The foregoing is a chorus of women’s voices from many cultures, contexts, ages and stages in life. Some are published theologians, others are telling their personal stories for the first time. Though we vary widely in our perspectives and experiences, we have in common our Catholic faith and a desire to participate in the Church’s vocation to incarnate Christ within the cultures and communities of this global era. We bring many different gifts to the table, as we seek to celebrate the fecundity of our faith, to share our struggles and frustrations, and to witness to the “unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.” (EG 22)
From the beginning, this work has been sustained in prayer by many more women than those who have contributed to the book. It has been a project of passionate commitment and collaboration, sparked by a desire to bring women’s voices to the table for the Synod on the Family in October 2015, and taking only eight weeks from conception to completion. It is a shared endeavour, graced by a sense of “rightness” about its timing and relevance. In solidarity with one another and working together, we have tried to share our knowledge and to tell our stories with trust and honesty, bringing theological reflection to bear on intimate experiences of love and loss, failure and hope, painful endings and new beginnings. We have expressed ourselves in ways that make us vulnerable to criticism from inside and outside the Church. Some in the Church might see us as too challenging in the questions we raise and the dilemmas we acknowledge. Many who have left the Church might wonder why we stay, when we admit to so many difficulties.
We stay because we love the Church, and we belong within the sacramental body of Christ. We trust in the infinite compassion and love of the Christ who reached out to his women disciples in healing, welcome and friendship. We draw inspiration from the many women named in the Bible, from the women saints, martyrs and mystics who have kept the candle of women’s wisdom aglow, and from the anonymous women of every age and culture who have enriched our world through quiet daily acts of love and faithfulness.
We keep watch with Mary in the time of annunciation, awaiting the new life that comes with the conception of a child or the dawning of a vision (Lk 1:26-38). Young and old together, we rejoice with Mary and Elizabeth at the wonders God has worked for us in calling us and blessing us as we walk the rocky road of love’s enduring faithfulness (Lk 39-56). We learn patience and discernment as we reflect upon the widowed prophet Anna, finally encountering the one she was waiting for in her eighty-fourth year (Lk 2: 36-38). We draw inspiration from Mary’s initiative and insight at the wedding at Cana when, recognising that the time was right and braving her Son’s rebuke, she told the servants to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2: 1-10). We anoint Jesus’s feet with our perfume and our tears, and he welcomes us even when our religious leaders are scandalised by our behaviour (Lk 7: 37-39). We walk to the well in the heat of the day with the Samaritan woman, for the one that we encounter there knows all our stories of lost loves and broken relationships, and he is not ashamed to be seen with us (Jn 4: 7-28). Like the Syrophoenician woman we pester Jesus on behalf of our daughters, and he admires us for our wit and rewards us for our persistence (Mk 7: 24-30). We too experience the hunger for knowledge which made Mary want to talk theology with Jesus rather than help her sister in the kitchen, but we also experience the irritation of Martha at being left alone to do the cooking (Lk 10: 38-42). We share with those two sisters the bitter disappointment when Jesus does not come to take away the horror of illness and death, and we wonder how they felt when Jesus wept and called forth Lazarus from the tomb (Jn 11:1-44). We reach out to touch the hem of Christ’s garment when our bodies are bleeding and we feel the pain of rejection and blame (Lk 8: 43-48). We sit at the Passover table as Christ anticipates the suffering and joy to come in the language of childbirth, and we know that he shares the vulnerability and strength of our womanly bodies (Jn 16: 21-22). We draw courage from the immensity of sorrow and faithfulness of Mary and her woman companions at the foot of the cross (Jn 19: 25). We keep vigil with the women through the long and empty hours of Holy Saturday. We arise early in the morning with them to go out and anoint the bodies of our beloved dead, and we open ourselves to the unexpected encounter with newness and life outside the empty tomb (Lk 24: 1-8). We hear our names spoken in the garden of the resurrection, and Jesus sends us out with wings on our heels to tell the world that our beloved is risen (Jn 20: 11-18). He is here. He is with us. He has birthed us into a new creation and given us a song to sing and a message to tell that resounds from our fledgling beginnings in the Garden of Eden to our glorious fulfilment in the City of God.
We join with the women of the early Church – Lydia, Prisca, Phoebe, Junia, Thecla, Perpetua, Felicity, Egeria, Eudokia, Macrina; with medieval abbesses, saints, mystics and martyrs – Lioba, Walburg, Hilda of Whitby, Brigid of Ireland, Hrotsvit, Bridget of Sweden, Clare of Assisi, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth of Hungary, Gertrud of Helfta, Heloise, Marguerite Porete; with women missionaries and founders of religious institutes and movements dedicated to social justice, evangelisation and human development – Angela Merici, Mary Ward, Jeanne de Lestonnac, Catherine McAuley, Mary Elizabeth Lange, Jeanne Jugan, Nano Nagle, Anna Dengel, Mary Ann Seton, Mary MacKillop, Marianne Cope, Kateri Tekakwitha, Janet Stuart, Mary Potter, Josephine Bakhita, Dorothy Day, Chiara Lubich, and with women doctors of the Church – Teresa of Ávila, Catherine of Siena, Thérèse of Lisieux, Hildegard of Bingen. We join our visions and our prayers with theirs across vast distances of time and space, knowing that we belong within a hidden seam of gold in the Church’s theological tradition as we continue to speak of God in the language of women’s visions and experiences of faith.
Come, those of you who would like to accompany us. Take our hands and join with us as we journey together in trust and communion, as pilgrims who “turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face.” (EG 244). Let’s “come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast,” and “Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” (LS 244).