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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Monica Doumit: What Catholic women want

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Women touch the monstrance holding Christ, above, during the Catholic Women’s Network retreat last weekend. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
The church teaches an ‘abundance’ model of womanhood, where our gifts and experiences aren’t opposed to our faith. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

In last week’s column, I wrote about a worldwide survey of Catholic women that found they were desirous of reform in the Church. I said that it began from a “deficit” model, where it assumed that women were unhappy and asked what they wanted changed, rather than seeking to elicit positive responses.

I pondered what it would have been like if the survey had asked questions that asked women what they loved about the Church and about their Catholic faith. This past weekend, my question was answered at the biannual Sisterhood Conference.

The conference brings together Catholic women from across the country. It is an event run by women, for women. The only men around were priests celebrating Mass, exposing the Blessed Sacrament for Eucharistic Adoration or hearing confessions, and a couple of guys in the music ministry. Otherwise, it was just the ladies.

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What struck me first was the age range of women present. The youngest attendees were 16, and the oldest were in their 80s. Some mums attended, together with their teenage daughters, others with their newborn babies. The women sat comfortably alongside one another at talks and at meal time, united by their common faith and love for Christ and the church.

Across the weekend, there were talks on scripture and prayer, on motherhood and mindset. There was something for every woman, regardless of their age, vocation or stage in life.

“We were encouraged to dive into the depths of scripture, to prioritise prayer in busy schedules, and to ask the Holy Spirit to give us what we need to live the call …”

The theme of the conference was “Deeper” and encouraged all attendees to be more intentional about our relationship with Christ.

We were encouraged to dive into the depths of scripture, to prioritise prayer in busy schedules, and to ask the Holy Spirit to give us what we need to live the call that God has placed on our lives.

“I know you’re not at this conference because you want to be mediocre. You’re here because you know that God has a great plan for your life,” one of the speakers told us.

We were told again and again that the world was in need of our gifts and invited to be bold in asking for the forgiveness, the courage, the love and all the other graces we need to be able to offer ourselves more fully to the Lord.

We were reminded that we should not turn our noses down at the mundane tasks either.

Archbishop Fisher OP blesses a woman and her unborn child at the annual Mass for Pregnant Women. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“The young boy might have given his lunch to Jesus for the miracle of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish, but his mum would have made his lunch. The next monotonous task you do could be God’s next miracle,” one speaker said.

We were also exhorted to encourage each other and build each other up, to name the self-critical things we tell ourselves, and reminded that these messages don’t come from the God who loves us, but from the enemy who wants to see us fail.

Although the schedule was packed, it was a life-giving and refreshing weekend. One of the most refreshing things about it was that it began with an abundance model of the role of women in the Church, rather than a deficit one.

The difficulties encountered by women were not brushed over, nor were we expected to hide our vulnerabilities. Even so, we were not made to feel like they were outside our control.

At no point was it suggested that the all-male priesthood or the bogeyman of clericalism were holding us back.

“The talks on marriage and natural fertility were well attended, and there was a palpable sense of joy in the women there.”

In fact, the generosity and service of our priests was on full display, with priests coming from Sydney, Canberra and Wollongong to hear confessions, some of them for three hours straight!

Not one person said the biggest thing holding them back from being who God called them to be was a lack of governance roles for women in the church.

There was not widespread rejection of the church’s teaching on life, marriage or sexuality, although there were some frank but beautiful private discussions about the challenges these presented.

The talks on marriage and natural fertility were well attended, and there was a palpable sense of joy in the women there.

What a contrast to the “extensive” study of women reported last week. What a gift and grace for the church in Australia. What a sign of hope. Thanks be to God.

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