Women of the Church hosted its first regional gathering on the campus of Saint Meinrad Seminary and School in June 2022. We asked participant Jane Rush to offer her experience of the weekend.
I am writing about my experience, but please know that my story is only one voice among thirty. I was one who longed for an encounter with Jesus, to be healed, to speak freely with boldness, courage and love. Every woman who led and attended this conference possesses her own story. I am honored to share my perspective with the hope that others find the inspiration to tell their own.
“Telling our stories can be formative.” – Dr. Kimberly Baker
On Friday evening, we began with a plenary session presented by Dr. Kimberly Baker, Associate Professor of Patristics at St. Meinrad School of Theology, entitled “Telling our Stories: Past, Present, and Future.” Kimberly spoke about the importance of telling our stories, including the stories of the women who have positively impacted our lives. Her description of Sister Esta Joseph, CJ particularly spoke to me, as I am a former teacher and principal. Sister Esta was a faith-filled and dedicated principal of a girl’s school in Léogâne, Haiti. She was short in stature with a big heart. Moved by the plight of certain girls who were not getting an education because of their abject poverty, she opened a tuition-free afternoon session at the school for them. The school collapsed during the devastating earthquake of 2010, killing Sister Esta and the girls inside. In my opinion, Sister Esta lived her life until death with the heart of Christ, the “center and source of God’s unconditional love” (Give Us This Day reflection by theologian, Richard Gaillardetz, 6/24/22). Sister Esta shared her own journey with these girls, giving them the chance to live fuller lives. She chose to give two cloaks to those who asked for one, even sharing in death, her life and love. I hope to go the extra mile so that others can experience a glimpse of Christ’s heart.
“God can see all angles of us all of the time.” – Sister Jeana Visel, OSB
On Saturday, I attended a breakout workshop with Sister Jeana Visel, OSB, a Benedictine sister of Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, IN. Sister Jeana wrote the book, Icons in the Western Church and teaches about the practice of Eastern Christian iconography. Much more than a “how to” session, Sister Jeana delved into the beauty of the icon as a sacramental encounter. I listened in wonder at the spiritual depth involved in painting the layers of an icon as well as the prayerful and mystical space such a visual depiction of God’s grace creates. Sister Jeana articulated that icons show the face of Jesus Christ, the true image of Christ’s humanity, transfigured and deified. Icons show us the image of the kingdom of heaven. As such, they are “windows” pointing toward God. In the icon, the holy person is understood to be present. The viewer sees the image but is also seen. In the experience of gazing on an image such as an icon, it is created with and for contemplative prayer. Bringing the gazer to silence, an icon draws us toward the welcoming mystery of God. I marvel at how a piece of religious art, such as this, can amplify Christ’s love. Sister Jeana explained that icons can give us new eyes to see the truth of God’s love that crosses over from our sense of time to God’s time, into mystery.
“We are stewards of the potential of the Church.” – Kerry Alys Robinson
On Saturday afternoon we experienced a virtual conversation with Kerry Alys Robinson, facilitated by Jane Cruthirds. Kerry authored the book, Imagining Abundance: Fundraising, Philanthropy and a Spiritual Call to Service. Kerry shared a question her own spiritual director asked her: “What is it you most love about the Church? Name it. Claim it.” While we all struggle with certain Church teachings or limitations, we can celebrate the bounty of life-giving Truth within our Catholic Tradition. Kerry reminded us of Pope Francis’ words in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): “We need to create still broader opportunities for the incisive presence of women in the Church.” I walked away from this fruitful dialogue with these guiding words: Approach all encounters with candor and charity while presuming goodness. Be brave and compassionate. Always amplify what is true.
Inspired by the women, their stories, the desire present in the room to amplify the Good News and a shared trust, I wrote the following poem during the same weekend. (Best read slowly, taking care to pause at the end of each line.)
by Jane Feliz Rush (6/18/22)
Stone upon stone.
A tomb sealing in death.
Death of a Savior.
The rumbling of our voices.
Telling our stories.
We are not dead.
The rising of a Savior.
The rising of our voices.
Voices that matter.
that moves the stone
ever so slightly.
An inch. Two. Three.
The stone in motion.
The rumbling of the Spirit.
Mary Magdalene. The first.
A woman at the tomb.
The first to see.
Witness. The first.
“He is risen!”
The disciples, hidden, fearful.
At first did not believe her.
Candor. Charity. Boldness. Courage. Wonder.
Openness to the unfolding.
A woman and prophet.
The first to witness the Paschal Mystery.
In the thin spaces of the Paschal Mystery.
We remind the Church of the motion.
Of the stone.
That the tomb is no longer sealed,
but open. Lifegiving. Empty.
Our deepest fear.
Also, our deepest longing.
And we must walk out.
Stewards of the potential of the Church.
Spirit of God.
See and be seen.
Tell your story.
Jane Feliz Rush received her undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame. She also received a Master of Arts in Teaching as a member of Notre Dame’s first cohort of the Alliance for Catholic Education. She earned a master’s in theological studies from Saint Meinrad School of Theology. As a Catholic educator, she served as teacher, campus minister and principal. She currently writes for her blog, Catholic Wonder (www.catholicwonder.com).