The Franciscan workout

“What is impossible for men is possible for God.” Luke 18:27 (Moffatt)

It’s not a New Years resolution, I swear.

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I Couldn’t Stay

“After I had put on the robes and a stole,” she said,  “I just sat there and cried. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy…”  I had been casually listening-in on a conversation between two fellow Divinity School students for some time before I heard the young woman describe this moment.  From what I gathered, she is preparing for ordination in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) tradition, and currently working as an intern at a local UU church where she had, for the first time, tried on the pastor’s robes she would wear while preaching during some upcoming Sunday service.

For the first time in my life I am surrounded by women who talk openly, almost unthinkingly, about their calls to ordained ministry. Continue reading

“Vocations”

As one of my friends from college was packing up her apartment for a move, she stumbled upon an item that recalled our friendship’s beginnings. When people ask me how we met, I usually tell them that we lived in the same dorm my freshmen year, but in truth, most people, Catholic or not, could never really understand what built our friendship.

Sure, it is true that we lived in the same dorm, along with 400 other women, but we grew close because we were the odd young women who seemed to have a “special” interest in faith and spirituality. We enjoyed not only going to Mass, but actually wanted to help plan it and volunteer for events put on by our college’s campus ministry. What really brought us together, though, was that we were designated as “vocation discerners.” Many in the Catholic world constantly urged us to “seriously discern religious life.” From high school on for both us, one in the urban Midwest and the other in rural California, had little old church ladies, priests and nuns envisioning the day we would take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience long before we knew the difference between an apostolic sister and a contemplative nun. My friend was even given the worst CD-Rom ever created: “God’s Design.” This was the found item that spurred my friend’s 2,000 mile call and left us belly laughing as we relived its horrid format of a Santa Claus looking God leading the vocations discerner through an amusement park of prayers, religious life, and tips for the soon to be priest or religious. The most memorable advice included something to the effect of “After selling all of your belongings, be sure to have a farewell party with all of your family and friends because you will never see them again!”

Though well intentioned, these folks (the creators of the CD-Rom included) pushing us into religious life never gave us an alternative to being faithful and spiritual women other than becoming vowed religious. Certainly, I am not chastising anyone of those people who felt the need to tell me that I “would look great in a habit” or “make a better school teacher than the mean sister” they had in grade school, but I never once had someone say to me, “Becky, you would make a great lay ecclesial leader. We need strong and faithful women like you!” No one ever even told me that the laity have a mission of their own within the Catholic Church. It is a mission that I now realize, after years of “vocations discernment,” that I am truly called to live. I actually stumbled upon Vatican II’s beautifully written role of the laity while writing a paper in college: “The laity…are given this special vocation: to make the church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that it can become the salt of the earth…All lay people…are at once the witness and the living instruments of the mission of the church itself… [and] have the exalted duty of working for the ever greater extension of the divine plan of salvation to all people of every time and every place (Lumen Gentium, 30).”

I am certain that there are faithful women called to vowed religious life within a community, and we must support those who are discerning God’s call, especially those who are young and find it increasingly difficult as religious communities continue to age. I have been guided, mentored and loved by many of these fantastic sisters, but as a Church, we must not continue to perpetuate the notion that the only way for a woman to be a truly faithful Catholic is to become a vowed religious. We must encourage and constantly remind all people that each of us has a vocation vital to the mission and life of the Church, and when asked to “pray for vocations” also pray for passionate, devoted and faithful laity as well.

Becky Schwantes, a Minnesota native, is currently a Master of Social Work candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and has worked as a parish faith formation minister, social worker and in college campus ministry. Becky also holds a B.A. in Theology and Social Work with a minor is Social Justice and Peace Studies from the University of Portland, Oregon. Her primary areas of interest are Christian Social Ethics, Eco-Feminist Theology, Mental Health and issues of Aging. In her free time, she enjoys traveling the world, walking labyrinths, singing, and laughing with friends. Her favorite saints are Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.

Should I stay or should I go now?

The recent excommunication degree is no new news around this blog.  I’m not so interested in debating the ordination of women and excommunication; we’ve already done that.  But I do want to talk about how it affected me. Not how it affected me as a woman who feels called to the diaconate.  Not as someone who has advocated for women’s ordination and knows some of these amazing female priests. But how it affected me as Lauren. A woman born and raised Catholic who has a great love for the Church and its people, and an intense bond with all that it is (and all that I hope it will be). A Catholic woman whose church leaders, without missing a beat, took care of this little problem when it took years for them to respond to pedophilia, for example.  A Catholic woman whose church leaders just said it’s better to be a pedophile, etc. than to be a woman answering her call from God. (I’m putting words in their mouth, I know, but I’ll get to my point).  

  

I learned about a beautiful church that I fell in love with.  A church that is yet to be, but will come through the amazing teachings we have but have been kept in the books so far.  I keep asking myself if at some point hope is just naive? Do I just fear change? Or fear my deeply devout grandma? Do I fear not finding any religious or spiritual tradition that comes close to what I have now? Yes, Yes, Hell yes, and Yes. 

  

The thought of leaving my church family is sad. It is so much a part of my identity that it would be like telling me to stop being an Ivory.  It would be like many Amish youth who decide to leave their faith communities, only to lose their families as well who are not supposed to speak to them after that.  How do you go out into the world as an orphan, especially when you know you’re not? How does a father not speak to his daughter? A daughter he raised, loved, taught, formed, and was (is) proud of?

 

There are those who would love for me and others to just leave but I don’t understand that. They would handicap their selves, sacrifice an arm of the body of Christ for not complying. Rather than work on our differences and find places to incorporate everyone, we are told if we don’t like it, tough. I don’t understand how one group can claim ownership of something like our Church. 

 

So I ask, why should I stay? I’m not wanted and I’m not happy. And I don’t want the rest of my spiritual life to be about conflict; I’ve already got that with my biological family and don’t want it in my religious family too.  Furthermore, I have been asking myself for a few years if I am even called to function in my church that way, as someone who challenges from within.

  

 

The long and the short of it for me is that I’m Catholic, and probably always will be somehow.  We don’t have the ethnicity tie that those in the Jewish faith often have, but it is still in our bones.  So I ask, can a fish be anything but a fish? (I know, someone wants to say, “but women aren’t fish, only men can be fish!”).

  

Go tell them I am what I am. They’ll recognize that from somewhere.