US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Gifts of the church

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Scripture scholar Alice Camille belongs to the church, for better or worse.

Guest blog by Alice Camille

The decisive moment for me came in 1984. I was 26, studying for a Master of Divinity degree at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. All the guys in my class referred to where we were as “seminary,” so I did too.

I was in seminary. How could I not be? We all sat side by side in class. We used the same textbooks and took the same tests. Then I was corrected. Men preparing for ordination were in seminary; I was in theology school. How unusual. How quantum, that we could be so close and yet inhabit such different states of being.

The rest of my life in the church has reinforced the quantum aspect of the female Catholic reality. Some words do not pertain to what we do: ministry, preaching, priesthood. Even if an activity seems precisely the same whether a woman or a man does it, it doesn’t “count” as the identical activity when performed by the woman.

If you respect language and the power of the word, this could seem like cheating. But it’s a very careful and deliberate sort of cheating. In our tradition, words become flesh and inhabit the world, changing the rules, if no one’s watching.

Many female friends and colleagues have left the church, have taken their gifts and wise hearts, degrees and expertise, and gone to other denominations with these riches. They offered the wealth they have to our community of faith and were ignored, rejected, even harmed.

I remain, simply and emphatically, because I believe these gifts belong to this church. These gifts were raised up and nurtured and sacramentally fostered by this community, by God’s design and for divine purposes. I don’t do what I do for my sake: for better or for worse it’s called out of me.

To deny it would be to deny myself, and who knows, to deny God too. Like every other hour of history, this hour is a bridge from the past to the future. I want to remain in place, a sturdy plank, to prepare a way for that future. Rest assured, it’s coming.

Guest Blogger Alice Camille writes the Testaments column on scripture for U.S. Catholic.

As a supplement of the January 2011 special issue on women, U.S. Catholic is asking guest bloggers, “How do you keep the faith as a woman in the church?” To submit your answer (about 500 words), e-mail

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.