One of my favorite Scripture readings is the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. After she receives the promise of living water from Jesus, she is so taken with this encounter that she immediately walks about her community sharing her testimony. Her evangelizing impact is immediate, and Scripture tells us that many Samaritans of that town began to believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony (John 4:39).
Her encounter with Jesus is a story of welcome, redemption, forgiveness, healing, and transformation. It’s a promise that Jesus comes to meet us wherever we are with the gift of living water.
Now imagine if her testimony was missing. Imagine if Jesus had never spoken with this woman and we didn’t have this exquisite Gospel story. Imagine if she hadn’t gone with all zeal to tell her neighbors about how her encounter with Jesus transformed her life. Or imagine if the apostle John had decided that her testimony was not worth writing down.
“The voice of God is incomplete if all we hear is the voice of men,” said parish evangelization director Vanessa Comninos after the Australian Plenary Council passed five redrafted motions last summer promoting women’s role in the Church, including the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate if the universal Church approves it.
If Catholic women could be deacons, what is the biggest visible change parishioners would see on Sundays? The biggest change we hear Catholics longing for is the desire to hear women preach from the altar at an ordinary Sunday Mass. Ordaining women to the diaconate would open up a stable, recognized pathway for women with adequate preparation to be able to preach.
Nearly two years ago when we started organizing Discerning Deacons house meetings in-person and virtually, Catholics around the country spoke of their desire to hear women preach as a way to better understand their own lives and as a way to expand their understanding of God’s Word. Women with gifts for preaching could enrich their local communities. Parishioners yearn to hear new insights on Scripture that women would bring from the fullness of their lived experiences (Gather the Fruits).
Thankfully, Catholics have an avenue to hear a woman’s perspective each Sunday through Catholic Women Preach – the website and now a recently published book, Catholic Women Preach: Raising Voices, Renewing the Church, with a foreword by Dominican Sr. Barbara Reid, president of Catholic Theological Union.
A few days ago, NCR’s executive editor Heidi Schlumpf and I talked about my Scripture reflections on the website. “Catholic Women Preach gives me an opportunity to name and value more deeply my experiences of God’s presence in my own life and in my faith community,” I told her, adding that I appreciate being able to “tell stories of faith from my own experience as a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a neighbor, a friend — from my own lived experiences as a woman.”
I make it a habit to listen to Catholic Women Preach on Sunday mornings before I get ready to go to Mass at my local parish in Miami. I listen to a female perspective and a male perspective – one virtually and the other in person. I do this because I need the tall glass of living water which multiple testimonies on our Scriptures offer me. And I need to be intentional as a Catholic to not let God’s voice be incomplete.
PS: A heartfelt word of gratitude to Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego for his recent essay in America, for calling for the ordination of women to the diaconate as it is not doctrinally precluded, and for believing in the ability of women to provide critically important ministries, talents and perspectives.