Several years ago I was invited to join a meeting of exceptionally talented writers, all teachers, professors, and published authors. And then there was me with my small yet loyal blog following. Back then Wholly Jane was still just a half-finished work in progress and I was feeling entirely out of my league, an insecurity which I quite openly voiced. I was assured that I was precisely what this group needed because I wrote from my gut. Our task was to write the Prayers of the Faithful for all Sunday and Holy Day Masses. The feeling was that this vital piece of the liturgy had grown stale. People mentally checked out and were composing their grocery lists and checking their watches. The hope was that by bringing a variety of voices to the liturgy, we would recapture them by making the prayers more meaningful. These prayers are a key role in the laity’s participation in the Mass. They are intended to represent the prayers of the community, to bring before The Lord the everyday concerns of those sitting in the pews. So in order to keep them meaningful, they needed to be tied closely to Liturgy of the Word and also be in touch with the real world issues that lay just beyond the church doors. This was something that none of us ever took lightly. It takes time. It takes thought. Most of all, it takes prayer. Lots of prayer.
Over the years, we learned to recognize each other’s writing voices and we each have developed our own unique way of connecting the community to the liturgy. For me that always meant trying to speak for those who were barely seen and rarely heard. The forgotten, the lonely, the abused, the addicts, those facing spiritual darkness, those who felt unforgivable and unloved, the sick whose illnesses were not always obvious: all of these fell within my bailiwick.
As my regular readers know, over the past year my growing discontent in the Catholic Church has led me to other denominations, to begin dating other churches so to speak. And yet, here I am, still writing these Prayers of the Faithful, lending my own unique voice and life experience to the Sunday Mass that means so much to so many of my family and friends. I struggle now more that I ever did and I find that I will pray most of the week with those six relatively short sentences.
Who am I missing? Who hasn’t been heard this month? Lord, show me.
And He never fails me. The voices of the unheard come to me.
Over the years, I have been asked on a handful of occasions to change the wording on what I’ve written. The reasons varied. Perhaps the language felt awkward or unclear or perhaps could be construed as leaning too far towards one political party or another. Sometimes no such request came and the priest or deacon who read them simply made the alterations himself. There was no drama in any of it as we all did what we felt called to do.
Last week, as I read the reading from Romans, what deeply struck me was the image of the Spirit praying within when we don’t know how we are to pray. And the voices that came to me were those of all the Catholic women I’ve come into contact with over my lifetime. The issue that all of us have had to grapple with at some point or another is the issue of women clergy and our feelings and convictions on that topic. The truth of the matter is that many, many women don’t know quite what they feel. And the prayer that emerged was this:
For Catholic women who see the wider acceptance of women clergy in other denominations and feel conflicted, may they know that the Spirit hears and understands the prayer of their hearts, we pray to the Lord…
What was intended:
For women who feel conflicted to know the Spirit understands
What was seen by some of the all male clergy:
CATHOLIC WOMEN CLERGY
This wasn’t a prayer for the Catholic Church to admit women to the priesthood. It was a prayer for all of us women who feel caught in this sticky wicket where the Catholic Church says absolutely not while other denominations say absolutely yes, our friends’ opinions run the entire spectrum in between, and we’re left not quite sure what we feel about the issue.
One brave, insightful priest insisted that the prayer be read as it was written. The other priest and the deacons refused to read it. The battle of wills that ensued would’ve been comical in any other setting. In the end, it was heard at four out of the five Masses last weekend. For the women who heard it proclaimed from the altar, they tell me they felt heard, affirmed, and understood in their struggle to reconcile their own uncertain feelings and often muddied personal prayers with the hard and fast teachings of the Church.
The message got lost on those charged with shepherding us women and that leaves me unbearably sad. How can you take on the Pope’s challenge of smelling like the sheep if you don’t even hear them? If the Catholic Church is going to remain adamant that women clergy are a no go, then it is absolutely imperative that the all male clergy be listening, attentive, and sensitive to the women in their pews. No, we don’t expect you to pray for women priests from the altar. But for the love of God, don’t be afraid to publicly pray with and for us women. We need it in ways you cannot possibly understand.