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Archive for July, 2008

Hello, all!

Some time ago, I listed on my blogroll a blog called “A Place at the Table.” I thought I had already written a post about it, but like so many things, I just never got around to it. Claire describes herself as “a Catholic woman defecting in place, I re-imagine a Church into social justice and gender equality.” If you haven’t visited her site yet, give it a read. Her posts are frequent and thought-provoking – she gives me a lot to think about.

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OK, this is a very old video, but it has been getting a lot of attention on YouTube lately. It is (then) 13-year old Severn Suzuki from Vancouver, BC addressing a 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development. Some on YouTube have discounted her speech because she happens to be the daughter of environmental activist David Suzuki, but I believe the speech stands by itself as a powerful indictment of the culture of greed and domination so prevalent in our world. What do you think?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “From the mouths of babes…“, posted with vodpod

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I’m writing of one of my sisters who prayed specifically for me as part of her ministry. Those of you who have been with me a while may recall a post I wrote over a year ago about Sister Dorothy Baxter, who at that time was told by doctors that they would be surprised if she was around a month later. So began what has turned out to be a very long wait for God to come for her. But now I rejoice for Dorothy, as she is finally with God as of Friday afternoon. (Click here for her obituary.)

After lunch, she went to play bingo in the Villa, and then asked to leave as she wasn’t feeling well. Within 5 minutes of returning to her room, she died peacefully in her wheelchair.

I don’t make it back to the mothership for many of the funerals of our sisters, but I changed my plans to leave here yesterday so I can stay for Dorothy’s funeral on Monday. As a bonus, I got to meet many of the young adult counselors for our Peace Camp that starts this week – they came over today for Sunday Mass and brunch, and a couple of them said to be on the lookout for friend requests on Facebook – so if any of you folks are reading this for the first time, welcome!

And Dorothy, keep up the prayers! I’ll drink a cappuccino in your honor!

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She’s baaack…

Yes, I’ve just finished a tremendously consoling retreat, after a very consoling Chapter of Elections. Life is good!

I thought in my first post after retreat, I’d share with you an image that my retreat director, Sr. P., mentioned to me during one of our sessions. I looked up this quote from Thomas Merton’s “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” and thought I’d offer it as a starting point for any sharing we might want to do with each other.

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is, so to speak, God’s name written in us…It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.

So, for me, this image is so powerful, because for me, practices such as daily prayer, annual retreat, faith sharing with others on the journey, etc, are about tending to this spark in the deepest and truest place in me. In the stresses and anxieties of everyday living, it is so easy to lose touch with this source of joy without consciously paying attention. What is hopeful to me is that many people I know have tasted this deep communion with God and do the best they can to be faithful to nurturing that spark of life in themselves and others.

I wonder what the world would be like if everyone found and tended that “virgin point” in their souls and recognized it in the others with whom they share life?

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In light of our recent and lively conversation on Women in the RC Church, I thought I’d share with you a piece I wrote for the National Catholic Reporter quite some time ago, the Nov. 18, 1994 issue, to be exact.

Enjoy!

When I was a little girl, my science teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I told her an engineer, she said, “My dear, engineering is only for boys.” When I asked why, she said girls aren’t suited to be engineers, and that’s how it always was. She encouraged me to be a nurse, a technician or a teacher.

In high school, I continued to take all the math and science courses I could, just like the boys who were going to be scientists and engineers. I did really well, and my physics teacher said it wasn’t fair but I still couldn’t be an engineer.

Even though I knew I couldn’t practice engineering, I made it my major in college. There was something fascinating about it, almost as if I were called to it. During my senior year, the men in my class, average as well as gifted, began to make plans. Companies came to recruit them, offered them on-site interviews, all expenses paid. When I went to the placement office to apply, I was told the companies were only hiring engineers and I should send my resume to companies who might need technicians.

I began to consider moving to Asia, since I knew women could work as engineers there, although very much in the minority. On the other hand, I would really miss the American culture if I moved to Asia, even if I could get a job as an engineer.

I finally settled for a job as a research assistant to a faculty member at an engineering school. There I learned even more about how such places reinforce the concept of male privilege, especially for males who are engineers. I worked hard for my supervisor and I even came up with novel approaches to unsolved problems. They later appeared in a journal article of which he was named sole author.

So I submitted a conference paper myself. My work was judged relevant and was accepted. But I was told my male supervisor would have to present the paper since women were not allowed — it was felt that if women were to speak at conferences, people might start to confuse them with engineers.

