St. Phoebe’s Swirling Energy

"Recíbanla, Receive Her" ©Laura James, Discerning Deacons, 2022. Used with permission.

The week of the Opening Mass for the Synod in Rome back in October 2021, Ellie and I found ourselves in an educational meeting with a member of the Dicastery for Divine Worship. We were curious to understand what the path might look like for St. Phoebe to be restored in our calendar of saints, which would give her an approved liturgy and allow Catholics everywhere the formal permission to celebrate an optional memorial on her Feast Day, September 3rd.

As we left the office of a kind Irish priest who had answered all our questions with technical precision and pastoral presence, Ellie and I looked at each other.

“Did you feel that… that swirling energy?” I asked Ellie.

YES! It’s like Phoebe was dancing around the room with us.

We both had a strong sense that part of the mission we were being called into was to lift up the name of St. Phoebe in our Church – and then, in many ways, to trust her to do the rest.

I’ve felt a similar swirling energy as we’ve watched St. Phoebe Day registrations come pouring in from across the US and beyond… As of today there are 147 local celebrations being planned (check out the map on the right!!), each marked by attentiveness to the local customs and needs of the community, while being joined together in a shared witness.

brief sampling from people’s plans offers a glimpse into what’s emerging:

  • “A weekend retreat in Australia for women and men interested in discerning for the permanent diaconate. Mass on the Saturday with our group for St Phoebe. Mass with the community on Sunday, followed by a webinar on St Phoebe.”

  • “We have selected 5 women who will be offering a witness at each of our 5 Masses on the weekend of September 9/10! Our team will meet with the selected women several times and offer advice and support for them.”

  • “Women will offer reflections on the Word and then will lead a discernment session after mass reflecting with the Instrumentum Laboris

  • “In Nigeria, the Catam goodwill ministry will present a liturgical dance procession with the statue or picture of Saint Phoebe”

  • “We plan forums (Sundays, Wednesday evenings) for education on the global synod and the history of women in the Church; bulletin inserts with reflections, a children’s/youth skit about St. Phoebe, and an evening prayer service with a woman offering a reflection.”

  • “During the entire month of September, reflections and testimonials will be shared by women about their vocation to service in the church.”

  • “St. Raphaela Center is celebrating St. Phoebe at their monthly Taize Prayer with Adoration. All are invited to join in song, reflection on St. Phoebe and women in the Church, and to enter into a space of discernment.”

  • “We are going to display St. Phoebe’s icon at the front of the church, we will have a woman do a reflection on September 3, distribute prayer cards, and of course food afterwards in the parish hall. We are continuing to have meetings to discuss.”

  • “A video reflection for the Feast of St. Phoebe on 9/3 featuring a female student or faculty member. We will offer another opportunity for a woman to preach at a school-wide worship service in September.”

  • “Our deacon will give the homily on September 3 and is committed to sharing with the whole parish about who St. Phoebe is and why we are seeking her intercession in this time, as our Church continues to walk on a synodal path of conversion and renewal for mission.”

  • “We are going to begin with an outdoor procession with 5-8 stops along the way before we enter the church. This will feature readings from the global synod reports and song. Liturgy and women preaching inside. Bonfire afterwards!”

At my own parish in Durham, the planning team has had a collaborative process to dream and plan our celebration which will include an interactive, creative component. Noting that the name “Phoebe” means “light” – everyone is invited after Mass to write the name of a woman of God who has been a light on their path, and together we will create a collective visual witness of all those who stand as Phoebe’s in our midst today – carrying the Word of God wherever it needs to go…

With gratitude for this swirling energy and the gift of coming to know St. Phoebe in our journeying together – she who asks us for help, and who has been a benefactor to many. May each of our celebrations make way for women to be received in the Lord, in a manner worthy of the saints, in each and every corner of our Church.

PS: It’s not too late to plan to do something! Here is our quick guide with some simple ideas for how you might celebrate.

If you are planning a celebration and have not yet registered it with us, please take a moment to register so we can be sure to include your event in our count!

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“I have worked alongside many lay and religious women in my ministry who have exhibited outstanding ability for ministry.  Many have taught me by their example how to be a more effective minister, and by their instruction, helped me to grow in this role…It’s time that the Church gets in step with society and recognizes the equality of women in the workplace.  Women are as capable as men in the work of ministry, and have demonstrated the same equality in scholarship, skills and education as men.”
Fr. Joseph A. Genito, O.S.A
Pastor, St. Thomas of Villanova Parish, Philadelphia, PA
“If there were women deacons in my parish, lay women would relate in a deep and meaningful way to deacons who look, act, speak and feel more like themselves…Though I am an unlikely choice to wear the alb and stole, I have a deep commitment to service in Christ’s name and I try to live it every day. Any need that arises, I am ready to shoulder it, though some needs of our sisters and brothers would be well- or better-served by a woman’s different compassion.”
Deacon Bill Zapcic
Parish Deacon and Homilist, Retired Journalist, Tinton Falls, NJ
“Not only is ordaining women as deacons a restoration of the dynamism of the early Church, it is a matter of justice!”
Fr. Stephen P Newton, CSC
Executive Director, Association of US Catholic Priests, Notre Dame, IN

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