Susan Muto Essays

The Catholic Common Ground Initiative was founded by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago to promote dialogue about critical issues in the church. The charter statement says "There are urgent questions that the church in the United States knows it must air openly and honestly but which it increasingly feels pressed to evade or, at best, address obliquely." These issues include the changing roles of women, along with other concerns such as liturgy, sexuality, formation of lay ministers, responsibility to the poor, cultural diversity, and church governance. The Initiative calls for problems to be discussed through constructive debate by people with differing viewpoints. This book is the result of such a dialogue undertaken by two Catholic Women's colleges in New York, Marymount College in Tarrytown and the College of New Rochelle.

Participants pledged to attend four half-day seminars spaced over a two year period. Each session featured at least two speakers discussing differing viewpoints. Their essays along with background information from Elizabeth Johnson make up the format of this volume. Four different questions were posed for each session. Speakers addressed their viewpoints on l) What kind of church are American Catholic women looking toward in the twenty-first century? 2) Embodiment: women and men, equal or complementary? 3) What unifies and divides us as women? 4) Women as leaven in Church and society.

The resulting essays present fascinating points of view. I found myself nodding in agreement with some and talking back to others. What is clearly apparent is the level of education and depth of thought these women shared with the group. This volume is published

so that women may enter into dialogues with friends and neighbors about what the church should be with the goal that women will be able to feel fully a pan of an institution that historically has rejected their leadership gifts. Theologians included Susan Muto, Miriam Therese Winter, Sara Butler, Elizabeth Johnson, Colleen Griffith, Barbara Hilkert Andolsen, Diana Hayes, Ana Maria Diaz-Stevens, and Marcy Kaptur.

Essays are short and easy to follow. The reader doesn't need to be a theologian to understand the ideas and dreams of each speaker. Marcy Kaptur, a US Congressperson, invited women in her district to reflect on their hopes for the church. Excerpts from their letters were included after the essays. Their viewpoints range from patriarchal to feminist and reflect the complex, difficult position women in the Catholic Church face today.
Terry Ruttger, St. Louise Park, Minnesota

Personal and communal prayer, Scripture reflection, and faith-sharing

As Christians, Father Hinkley, Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., says, we properly define spirituality as the believer’s response to the Holy Spirit through the example of Jesus Christ. Thus, a Catholic’s spirituality is always rooted in the revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived, died and rose for us. Our joys and trials are all joined intimately with Christ. Christian spirituality finds the varied experiences of life enriched by the grace of the Gospel. Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archdiocese of Brisbane, Australia, shares that Christian spirituality has its source in our communion with God, and is forged in communion with others and with all of creation. It is a spirituality of relationships.

People speak of Benedictine, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, Ignatian/Jesuit, Marian, or Theresian Spirituality. Identifying oneself with a school or type of spirituality can give a focus to the way in which we choose to develop our relationship with God and the world around us.

Christian Spirituality, according to Susan Muto in her essay “Called to Holiness as Women of the Church,” is the art and discipline of bringing Christ into the here-and-now reality of our daily lives. The two faces of this call are clear: one is unique, the other communal. One draws us to solitude, as when Jesus goes off to a lonely place to pray (Matthew 14:23); the other to solidarity with others in need, as when Jesus feeds the five thousand (Matthew 14:21). Both dynamics, lived in a balanced and creative way, in fidelity to our vocation, enable us to respond in a fully human and graced way to the universal call to holiness. We thereby proclaim our lives as laity, clergy, and religious, as single and married members of the Church, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus operated not from the authority of righteousness vested in the ruling empire or the religious elite, but from the authority of holiness vested in the House of David. He shunned the paths of power, pleasure, and possession and chose instead the ways of obedience, chastity, and poverty. He reveals the great paradoxes that in powerlessness resides true power, that in respect for every person lies real love, and that in sharing what we have we receive more than we could possibly give. 

As Theresians, we have the opportunity to look at spirituality from the viewpoint of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. At a very young age, she decided that the spiritualties she learned about were too “big” for her, and she decided she would develop her own “Little Way” to God. In this Little Way, she decided to give to God all the events of her day – big and little, happy or irritating, quiet or busy. In this Little Way, she found that she could live closer to God and, at the same time, do what was expected of her. St. Thérèse lived simply and unobtrusively in a community of women. After her death at the age of 24, attention was brought to her Little Way through her writing. She was canonized in 1925, and in 1927 she was proclaimed the Patroness of the Missions, even though she never left her convent! St. Thérèse was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997, one of five women to receive this recognition.

The spirituality of St. Thérèse has guided Theresians International. Her Little Way has proven to challenge us to live with active faithfulness, being the best we can be, even after mistakes, and with passive faithfulness, accepting the circumstances of our lives without complaint. The example of the Little Flower, as St. Thérèse is often called, provides us with proof that such a simple lifestyle can make a difference. The best part is that this lifestyle is not flashy or designed to draw attention to our actions. Rather, it is an invitation to discover the immense gifts of Baptism, to allow them to flow into and through us each day, and to use them to serve the community in which we find ourselves. This begins at home and moves outward to the various areas of our lives. In today’s theological vocabulary, this is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 239, as the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being is love – that is, to be people in relationship. 

One of the most important aspects of spirituality for Theresian communities is the realization that all God asks is that we offer the events of our day to Him, allowing the “little things” of our day to be used for God’s purposes. It does not demand that we be conscious of doing it … but that we offer it. The best thing about this simple and total gift is that it is not showy; it does not seek attention; it recognizes the humdrum stuff of our days as useful to God’s plan. Even the mistakes we make! No one of us can get through a day without some peccadillo that bruises the spirit of another, such as some word, tone of voice, hurried response, or unawareness of another’s need. God can use even these! 

Theresian spirituality expands the gift of belonging. It is a charism that continues to open our minds and hearts to be more and more inclusive. Diversity in our various locations on earth enriches our understandings and invites us to participate in a variety of expressions of prayer, music, dance, song, and art. These extensions of our experiences bring sensitivity to the different manifestations of God’s presence in all women. 

As Theresians continue to evolve, develop, and expand, may we embrace the journey as messengers of hope in a world that is conflicted and fearful. St. Paul said, All things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) As believers, we have the opportunity to live this in such a way that we are asked: How can you be so hopeful? As a response, we can invite women seeking to belong to understand that If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:32) Yes, we can be a presence of hope in this troubled world!

May our own spirits be touched with the awareness that God is active in our lives to the extent that we invite God’s activity. A simple “I give you this day, Lord” is enough. As Women in Support of Women … Reaching Out with Gospel Values, may the peace of this reality reach deeply into our minds, hearts, and spirits. 

Ponder

  1. What one or two words would you use to describe your own spirituality? Why?
  2. In your growing understanding of the Theresian Five Dimensions, is the spirituality dimension difficult to embrace? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  3. If spirituality has two expressions – one in solitude (unique) and one in community (communal) – how does community support the solitude?
  4. How do you participate in your Theresian community to offer a space touched with hope? How do you accept the hope offered by others to you?
  5. How can we help each other to radiate this hope to draw women to join us on this journey?

Resources 

Archdiocese of Brisbane. “Spirituality.” http://brisbanecatholic.org.au/life/teachings-of-the-catholic-church/

Hinkley, Father Michael. “Morality and Spirituality.” http://catholicsocialteachings.weebly.com/morality-and-spirituality.html

Muto, Susan, Ph.D. “Called to Holiness as Women of the Church,” The Church Women Want: Catholic Women in Dialogue, Elizabeth A. Johnson, (Ed.). New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 2002.

Thérèse of Lisieux. Story of a Soul, 3rd ed. Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996.

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