BY JOCELYN COLLEN | DECEMBER 15, 2016
At the 2016 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ), I witnessed the culmination of over a year’s worth of planning. Right in front of me was a confirmation that Catholic Women Preach is worth every single hour that our steering committee has invested in our dream. We have not created this project for us, but for the entire Church. We are committed to preaching the Gospel as widely as possible.
I was extremely honored to present Lifting Up Women’s Voices in Proclaiming the Gospel, an IFTJ breakout session, with my fellow steering committee member Betty Anne Donnelly. As the session began, I was completely speechless when I realized we were running out of chairs, and people began to sit on the floor or stand.
Our attendees created a list of ways that one might be able to use the Catholic Women Preach preaching videos. Our brainstorming brought forth twelve dynamic ideas. We stopped when the page ended for the sake of time, but it felt like we only scratched the surface; there are so many ways to pray with Sunday scripture reflections.
We discussed the ways that Catholics are already hearing women preach the Gospel today. We heard stories of women presiding at communion services, teaching classes, reflecting in campus ministry, leading theological reflections, presiding over faith sharing groups, celebrating at a liturgy camp, praying together in women’s religious faith communities, running academic centers, and leading Catholic communities without an ordained minister. We acknowledged that women in our lives can preach the Gospel with their daily actions.
We asked our attendees to share their hopes are for women in the Catholic Church, to describe their vision for Catholic women in the future, leading to more than twenty minutes of inspired sharing. The overwhelming message was that women have gifts for our Church, and ought to be empowered, supported, and welcomed. Our attendees were high school and college students, men and women, campus ministers, university administrators, pastoral associates, teachers, volunteers, alumni, and others. All of the hopes that were offered brought me great joy.
Some noteworthy statements included dreaming about reimagining Church governance to include more women in important decision making roles in the Vatican, using gender inclusive language when describing God, empowering women to take on leadership roles in the Church, and providing more opportunity for leadership roles for women. Attendees spoke of hopes that women will be able to preach in the context of a Mass because young people are finding it hard to feel at home in the Church.
One attendee believes that “one day women will be priests, and that should be really soon…people complain about the shortage of priests, but 50% of the population” is women. Another woman, inspired by the Teach-In for Justice said: “I feel like this whole weekend is about fighting unjust social structures and, this might be a radical thing to say, but this is an unjust social structure. This is our Church. It is counterintuitive because our Church is telling us to fight unjust social structures, but the Church is a flawed institution that needs to be fought and fixed…”
A wise woman imagined her wonderful vision for our future. She proclaimed that we all have a call and the ability now to share our gifts with the world: “…we have to create our own definitions. I want women to be empowered to fold in and fold in and fold in. You have to see that what you are doing now is essential to this Church as sacramental. It is the incarnation of the Gospel now. We do not have to wait. You are valuable now!” And we are all valuable now.
This breakout session has left me ready to continue paving the way for the Catholic Women Preach project. Our world needs to hear women’s voices preaching the Good News. In order to fully live in the light of God and preach the Gospel with our actions, we must use our gifts: not only for ourselves, but for our entire world. Our session reminded me that we must trust the still, small voices within us, and believe in our own calling to serve. We are all being invited to begin living our vocation today. Vaya con Dios!
Jocelyn E. Collen, M.Div., is a 2006 graduate of Fairfield University, and holds an M.Div. from the Boston College School of Theology & Ministry (2012). Jocelyn served as Campus Minister at Fairfield University from 2012-2015, where she coordinated International Immersion Trips and advised the Students for Social Justice (S4SJ) Club. She is currently serving as a part time chaplain in two prisons and at a school for handicapped/special needs children in Boston, MA. Jocelyn is a FutureChurch Board Member, and a member of the Catholic Women Preach Steering Committee.