Lord. As the “dwelling of Jesus” we can recall the humble homes Jesus inhabited in Bethlehem and Nazareth. In this image we recognize our own simplicity, but also our ability to shelter and welcome the Lord in His many manifestations.
St. Francis goes on to proclaim, “Hail His robe!” The robe is close to the skin, is close to our God. This is our place. We are to remain close to Jesus, in the privileged position of clothing His invisibility with visibility before those who see us.
Next, Francis says, “Hail His Servant! Hail His Mother!” What is a mother other than a servant to her family? She gives life in so very many ways. She serves in so many capacities. This is our calling within the Church. We are to serve the Body of Christ today. We are to give life in our presence and in our work among the People of God.
As we continue to delve into the Bishops’ pastoral letter, Open Wide Our Hearts, we read their reflection on the task of doing justice. Here the Bishops write, “We are meant to love God with our whole being, which then overflows into love for our neighbor. ‘Whoever loves God must love his brother.’ (1Jn. 4:21)” This ability to love with the whole being goes to the root of who we are created to be by God. It is in our very nature to communicate the blessing of love to those
around us. If we can accomplish this without exception, then we will have given a great gift to society.
This month will be a time to pray for all members of the laity, but also to contemplate our own God-given role as women in the Church. Let us not seek for what is not ours, but rather give thanks for the privilege of serving, of nurturing and let us carry out these tasks with love. The Legendary Ingramettes are a singing group that shares traditional spirituals and Gospel songs. In reflecting on their own upbringing in dignified poverty they say, “You will never be judged for what you don’t do with what you don’t have, but rather what you do with what you have.” Let us bring all that we have done with what we have before the Lord this month.