About Study Groups for Catholic Women
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Lately we've received a lot of questions about study groups for Catholic women that are being promoted for use in parishes.
The questions often ask for our opinion or analysis of a program being proposed. Sometimes Catholic women have had negative experiences with these programs -- and some have attended Protestant Bible-study groups. While we have not examined all the programs that seem to be competing for the attention (and financial support) of Catholic women -- so far we have been disappointed in most popular offerings.
Yet, it has always been a goal of Women for Faith & Family to encourage faithful women to get together, to support each other in deepening their understanding of Catholic teachings, and for simple fellowship.
In the interest of review, we are reprinting our responses to inquiries on two programs, MOMS ("Ministry of Mothers Sharing"), and the "Little Rock Scripture Study". Both are programs developed by Benedictine nuns, and their materials are marketed by Catholic publishers.
We have recently learned of promising Catholic initiatives now in the development phase. Read about one these programs, "Women of Grace", in this issue (page 25). A program to study the pope's "Theology of the Body" is in the early stages of organization by women associated with the pro-life group "Women Affirming Life". (We intend to report on its progress later.)
Please pray with us that this effort will bear sound fruit, and be truly helpful to Catholic women, their families, and to the Church. And do let us hear from you.
(This originally appeared in Voices, Pentecost 2002)
Hello, I'm a wife and mother and have been a Catholic all my life. It has only been the past five years that my faith has deepened and grown, and I want to be faithful to the Church that Jesus has started. I also want a greater fellowship with other Catholic mothers.
Because of this, MOMS seemed attractive to me and I joined a session. I was shocked at its non-Catholicism. It was supposed to help us spiritually, but we said not a single Our Father or Hail Mary. In fact there was no mention of the Blessed Mother at all. I would think that she would be the epitome of a Godly, spiritual mother!
What is your view of MOMS? Is my experience with it unique? The book I got for participating (MOMS - A Personal Journal) was very "inner self" focused.
MOMS is the creation of Benedictine Sister Paula Hagan, of St. Paul's Monastery, St. Paul, Minnesota. It is a plan for small groups focused on spirituality and "self-awareness". The materials are published by Resource Publications of San Jose, California.
The Resources for On-Going MOMS Groups lists works by radical feminist writers such as Sister Joan Chittister, OSB (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily), Sister Miriam Therese Winter (The Gospel According to Mary, A New Testament for Women), and Wendy Wright (Sacred Dwelling, Forest of Peace). The list is on the MOMS web site: www.osb.org/spm/momsfollowreading.html. broken link 6/27/2005 -- current website for MOMS -
Your negative impression of the Personal Journal spirituality workbook was very well-founded -- as a glance inside its appealing "cross-stitch" cover confirms.
It opens with a "psalm" by Edwina Gateley, of Call to Action fame, from her book, Psalms of a Laywoman.
Quotes from Sister Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ, (Lay Presiding: The Art of Leading Prayer), and Sister Anne E. Carr, BVM (Transforming Grace) are included, among others.
Sister Hughes, a feminist liturgist, was for many years a member of ICEL, a group that provided problematic English liturgical translations.
Sister Anne Carr is a member of the radical Catholic Women's Network, and was a signer of the infamous 1984 "pro-choice" ad in the New York Times sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice.
The list could go on.
MOMS resources do not contain even one single reference to any work of Pope John Paul II, utterly ignoring his profound insights into the meaning of family (Familiaris Consortio), human life (Evangelium Vitae) and womanhood (Mulieris Dignitatem). Considering the purpose of MOMS, this is astonishing. (All of these documents are on our web site, Church Documents section.) The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not cited even once, unsurprisingly.
The idea of Catholic women getting together for fellowship, prayer and study is great. This is one of WFF's goals, in fact. But MOMS is not the answer.
The Bible and Little Rock Scripture Study
[originally published in Voices, Lent-Easter 2002]
I live in the Diocese of Townsville in North Queensland, Australia. We have had a very rough passage over the last 15 years, as Catholics. A program is currently being promoted in the diocese, "Little Rock Scripture Study". We have experienced difficulty in sourcing a reliable critique of this program.
Some of the information on the "Little Rock" web site points to Macrina Wiederkeher, described as "a Benedictine Catholic Monk" who is a "soft feminist", believing the Vatican has a "tragic flaw about denying women leadership roles in the Church". Sister Macrina seems to be the author of many books for recommended reading and I noted the name of Joyce Rupp ... I thought you might be able to give us some credible information as to the real agenda involved in this "Little Rock" presentation
Bowen, Queensland, Australia
You are right to be concerned about this program. We cannot furnish a thorough critique of the "Little Rock Scripture Study" program (LRSS), but we cannot recommend this series, which promotes a decidedly "progressivist" view of the Bible. Father Gerard Sloyan and Father James Donahue, SJ, are Scripture scholars prominently associated with this program, published by The Liturgical Press (St. John's Benedictine Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota).
Father Donahue writes the "Word" column in the "liberal" Jesuit magazine America. Father Sloyan is a regular contributor to Worship, the liturgical magazine published by St. John's Abbey. In the May 2001 issue he wrote of the ICEL Psalter, which had been ordered removed from publication by the Holy See because of feminist language and other problems, "overall, this translation is a remarkable achievement, its excellence confirmed by the censure of a curial dicastery which has suggested the withdrawal from use of copies already widely circulating".
Sister Macrina Wiederkeher, OSB, is described as "author and spiritual guide" on the web site of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where she lives. She gives retreats and writes on "spirituality", and does a column for the LRSS called "Romancing the Word". Her highly subjective approach to the Church and Catholic teachings is revealed in her writings.
For example, in her book, A Tree full of Angels, she says, "I am aware of the many ways the Church has failed me, and I have failed her. Yet, in the midst of these mutual failures, I claim the church as mine. She is my church, my home, my mother. I will not run away from her, for I have seen through the cracks of her frailty her tremendous splendor, her littleness and her greatness, her poverty and her wealth. I feel more fed than failed. The Church is us".
This may be someone's idea of "romance", but Sister's suggestion that the Church's "failures" and hers are "mutual" flabbergasts us.
We do not have a series for Scripture study to recommend, at present. The LRSS materials note that the social aspect of these study groups is a primary reason for holding them. But if you are serious about studying Scripture, we do have a few suggestions:
1) Start with a reliable translation of the Bible (e.g., Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition.)
2) Refer to the Scripture references in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in official documents of the Holy See.
3) Look up the references in the Bible and reflect on the context this passage was given in the Catechism of the Church document.
4) Use a Missal (or a "missalette") to look up the Scripture texts used in the Lectionary readings for Mass. Read the entire passage -- not just the few verses that have been selected for the Lectionary -- in order to place the event or biblical narrative in the context of the theme of the Mass.
5) Consult a priest (or layman) who upholds sound doctrine, and ask for suggestions of commentaries -- new or in the past -- that can deepen your insight into God's Holy Word.
6) Pray -- before, during and after your Bible study session.
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