DD Super Fan Jane Leyden Cavanaugh distills a few key insights to open up the imagination for visionary conversations that allow us to be evangelizers of hope. She first presented “The Big Shift” at a reflection session on rethinking women’s participation in the Twin Cities. -Ellie
My name is Jane Leyden Cavanaugh, a Discerning Deacons Minnesota team member. I’ve been on this journey of Rethinking Women’s Participation in the church for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the 60’s in Nativity of Our Lord Parish in St. Paul, on long summer days, all the neighborhood kids would pile into our back yard and we’d decide what to do…
If my big brother Pete was in charge that day – we’d assemble the Cubby Club and do neighborhood cleanup projects.
If my brother Matthew was in charge – we’d play pioneers in the clump of trees on Stonebridge Ave.
If my little sister Amy was in charge – we’d have a Kool Aid stand on the corner of Cretin and Jefferson and make money.
If I was in charge – we’d head into our basement and play mass.
It was the least popular neighborhood kid activity, but that’s what I always wanted to do. When we played mass, I was in my element…. “You three are the guitar group, so sing ‘Kumbaya My Lord’ from over there… You’re the congregation, so sit here…. You? You’re the offertory helper, so go get that basket and tie it onto this tennis racket and collect money when it’s time… You do the readings… and I get to say the homily… Mom, DO WE HAVE RITZ CRACKERS FOR COMMUNION???!!!”
Fast forward 50 years and I’m still inviting people to “do church” and “be church.” I was reading this great book by Lynne Twist, “Living a Committed Life. Finding Fulfillment in a Purpose Larger than Yourself.” As I get deeper into putting skin in the game of church reform and renewal, Lynn has a lot of helpful things to say. She comments on this moment in history, a time of great change and societal transformation on all levels. In order to bring about a positive outcome, we need to reframe the narrative of what we are experiencing.
Says Lynn: “The way to transform any situation is by shifting the context – the container, the frame, the conversation about it. The vision must be clear and purposeful, powerful enough to pull us out of the trance that modern society has created, strong enough to overcome our pessimism…We need a visionary conversation for people that uplift them and connect them with their courage.”
As we experience this new synodal way of being in the Catholic Church under Pope Francis’ leadership, I’m interested in shifting our story about what’s going on in the church now. We need a Big Shift in the way we talk about the Catholic Church and our relationship to the church so that we can have a “visionary conversation for people that uplift them and connect them to their courage.”
Here is a chart I created that distills some of the ways I believe we need to make The Big Shift from an old, tired narrative to a new, energizing narrative:
A scripture verse that encapsulates the old, tired narrative is Psalm 1, verse 1: “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path that sinners tread or sit in the seat of scoffers…” Like the psalmist said, it’s time to fundamentally stop scoffing about our broken Church and start doing something, which is summed up nicely in Isaiah 6:8 “Here I am Lord, send me.”
We need to do less complaining and more praying, including the powerful prayer of lament: “I’m sad. This is not an easy time, God. Help us create a church closer to your vision of community.”
We need to leave the observer’s seat, where it is so very easy to critique “those people who are doing it wrong” and step into being a protagonist, part of the solution where we put some skin in the game.
We need to shift from being about “What I want or think needs to be done” – that’s the ego – to “What does the Holy Spirit want? Where is the Spirit taking us?”
We need to shift from interpreting the pain of the church we are experiencing as a sign of its death to wondering: “What if this pain is a sign of the church birthing something new?” Many women know the pain of the birthing process. And we also know that the new life is worth the pain.
Finally, we need to shift from believing Rethinking Women’s Participation in the church is an Us vs. Them battle. This is NOT a Girl Power Movement versus the Boys Club. That mindset is doomed to fail. Rethinking Women’s Participation in the church is something we need to figure out together.
Here is an icon of Phoebe and Paul:
Look at the symmetry and balance of this image. Look at the gesture of benediction Paul is giving Phoebe with his right hand. Paul needed and trusted Phoebe, a first century deacon at the church in Cenchrea, because he asked her to physically carry his letter to the Romans to the believers in Rome. Scripture says Phoebe was a benefactor of Paul. She financially backed his ministry in Greece. She must have had great admiration for him. Paul and Phoebe ministered together to meet the needs of the church of their time.
Two thousand years later, we need to embody the spirit of this icon. Pope Francis is calling us to walk synodally – clergy, religious and laity – to reform and renew our Church, to meet the needs of the church of our time.
Let’s make The Big Shift together. Led by the Spirit, not by our egos, I believe we are absolutely the right people at the right time with the right skills to lead our church into a new, healthy era.