ONE OF MY favorite spiritual writers is St. Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite, who died in 1582. She describes prayer as "looking at God looking at me." It strikes me that this is the goal of all spirituality -- whether Christian, Jew, Muslim or Buddhist -- to see our ourselves, others and our world with the eyes of God.
There are a few extraordinary people whose very presence inspires us to see ourselves and our world as God sees us. I had my first opportunity to actually look eye-to-eye with Pope John Paul II in 1986 when I was in Rome for a spiritual renewal program offered on the occasion of my silver jubilee marking 25 years as a School Sister of Notre Dame. Looking into his eyes automatically compels one to see life through his own union with God.
Encounters with most people begin and end with the human person. An encounter with the Holy Father begins with the man, but ends with a deeper encounter with ourselves and our God. It is an amazing experience beyond description or translation. Perhaps this is why one man aligned to so many specific moral and theological beliefs can have such universal attraction and appeal. His very person inspires one to reach beyond religions and issues and connect to the God within.
I am often questioned regarding my participation in a church that is not fully inclusive of women -- especially around the issue of ordination when ordination is key to influence and leadership within that church.
The Roman Catholic Church has always been a challenging and authentic avenue for me in deepening and living my relationship with God. I have never felt I lacked a voice within the church. I do believe, however, that the overall voice of women is limited. I also believe that the dialogue around the influence and role of women continues to be marked by authentic integrity and a growing realization that limiting the voice of women is a loss to the church as much as it is a deprivation to women.
In his July 10, 1995, "Letter to Women," the Holy Father apologizes for any part the church may have had in "relegating women to the margins of society and reducing them to servitude," thereby resulting in a "spiritual impoverishment of humanity."
He also expresses admiration to "those women of goodwill who have devoted their lives to defending the dignity of womanhood by fighting for their basic social, economic and political rights, demonstrating courageous initiative at a time when this was considered extremely inappropriate, the sign of a lack of femininity, a manifestation of exhibitionism and even a sin!" Some journalists have suggested that parts of the pope's letter sound like a modern feminist.
Notre Dame centennial
It is no small coincidence that the Holy Father comes to Baltimore at the very moment the College of Notre Dame of Maryland celebrates its centennial as the first Catholic college for women in the United States. Previously, many Catholic institutions offered the full baccalaureate degree, but women were not admitted. Nor is it a small coincidence that the Sunday after the papal visit we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Avila -- one of only two women declared a Doctor of the Church. Without being too presumptuous, I do believe God works through such coincidences to inspire new paradigms.
Sunday, October 8, is a day of grace for all who are a part of our community -- a day in which the presence of one man invites us individually and collectively to see our lives and our world as God sees us. Grace is both a blessing and a choice. In the book "The Power of Myth," Joseph Campbell says, "immortality is . . . identification with that which is of eternity in your own life now."
No matter how close or far away our encounter with the Holy Father may be, no matter how close or far apart we stand on any issue, let's proclaim October 8 a "Day of Immortality" for all of us in Baltimore because we choose to identify with that which is of eternity in our own lives now.
Rosemarie Nassif, SSND, is president of the College of Notre Dame.