October 2015

The Synod and Alice’s New Adventures in Wonderland

The story which follows was inspired by a strange meeting of the absurdist wisdom of Lewis Carroll and my own wondering about three of the many articles about the Synod on the Family in Rome, Pope Francis’ recent visit to the US, and the persistent questions about women in the Catholic Church, writes Alice Priest.

BY Alice Priest

The story which follows, “The Synod and Alice’s New Adventures in Wonderland”, was inspired by a strange meeting of the absurdist wisdom of Lewis Carroll and my own wondering about three of the multitude of articles in both Catholic and wider circles, about the present Synod on the Family in Rome (October 4-25, 2015), the recent visit of the Fiat-driving Pope Francis to the United States, and the persistent questions being raised about the leadership and ministry potential of women in the Catholic Church.

Firstly, to coincide with the opening of the Synod, the National Catholic Reporter’s editorial staff in their article “Are we prepared to be surprised by the Spirit?”, speculate about the potential outcomes of the Synod in light of Pope Francis’ use of the imagery of open and closed doors, and then of the surprisingly widening power of the Holy Spirit.

“Pope Francis advocates for a Church with open doors, ‘so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door’. But one door remains firmly shut with a deadbolt securely in place. On women’s ordination, Francis says, ‘That door is closed’.

“…’Not because women do not have the capacity,’ he added. They just can’t…

“A few short hours before, Francis exhorted a million people in the heart of Philadelphia to embrace the surprises the Spirit brings. ‘Here is the surprise,’ Francis said, … ‘Moses and Jesus both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow! Would that all could be prophets of God’s word!’

“…Later he added: ‘To give the impression that [the working of the Spirit] cannot take place in those who are not ‘part of our group’, who are not ‘like us’, is a dangerous temptation. … It is a perversion of faith!’”

I also considered Joshua J. McElwee’s review of a collection of essays written by 43 women from around the world, titled Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table. It responds to the lack of representation of women at the present Synod. Whilst Pope Francis has appointed 30 women to attend the Synod as auditors making contributions to the discussions, only the 279 male members of the meetings can vote. I was particularly struck by the view taken on Pope Francis’ call for a ‘theology of Woman’ as means to finding a more “incisive” direction for women in the Church.

“Citing Francis’ call in 2013 for the Church to study a theology of womanhood, the editors say ‘such comments reduce women to objects of study, a separate category of reflection’.…’We resist… any suggestion that the Church needs a theology of ‘Woman’ or ‘womanhood’,’ they continue. ‘Rather than a deeper theology of women, we say that the Church needs a deeper theology of the human – a theological anthropology that can be developed only by the full inclusion of women in the process of theological reflection informed by the experiential realities of daily life.’”

Earlier this year Mamamia published an article by Elly Kohistani which presented US Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke’s curious interview with a publication called The New Emangelization, a group that seeks to reinstate manliness to the Church, which they believe is suffering from a “man-crisis”. Cardinal Burke presents the view that “feminism” has obscured the “goodness and importance of men”, and that “radical feminism” is one of the biggest problems facing the Church today.

So, to my wondering about where all this leaves us and where the Synod and the Spirit might take us. Alice follows her curiosity once more into Wonderland…

And yes, I can hear the cries now for me, as for that other Alice who ventured into the Royal Courts of Wonderland, “Off! Off with her head!”


The Synod and Alice’s New Adventures in Wonderland
(with apologies to Lewis Carroll and Disney)

“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!” declared the White Rabbit, looking curiously into the distance for his Fiat.

“Oh good”, thought Alice, “a friendly face in this topsy-turvy place I can trust to be frank.”

Alice: “Excuse me, Sir. You seem to know where you’re going. You can give me direction then.”

White Rabbit: “You’d think so, my Dear, but one’s fiat – Yes, indeed, one’s fiat has happened to go in very surprising directions of late. Nevertheless, we must have Patience! Heed the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.”

Waiting for directions, Alice’s attention was taken by the tinkling of tea cups.

Alice: “Oh, White Rabbit, look! Over there! It’s a Mad Hatters Tea Party… 279 mad women, all in fancy fascinators! How wonderful. What are they discussing?”

White Rabbit: “Why the nature and role of bishops of course! It’s one of their specialist subjects.”

Alice: “Are any of them bishops?”

White Rabbit: “No, not a single one! What a mad idea!”

Alice: “And who are they, those 30 men, sitting over there with their curious pointy hats on?”

White Rabbit: “Oh they’re just invited to the Tea Party to give it a tea-party atmosphere. They’re bishops. They’re always calling for more tea.”

Alice: “But they don’t have any tea.”

White Rabbit: “Well, you can always have more of nothing. How wonderful for them!”

Not for the first time, Alice was picked up by a gentle wind which whispered to her the direction she should go and she soon found herself in a most beautiful garden, previously obscured by the table of tall-hatted bishops.

“Wait a minute! You can’t be here! Imposter!!” The cries rang out.

Alice: “I’m sure this is just exactly where I belong.”

Orchid: “It’s quite impossible. These are the Royal Ministry Gardens! State your means of arrival!”

Alice: “Why, I came via the warm-wind-that-blows-where-it-will.”

Orchid: “Hurrumph! You are mistaken.”

Laughter filled the garden.

Alice: “It’s really very rude indeed to laugh when one is moved by such a wind, you know.”

Petunia: “Indigestion more likely!”

The Rose: “Just what species or, shall we say, genus are you, my dear?”

Alice: “Well, I guess you would call me… genus, humanus… Alice.”

Daisy: “Ever see an alice with a blossom like that?”

Orchid: “Come to think of it, did you ever see an alice?”

Daisy: “Yes, and did you notice her petals? What a peculiar colour.”

Orchid: (sniffing Alice’s hair) “And so much fragrance.”

The Rose: “We’ll have to do a special ‘alice-study’, and work out just exactly what you are and where your special place is.”

Alice: “But why isn’t it just here with you, now? We’re just the same, …I’m just as mad as you!”

Orchid: “What kind of logic is that!? And with those feet, you’ll trample all over us in no time!”

Daisy: “See all the trouble you started?”

The Rose: “No, no, genus alice, this simply won’t do! Come back again in several years. Dooo come back, but don’t be in a hurry, these things take time…” (yawn)

Alice found herself put out of the garden. The White Rabbit was there, again puzzling over the question of his Fiat, whilst busily opening a series of doors that looked as if they had been closed for A VERY long time. He stopped and looked at her with love.

White Rabbit: “All the doors must be opened!”

But there was one very little door that the White Rabbit seemed unable to get to. Through its tiny keyhole Alice could just spy the Royal Ministry Gardens. But, try as she might, even if this door could be opened, she knew she could only just squeeze the toe of her pink shoe through its opening.

Alice: “Well, I simply must get through!”

Door Knob: “Sorry, you’re much too big. Simply impassible.”

Alice: “You mean impossible?”

Door Knob: “No, impassible. Nothing’s impossible.”

As she stood pondering possible impossibilities a voice perched high on a branch broadcast down.

Cheshire Cat: “Oh, by the way, if you’d really like to know, he went that way.”

Alice: “Who did?”

Cheshire Cat: “The White Rabbit.”

Alice: “Which way?”

Cheshire Cat: “Can you stand on your head?”

Alice: “Oh!”

Alice Priest

Alice Priest is a religious educator with more than 20 years’ experience across a range of settings – from the classroom to youth ministry and teacher education. She has lived and worked in Catholic school systems and ministries in Italy, Germany and Australia. Alice is currently working at Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College in Sydney, where she teaches religion and English, and is head of faith formation and liturgy.

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