This was the last straw. A lot of the engineers at the conference agreed with me that this situation was unjust. The problem, they said, was that the president of the engineering society and some of his followers were convinced that because Einstein was male, only men could be engineers.

There was no budging them, my male friends told me. In fact, when people began to speak out about this injustice, the president declared there was to be no more discussion about the issue — it had been settled once and for all.

Sadly, I realize the engineering profession could have much more to offer society if only half the population weren’t prevented from offering their gifts as engineers. A few like me have continued to work at the fringe, doing the work of engineers without the pay or recognition. Many more either dropped out of technical careers or moved to other countries where their talents were valued.

Yet I hope that things will change when engineers are allowed to get married and have children. If that happens, eventually the president of the engineering society and his cronies may want something better for their daughters, which will make things better for all women who want to be engineers.

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Let’s keep talking

I hesitate to start a new post, as we’ve had some lively conversation on the last post about women in the Church and don’t want to cut short further discussion. Thanks, Koko, for getting it started. And please, let’s keep having engaging conversation on this or any topics.

This will probably not be as lively a conversation, as I’m just checking in to let you know why you won’t be seeing a lot of me here over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, I travel to Baden for the beginning of the second part of our Chapter, the Chapter of Elections. This is the part when we choose elected leaders we think will best move us as a congregation in the direction we articulated in the Chapter of Affairs last month. This is all done in a context of communal discernment, where we listen very deeply to the Spirit and to each other, to try to discern how God may be leading us at this time in our history.

We will end on Saturday with a new team of four women who have generously made themselves available for this ministry. My hope is that they will move boldly to encourage all of us to embrace all that we have committed ourselves to. After all, we are all leaders…we’ve been talking about non-elected leadership a lot over the past few months, which is encouraging to me.

After Chapter, I will be beginning my annual directed retreat, and that will last about a week. During that time, you won’t be seeing me interacting on this blog. If I have time, I’ll prep a few posts to appear during that week, and hopefully it will keep some conversation alive here until I finish retreat. (I’m recalling that character on Saturday Night Live who often said, “I’m all verklempt … (sniff) … talk amongst yourselves .. I’ll give you a topic ….”)

Pray for us as we enter these important days as Sisters of St. Joseph.

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Getting back to some of your suggestions for topics… This one comes from Kokopelli25:

How do you deal, as a woman, with the church’s view of women on equally valuable yet excluded from the “high-prestige” posts the church has to offer? It would certainly turn me off.

Thanks for the topic, Koko! This certainly is an issue with which many of us women religious struggle mightily (and you may have noticed that it came up in another recent post.) In a way, it comes down to whether or not one feels that the best way to bring about change is to work from within the institution. After all, the Roman Catholic church is my church, too! Johannes B. Metz writes that religious communities are

a kind of shock therapy instituted by the Holy Spirit for the Church as a whole. [Followers of Christ: the Religious Life in the Church, trans. Thomas Linton (NY: Paulist Press, 1978).]

So when sisters, either individually or collectively, attempt to call Church leaders to task on issues of justice and abuse of power, we are not necessarily being “disobedient” – we might just be being faithful to our prophetic and corrective role on behalf of the entire Church, often at great cost.

Having said that, I go back and forth sometimes between feeling I need to stay in the struggle and feeling I cannot stay in the Church. If it were not for my religious community and my parish community, I wonder if I would still be a practicing Catholic.

For an example of some of what I struggle with, read this article about Sr. Louse Lears, who has been placed on interdict by the Archbishop of St. Loius, who immediately after was transferred to Rome.

What makes it especially difficult for me personally is that to many lay Catholics who are not in religious communities and to those outside the Church, being a woman religious is perceived as being a part of the power structure, when in reality, we are often merely the recipients of draconian punishments for our “disobedience.”  (It’s even a risk for me to write this post.) I’ve often told friends that at times, it is far easier to come out as a lesbian than to come out as an RC nun. And I’m only half joking…

Still, while we women religious do not have a strong voice in the institutional power structure, we have tremendous personal and communal power, that when rooted in discerment and fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus, is desperately needed in our Church and our world. May we not be bullied into fearing to claim that God-given power for bringing about communion on all levels.

How about some of the rest of you women religious (or anyone else, for that matter)? I welcome your views – feel free to remain anonymous (and play nice) – I totally understand!

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