Women overcoming boundaries within faith

By  Eleonore Fournier-Tombs, Catholic Register Special
  • March 1, 2009
{mosimage}Making Sense of God by Elizabeth Dreyer, Grieving with Grace by Dolores R. Leckey, Living a Spirituality of Action by Joan Mueller (St. Anthony’s Messenger Press, soft cover, $11.95 each).

“Shall we accept merely what is good from God and not accept also what is bad?” (Job 2:10).

Since he first courageously formulated it, Job’s question has been asked again and again by human beings finding it difficult to embrace pain and suffering. Catholics have found inspiration in Job’s unwavering loyalty and love for God and have tried to imitate his lack of hatred and anger.

The message hasn’t changed. The real test of a person is not to be good when it’s easy, but to be good when it’s really, really difficult. But what is being good? According to Job, it is remaining devoted to God. According to Joan Mueller, it’s alleviating the suffering of those around you. According to most Catholics, it’s somewhere between prayer and action.

St. Anthony’s Press’s new series, Called to Holiness: Spirituality for Catholic Women, explores Job’s dilemma. The three first volumes are in part personal testimonies. They are also how-to manuals on overcoming challenges in being good — good to God, good to oneself and good to one’s community.

{sa 0867168846}Making Sense of God, the introduction to the series by Elizabeth Dreyer, is a guide aimed at empowering women to be theologians, that is, to understand God and worship Him in a way that makes sense.

Grieving with Grace is a touching account of a year in Dolores Leckey’s life following the sudden death of her husband. Her reprinted diary entries highlight her struggle to come to terms with her loss as she learns about herself and explores suffering around her. Thinking back on that year, she writes:

“At first I wrote as a way of coping. But the communion I experienced included not only my husband, but friends, public figures, culture in its many forms and the social contexts in which we all live.”

Leckey’s insights will no doubt be a real comfort to any woman coping with loss. Loving and genuine, she will also appeal to anyone wanting to be inspired by the power of faith through suffering.

Finally, Living a Spirituality of Action, written by Sr. Joan Mueller, shares her experience as founder of Project Welcome, an organization providing support and services to Sudanese refugees settling in Omaha, Nebraska. Mueller encourages women to give their time to their community. She also movingly writes about her feelings of pain and discouragement as she tried to improve the lives of the refugees.

“Simply being good really isn’t that simple,” she writes. But, she adds, “A preferential option for the poor invites us to make a choice to serve another person simply because it is the right thing to do.”

This series is not only about moral choices. It is also about the meaning of Catholicism for women who for the last two millennia have typically been surrounded by male religious imagery and male leadership. It is about women who need to overcome boundaries within their own faith to fully develop as good human beings.

After all, God chose to be born a man. He really only had two choices. But His decision left its mark on generations of followers. Dreyer writes: “It requires a great deal of sweat and tears to move to more encompassing images of God that include female attributes and imagery.”

Her point is not only that human beings struggle to be close to God, but that women have a special challenge in relating to Him. While women have had many role models in the Catholic Church, the leading figures have always been men. After all, the reason that this series of books has come out is that there is a real need for women to find themselves within the church — a need for women to feel that they are not eternally second best.

What’s more, based on the first three books, this series is not so much about learning one’s place in the church as it is about creating it. It’s a practical read. If readers go through the exercises, rituals, discussions and reflection periods suggested they are going to get quite a workout for their soul — whether they’re a woman or a man.

(Fournier-Tombs works in communications for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.)

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