Extract from Jennifer Reek, “Standing on the Threshold: Where do Women Belong in the Community of Disciples?” in Visions and Vocations:
In Lumen Gentium, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church, there is a statement that “all men [homines] are called to this [Eucharistic] union with Christ, who is the light of the world, from whom we go forth, through whom we live, and toward whom our journey leads us” (LG 3). The language is not inclusive in this 1960s text on the Church, but the message is remarkably so: all are called. The Church in Lumen Gentium is pastoral, positive, a pilgrim Church made up of the “people of God” (LG Chapter 2). Pope John XXIII referred to the Church in the first session of the Council as “loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness.”[i]
This was the image of Church that attracted me when I became Catholic almost 20 years ago, yet now I feel ambivalent about what I was once so sure was my spiritual home. It is as if I were standing on the threshold of that home, unable to imagine myself either fully inside or out. I know from anecdotal evidence and from narratives of women’s alienation from institutional churches that I am not alone. The 1994 book, Defecting in Place: Women Claiming Responsibility for Their Own Spiritual Lives, surveyed 7,000 American women. “I have one foot in and one foot out,” wrote one middle-aged Sister. “I feel freer that way. I participate only when I can do so authentically.”[ii] Like many of the women surveyed, I now find my consolation in women’s groups, like the Catholic Women Speak Network, that are struggling with the question of how to respond to Christ’s call to discipleship in a context where one’s suitability for some of the roles that are implied in the term “full discipleship” is determined solely by gender.
[i] Pope John XXIII, “Pope John’s Opening Speech to the Council,” in The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott, S.J. (New York: The America Press, 1966), 716.
[ii] Miriam Therese Winter, Adair T. Lummis, Alison Stokes (eds.), Defecting in Place: Women Claiming Responsibility for Their Own Spiritual Lives (New York: Crossroad, 1995), 85.