I went searching the web for an image to head this week’s posting. There were plenty to choose from. But what struck me most of all was the preponderance of images of men earnestly talking or listening. There was hardly a woman in sight. Something made me feel uncomfortable.
After all, every man in the picture had been born of a woman whose love as a mother had sustained him through childhood and who in many cases was a causal factor in his perceiving a vocation, some may say an influence that, occasionally, was detrimental in the long term.
Yet as we are now in the early days of the Synod, considering the statements that arose from discussions a year ago, the question of women’s place in the Church cannot be set aside.
The mention of Dorothy Day in the speech made by Francis to Congress was recognition of the inspired life of one woman working in New York City over many years for the benefit of those on the margins of society.
We must become inclusive in every aspect of our lives as Christians. It is no longer plausible that a group of men, however well intentioned and sincere they might be, should decide the framework of our Christian living. As one respondent to the pre-Synod survey conducted in England and Wales put it: “It would seem that right now the Church may well have more to learn from marriage and family life than to teach.”
It is hard to respond to what is only perceived from the outside. The joys and tensions, hopes and fears of the family can be talked about endlessly, appreciated in many ways but, I would suggest, such an exchange can never match the reality of the experience. To say “I love you” is all very well; to understand something of the implication of saying those words is part of a lifetime’s experience.
No doubt there will be considerable time taken this week asking each other about the edges, what can be done and what can’t, writing the rule book for others to practice. In many instances, that is already too late. Humanae Vitae is a document that has little meaning within the practice of conjugal love in the family. That is not about selfishness but about care and respect for each other and the children already born through the love of their parents.
Many other matters will be discussed and views formulated and the tea-makers of the parish will be expected to accept what they are given and carry on making the tea.
Great assemblies benefit from the contributions of both men and women. It would be unthinkable that the UK parliament or the US Senate could now be exclusively male. It is time that the Christian Church led by Francis, Bishop of Rome, came to a similar conclusion.