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A young Catholic comments on the meaning of church 'participation'

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 Contents - Aug 1997AD2000 August 1997 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Mannix: A Monument to a Leader - Michael Gilchrist
Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia: an update - Michael Gilchrist
Reflection: A young Catholic comments on the meaning of church 'participation' - Lucy O'Connell

Why do we want to participate in the Church? There have been many questions asked recently, along the lines of "What are you doing?", "What more do you want to do?", "What is stopping you from doing it?" But no one has been asking the most important question: why do you want to do these things?

Do we want to hear more of the female voice? Do we wish to win for ourselves a say in the decision-making process? Do we no longer wish to be the 'excluded other' in the patriarchal male-female dichotomy? Do we want to be liberated from an outdated, patristic, inherently misogynistic structure that limits and defines us according to artificial paradigms of femininity?

Or do we want to give glory to God?

We have one of two motivations for our actions - either we are acting for ourselves, or we are acting for God. Now, if our motive is self-fulfilment, self-advancement, self-importance, then our desires are worth nothing, and the opinions that we voice in a survey such as Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia matter nothing. However, if our motivation is God, then we have to consider what it is that God wants us to possess.

Well, God wants us to possess God. He has made us for Himself, and therefore it is the pursuit of God, the pursuit of sanctity, which draws us to God, that should be, not only our primary, but our only occupation.

Now who, in all this time, in all this survey, has said a word about God? Here we are, trying to improve the Church, and apparently the great I AM is not even a consideration!

But it is holiness which will please God, it is holiness which gives great glory to God, it is holiness which will enrich the Church and draw others to her; and it is holiness which will make us happy.

One of the reasons why the Church in Australia is so full of brouhaha about issues such as women's participation is because we are losing our sense of the supernatural, of the divine, and are viewing our Church more and more as an earthly institution which will only succeed if all the votes are counted and all the voices are just as loud as one another.

But the Church is not an earthly institution, and participation does not mean being in the forefront of activity. Now if people would just be honest and say: "We want to be in the limelight, because it's fun," then I would say, "Yes, I agree, it's great fun." But people are saying, "We're not in the limelight, therefore we're not participating"; and I can only take a step back and say, "Well hold on one moment, that's not true!"

Any actor can tell us that one can be commanding the attention of hundreds of people, jumping up and down, waving arms and creating a tremendous row, while at the same time being completely devoid of any thought, emotion or meaning on the inside. But as Catholics we know that it is what is inside which counts.

Being on stage is no guarantee of our worth; it does not mean we are making a genuine contribution. It is our interiority which is the measure of our worth; it is the interior life which we must cultivate to truly mean something.

Each one of us can and must enrich the Church. This is our obligation and our privilege. But this happens, not by our doing more, but by our being more. We are not Catholic so as to be a member of the hierarchy; we are Catholics so as to get into Heaven. Let us deepen our knowledge and appreciation of sacramental grace, the Eucharist, Our Lady, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila.

Dogma, classical forms of music and liturgy, disciplinary and devotional practices all strengthen my relationship with the Church, making me more aware of the vast spiritual network of which I am a part. With the brown scapular, my prayers are linked to the entire Carmelite Order. When I pray the rosary, I may speak words which were spoken by an angel. I can move through the same liturgical seasons which nourished my favourite saints; and all of this serves to elevate and unite me more closely to God. That's participation!

I am more interested in eternal life than in being female in the nineties. Now I know that there are plenty of women who would rather talk about gender relationships than about the Beatific Vision.

However, I have been to enough parish Lenten groups to know that these are the same women who have never heard of the Beatific Vision. It is not logical to plan where Catholicism is going to go, when many of those upon which it is based have never been taught the basis of Catholicism.

Participation in the Church does not mean telling the Church where to get off. Participation means knowing, understanding and loving the truths which the Church teaches and enjoying all the wonders that the Church has to offer.

Everything else is mere excitement and frustration. The Church gives this gift to us. So instead of looking askance at it, questioning it, fiddling with it, diminishing it, why don't we get down on our knees and give thanks to God for letting us be a part of it?

Lucy O'Connell is an English Honours student at the University of Sydney and has made previous contributions to 'AD2000.' The above reflection is the edited text of Lucy's presentation at a Sydney hearing of the Participation of Women in the Catholic Church.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 10 No 7 (August 1997), p. 20

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