Stations of a "deacon's wife"
One Catholic woman felt as if she were carrying a cross through her and her husband's journey through diaconate formation.
Guest blog post by Bridget Purdome
Station 1: Jesus is condemned.
I remember feeling a strong sense of injustice from the beginning of the diaconate formation program. I fought back tears after reading an orientation letter that referred to "the wives." Was this a foreshadowing of the death that women are asked to endure during the program? Was I condemned to become a "deacon’s wife" and lose my own identity?
Station 2: Jesus accepts his cross.
God invited me to be formed as a lay minister through the diaconate formation program, but the invitation came with a cross. During a class on marriage, a wife of a deacon spoke of the humility it takes to stand next to her husband when he’s wearing his alb. Would I have said "yes" to God, if I had known the true weight of the cross?
Station 3: Jesus falls the first time.
During our first year, our small group leader didn’t view the women as partners in ministry. One night, he only asked the men to read from the Bible. A priest constantly emphasized that women can’t be ordained and told a classmate that her own call was a cancer. I fell for the first time when I tried to express my concerns to my spiritual director, and she dismissed them.
Station 4: Jesus meets his mother.
As I sat behind my husband during his Mass of candidacy, I felt alone and demeaned. I looked at my young daughters a few pews over, and I wondered what kind of message this seating arrangement was sending to them.
Station 5: Simon helps Jesus carry his cross.
It also bothered my husband that I hadn’t been at his side during the Mass. He took the cross and lead the effort to change this for future masses. Although the response from the program was defensive, we never saw the women sit behind the men again.
Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
God led me to a new spiritual director. She listened to my bottled up frustrations and then challenged me to step up and address the issues. She held my hands and prayed.
Station 7: Jesus falls the second time.
We began a liturgy course. A sign-up sheet was given to the men to choose liturgical roles. The women could assist by holding the book or towels. I was selected to play a bridesmaid in a mock wedding. As I fell for the second time, my husband decided that we must withdraw from the program to protect our marriage.
Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
We continued on. We had the opportunity to do a summer internship at a suburban parish. As I delivered reflections during morning Mass, I experienced a true sense of community. A group of wise women supported me and shared their faith with me.
Station 9: Jesus falls the third time.
We learned that a parishioner had complained to the Office of Divine Worship that laypeople were preaching during daily Mass. The pastor needed to respond to the bishop. When I learned that we had been asked to stop doing these reflections, I fell for the third time.
Station 10: Jesus is stripped of his garments.
We began a homiletics class. We were told that the women were to be active listeners for their husbands, but if they desired, they could write and deliver reflections. When the first opportunity to speak came, only the names of the men were listed. Our instructor explained that he had lost the fight with the office to offer women this opportunity. I felt stripped of my voice.
Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
I looked to a classmate for support. Although we had partnered together on other issues, she didn’t understand my concern with homiletics. Her response was, "What did you expect out of this program?" The nail penetrated my skin, and I was alone on the cross.
Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross.
As we planned a party following ordination, my husband pointed out that I was viewing this as an obligation rather than a celebration. He was right. I was barely enduring the program at this point. I would need to let my own concerns die in order to support his call.
Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross.
As I think back on the entire journey, I recall the director’s comments about the women’s Mass, "The office can’t send you, because according to the diaconate directory, it isn’t our job to form you. The spiritual growth the wives have experienced is only a by-product of the program."
Station 14: Jesus is placed in the tomb.
If only I could be away from this program. I just need to rest.
Station 15: Resurrection
During the women’s Mass, each woman will be called by name. When I hear my name, I will walk to the altar and receive a blessing. The Holy Spirit will be present, and I will hear Her voice whisper, "I formed you. Now, I send you!" The following week, I will watch proudly as my husband is ordained. I will walk beside him in spirit during every step of the liturgy. The church won’t recognize it, but the Holy Spirit will ordain me, too—not to the institution, but to God. I will be asked me to offer my resurrected life to others, especially women.
Guest blogger Bridget Purdome and her husband, Mark, completed their journey through the diaconate formation program in May 2007. In May 2010, Bridget received her master of arts in pastoral studies from Loyola University Chicago. She is currently working on a joint master’s degree in divinity and spirituality. Her ministry includes providing spiritual care to women and men who are homeless and marginalized. Her daily reflections can be found at www.TheSpiritToday.com.
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.