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Tough Love

Tough Love

by Dr. Jane Anderson
Published in OCW New, Vol 11, No1, April 2004.
Published on our website with the authors permission

For some time now I have been wondering how other people, who feel excluded by the gender/sexual policies of our church, cope during Mass. How do they deal with the difficult problems that marginalisation presents within this principal liturgical event?

I thought that if I offered some of the ways I “reform” the Mass, others too might share with me their creative ideas. So this is an invitation, an offer of encouragement to dialogue in the hope for more inclusive liturgies.

For me, it’s sometimes the wall-to-wall men in the sanctuary (with or without the token female reader), or the anachronistic teachings about sexuality and gender, but mostly it’s the exclusive language in prayer, scripture, song and worship that upsets me.

Exclusive language cuts my sisters-in-Christ and me out of existence. It overlooks or ignores the incredible amount of service we give to the family, church and society. It exemplifies the endemic gender discrimination in the church. It tells the youth, including my children, that this is acceptable, even God-intended. It tells me a lot of unsavoury things about the institutional church and evokes in me feelings of grief, anger, frustration, …, and when I am at my best, tough love.

Tough love is about knowing when to say enough is enough. Such love requires me to be charitable, to care about and respect others. But tough love also refuses to be complicit in a course of action that is harmful both to individuals and the community at large. St. Paul reminds me, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:7-8). So I must continue to be persistent in my efforts to bring about much needed change. Tough love demands the careful use of strength and passionate determination.

Years ago, I started to edit in the pews. First I dropped “us men” from the Creed and just said “us.” Then I added “Mother” to the “Our Father:” I no longer wished to be a party to stereotyping God as a celibate male. Of course, this made a few people who sat next to me uncomfortable but I persisted, for surely discomfort cannot be restricted to the marginal persons who, against the odds, are trying to bring about a healthier and more harmonious faith community.

After a while, editing wasn’t enough. I started signing myself with my left hand, not my right, as is customary. I also changed the prayer, “In the name of the Father,…” to “Source of All Being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit be with us all” (a prayer taken from my inclusive language breviary). I wanted to mark and announce my desire for change, for a new way to be church, on my body and in my words. The left hand is also a symbol of peace. In history, the right hand has been regarded as the “sword hand,” the hand of power that so often leads to destruction and war. For me, the future church will be based on a fundamental ethic of non-violence towards others, including the earth upon which we live.

After a while, I became dissatisfied with editing. When I stumbled with the process, the contradictions between what is and what should be came to the fore and distracted me from the small spaces of ritual harmony that I had been able to create. Now I say nothing, except the “Our Father and Mother,” and the peace prayer. I still cross myself with the left hand.

No longer will I utter a language that says I or others (including my mother and daughters) are less than the dignified image that God created us in. I will not be a party to voicing submission and subjugation in a liturgy that is meant to raise up the People of God. I find now that I have more of a sense of peace during Mass.

This silence sometimes gives me the space to recognize encompassing and meaningful symbols in my surrounds and among the people. There is so much on offer when we suspend the literalism that plagues the maintenance of exclusive liturgical language.

When the local bishop was ordained a couple of years ago, I asked a few women to wear something purple to signify the need for inclusion of women in official ministries. After that event, I wore a purple ribbon to Mass, but the effort eventually faded. Now is the time to restore that practice.

Meanwhile the Vatican is endeavouring to produce, reputedly, as quickly as possible, a new translation of our missal. It is one thing to cope with the current missal, it is another to take on that of a new edition, especially when we didn’t ask for it, and when they didn’t listen to our concerns. Do the bishops honestly believe that significant numbers of Catholics, who may even put up with what we have now, are going to go out and buy new missals, filled with content that still hasn’t attended to discriminatory practices?

So what to do? I know that most bishops will not contest what is coming out of Rome. I know too that a number of priests feel quite powerless; they too are faced with questions about compliance. As for lay people, there are the minority ultra-conservatives who are adamant about the “right” action of the Vatican, while the majority of us will be faced with questions and dilemmas. Some of us, though, will take action. At the moment , I am trying to locate inclusive versions of the Gloria, Creed, and so on. Perhaps the time for silence is ending. Perhaps I will find the courage to sound out loud (at least in normal voice tone) within the congregational cacophony that is already clanging in the hearts and minds of many Catholics.

So what are your thoughts, your “acts of resistance?” How can each of us, in small and piecemeal ways, and with the spirit of tough love, bring about change for the good of our faith community?

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