Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 25, 2002
A Catholic Woman begins to preach
Finding The Treasure Within: A Woman's Journey into Preaching, by Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers. Novalis: Toronto. 2002. Papercover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Father Ron Rolheiser, spiritual writer and columnist, well known to readers of WCR, writes this in his Foreword to Finding the Treasure Within:
"Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers, in her autobiographical reflection . . . (about) her journey into preaching (tells a story that) parallels the journey of many women today . . . at times she was tempted towards flight or bitterness.
"She opted for neither . . . she chose a generative response, a biblical response, the slow road, the road less taken, the road that avoids both bitter self pity and passive resignation. She follows her conscience and her call, is true to herself and to her God, even as she works within the structures of her Church."
Ternier-Gommers is a Catholic woman preacher, living in North Battleford, Sask., at one time editor of Our Family magazine. She is firmly grounded in the Church she loves; though unsatisfied with the current limitations placed on Catholic women whose call it is to preach.
Most modern Catholics are unaccustomed to hearing the preached word from a woman. They might be surprised to learn that Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, for example, were preachers. It is important to recognize that there is a long tradition of women preachers in the Church.
The author's clear calling from God to preach - after undertaking her training at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon - leaves her caught in a challenging contradiction. Roman Catholic teaching prohibits the ordination of women and does not allow a woman to claim a call to preach in any formal way apart from ordination.
Her issue is not ordination, but proclamation. The choices Ternier-Gommers faced seemed limited to either deny God's call to her ministry or to deny the Church's teaching on women's ordination.
Ternier-Gommers refused to be defined by those options. She chose to stay in the Church and to preach. She follows the advice from a priest who, some years ago, advised her: "Do not worry about doors that are closed - merely walk through the ones that are open."
She has preached in her home parish; at her seminary graduation exercises; in Catholic college chapels; at regional Catholic Women's League conventions and before numerous neighbour-hood Protestant congregations.
The book is a profound theological exercise offered as a good homily should be presented - simply and straightforwardly. It is a spiritual narrative and a primer on preaching, interspersed with autobiographical sketches and generously referenced with carefully prepared and well-developed sermons. Personal journal entries and poetry enhance the material.
Read this book if you want to be challenged with mind-changing insights. Discover what the author has learned from other Christian faith traditions and how she seeks to integrate what is good into her own Catholic experience.
She studied role models from exemplary lives of the saints. Some seemed unrelated to the struggles faced by modern women. Insight came, however, after a prayerful reading of Therese of Lisieux. She learned that God can use the experience of a woman to help the Church move forward . . . so long as her driving force is love.
At a time when factions in the Church threaten to increase pain and alienation, Ternier-Gommers is a bridge-person. She is both committed to change and accepting of the way things are. As Rolheiser suggests, hers is a life-enhancing contribution.
May the readers of this book, male and female, clergy and lay, be many!
May we all rejoice that God calls women as well as men to be preachers of good news!
(Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)