Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 22, 2000
Sisters urged to stand tall
Cranston tells religious women to speak out strongly on women's role in the Church
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Like the bent-over woman of the Gospel, religious women have to stand straight and take their rightful place in the "men only" section of the Church, says a local theologian.
"Proclaim jubilee! Jesus is calling us to come out from behind the screen," Notre Dame Sister Mary Lou Cranston told women religious from throughout the Edmonton Archdiocese. "Proclaim jubilee! Jesus is calling us to stand erect."
Cranston, a theology professor at St. Joseph's University College and director of the college's ethics centre, was guest speaker at the annual assembly of Council of Women Religious at Holy Cross Convent May 13.
More than 90 sisters and associates from about 35 religious congregations attended the assembly. The council was established 26 years ago to give women religious a more prominent voice in the Church.
In her speech, Cranston used the story of the bent-over woman from the Gospel of Luke to illustrate the plight of religious women today.
One day Jesus was teaching at the synagogue on the Sabbath. Then appeared a woman who was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. She had been crippled for 18 years.
When Jesus saw her, he called her over to the "men only" part of the synagogue and said, "Woman you are free from your ailment." As soon as he laid his hands on her, the woman stood up straight and began praising God.
"In many ways women, and we religious included, have been, and still are, walking around bent over," Cranston said.
"We are keeping our eyes focused on the ground immediately under our feet. We are staying on our side, behind the screen. We do not truly believe that Jesus is calling us over to the other side. We do not trust that the Spirit is calling us to stand up straight, inviting us to lead the praise."
Rather than being called forth to stand up straight, women are still being encouraged to "shuffle around bent over, to remain in our place, behind the many screens that separate us from the many arenas of activity," lamented Cranston.
"Gradually, though, we are beginning to stand up straight. Sometimes this is in response to explicit invitations. But more often it is despite opposition."
One invitation came from the Second Vatican Council, which recognized that one sign of the times was that women were beginning to claim their rightful place in the world.
Another came from Pope John Paul when in his apostolic letter On the Dignity of Women he called for recognition of the equal dignity of women and men.
Moreover, in his Letter to Women, released in 1995 at the time of the Women's Conference in Beijing, the pope publicly apologized to all women for the many ways they have been treated as second-class citizens both by the secular society and by the Church.
A year later, in his apostolic exhortation The Consecrated Life, the pope admitted the gifts of women have to be recognized and that women have to be given positions of authority and decision-making not only in secular society but also in the Church.
"But as we know, in so many ways these have been but words in documents," lamented Cranston. "The challenge for us religious women is to take these invitations and make them come alive. This is the jubilee invitation."
Cranston also spoke about the state of religious life in Canada, saying it's dying fast because it does not respond to the needs of the Church in Canada today.
As she sees it, the demise of religious life is strictly connected with the current understanding of the role of women in the Church.
"Why would a young woman today choose to enter into a structure that solemnly teaches that she can never, simply because of her gender, fully participate in the ministerial life of the Church?" she asked.
"Her society is teaching her that she has, as a woman, radical equality with men. But her Church is teaching her that she, as a woman, can never fully image Jesus Christ, and so cannot participate in the fullness of the teaching and preaching ministry of the Church."
The fact the Church is giving women a message opposite to that of society creates a "serious" ethical dilemma for religious women today, contends Cranston.
"I believe that if we are going to read, and courageously respond to, the signs of the times we as religious women have to speak out strongly about the role of women, including religious women, within the Roman Catholic Church."
As Cranston put it, women can no longer afford to "smooth over" the serious problems facing the Church today. "For too long we have been the good sisters," she noted.
What sisters need to do, stressed Cranston, is to seriously reconsider what the true role of religious women in the Church is today.
"Proclaim jubilee," she told the sisters. "Jesus is calling us to come out from behind the screen."
Most sisters liked what they heard, giving Cranston a standing ovation and a prolonged applause.
"I feel she is right on," said Sister Mary Halder, a Sister of Service. "Women are not being given credit for the gifts that they have. It's time to acknowledge their gifts and what they give to the Church."
"This is a speech from heaven," commented Coby Veeken, an associate of the Sisters of Charity of Immaculate Conception. "I believe strongly that we as women are being called by God through our Baptism to take our rightful place in the Church."
Sister Agnes McGrath, the new chair of the council, also agreed with Cranston.
"She is right on," McGrath said. "But women religious are not going around with their heads down. We are standing tall and being counted. At least we are working in that direction."