We live in a world afflicted by a cacophony of voices. We are bombarded by an avalanche of digital distractions – whether on social media or emails, on our iPads or iPhones, on our televisions or newspapers. Added to this digital chaos are other voices that compete for our attention or attempt to shape our image of self and our world.
At times these voices become so loud they drown out our very capacity to think, to reflect, to stop and notice what is truly essential and what makes us truly human. Other times, such noise and distraction create confusion and intensify our inability to act. We ask: What in a world where there seems to be no end to a string of bad news can I do? Floods, droughts, conflict, sectarian violence, people on the move confronted by walls of xenophobia and bigotry…. The list is as frightening as the noise it generates is deafening.
Today’s gospel, as told by John, invites to notice and listen to one more voice. It is the voice of the Shepherd who says: “My sheep hear my voice”; “I am the Shepherd who calls my own sheep by name and lead them out…. My sheep follow me, because they recognize my voice.” This voice is refreshingly different: the voice of the Shepherd does not assail us with material distractions; rather, the Shepherd offers us life: I have come that you may have life in abundance. What a consoling voice amidst the chaos and confusion of our 21st century digitalized world! The voice of the Shepherd restores our inner peace and calm. The Shepherd’s voice refocuses our attention on that which is truly life-giving.
But there is one condition for hearing the voice of this Good and Life-giving Shepherd. The word is SILENCE…. Silence is not merely the absence of noise. Silence is our capacity for depth and interiority. Silence takes us to the place where true encounter happens between us and the Shepherd who calls our souls out to green and verdant pastures. I recall a poem by Harry Alfred Wiggett; he says, “Silence is Sitting still/Standing still/Lying still/ Consciously/Gratefully/Gracefully….” This is the kind of silence that enabled Elijah to hear God’s small, still voice; the silence that empowered Samuel to say to God, “Speak, I hear you, I am listening”; it is the silence that Psalm 46 invites us to: “Be still and know that I am God; be still and know; be still … be.”
I hear in today’s gospel an invitation to cultivate an attitude of silence. This attitude of silence begins when we stop and listen – like Elijah on the mountain, like Samuel in the temple, like Hannah at prayer, and like Mary at the Annunciation. It doesn’t take much: it could involve as little as retreating from the digital chaos that surrounds me – just for a few minutes, even a couple of minutes, at a time. It means trying to find our own Interior Castle where the confusion and chaos of “thieves and robbers” give way to the consoling and comforting voice of the Good Shepherd. Cultivating silence and creating a space of silence where God encounters us freely takes effort, but it’s one step at a time, one day at a time. Think of it: How much richer would our lives be if we could only intersperse our frenetic busyness with little pockets of silence!
Something else about silence: there is a powerful and empowering quality to the gift of silence. Years ago, I read a story in Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart, about a Mother Kite who sent her daughter to bring food. When Daughter Kite brought back a duckling, Mother Kite asked: “What did the mother of this duckling say when you swooped and carried its child away?” “It said nothing,” replied the young kite. “It just walked away.” “Then, you must return the duckling,” said Mother Kite. “There is something ominous behind the silence.” And so Daughter Kite returned the duckling and took a chick instead. “What did the mother of this chick do?” asked the old kite. “It cried and raved and cursed me,” said the young kite. Mother Kite replied: “There is nothing to fear from someone who shouts.”
As a woman, I am deeply in tune with my inner capacity for thought, reflection, and action. As an African woman Catholic, I have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd calling me by name, emboldening my imagination, and strengthening my resolve strive for fullness of life for me, for my sisters and for my brothers. Yet, I am too painfully aware, too, that my voice may not always be as loud, strident, and valued as those who shout with power and authority, who lord it over others in the church.
Nevertheless, life-giving and empowering voices of women are rising across the world, in church and society. We have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd; we have been nourished by God’s gift of abundant life. With passion and compassion, we lift our voices to ask: Why is our church not listening to us? Why does our church not hear our voices?
Like the Good Shepherd, we bring gifts of life to renew our broken world. We come with our talents and gifts to nourish the community of the Risen Christ. We come not to burgle or to steal, but to cradle humanity with compassion and to reveal the face of God as love.
Let me leave you with a quote from the second African Synod: “Women in Africa make a great contribution to the family, to society and to the Church by their many talents and unique gifts. . . . The Church and society need women to take their full place in the world ‘so that the human race can live in the world without completely losing its humanity’” (Africae Munus, no. 55).
As women, our voices are an embodiment of this quest for humanity promised us by the Good Shepherd.
Anne Arabome, SSS
Anne Arabome, SSS
Anne Arabome is a member in good standing of the Sisters of Social Service in Los Angeles, California.
She is presently the Associate Director of the Faber Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. The Faber Center is dedicated to providing faculty and staff with support and guidance in leading a reflective life. Through retreats, reflection groups, and spiritual direction, faculty and staff connect to their spiritual core and God (https://www.marquette.edu/faber-center/).
Her ministerial and research interests include ethical and theological issues that shape the spiritual and devotional lives of African women in African and North American Diaspora; spirituality of minority groups in the 21st century; contemporary and contextual expressions and applications of Ignatian spirituality and practice; justice-informed ministry, counseling, and accompaniment; social justice; and the interplay of religions, spirituality, cultures, gender, church, and society.
Of Nigerian parentage and origin, she is a naturalized US citizen. She holds
· a PhD in Systematic Theology from the University of Roehampton in London, UK. Dissertation title: “‘Bridge over troubled waters’: a critical reevaluation of gender in religion with particular emphasis on the role, identity and mission of African women in Christianity in rhetoric and practice within the Roman Catholic Tradition.” 2015 – 2016.
· a Doctor of Ministry in Spirituality (DMin) from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, USA. Dissertation title: “Gifts and Challenges of African Nigerian Women in Diaspora to the Parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago.” 2008 – 2011.
· a Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Studies from the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. 2008 – 2009.
· a Masters in Religious Studies and Pastoral Counseling from Mt. St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles, California. 2002 – 2004.
She has published several articles and book chapters on Theology, Gender, Ecclesiology and Church Leadership; Feminist, Womanist, or Mujerista Ethics; and Women’s Spirituality and Spiritual Practice, including:
· Why do You Trouble this Woman? Women and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Paulist Press, forthcoming in 2022)
· “A Beautiful Life: Portrait of Inculturated Religious Life in Africa” (A commissioned article written for “Women Religious Theologians Symposium,” a community of sister scholars engaging the global issues of religious life today under the auspices of the International Union of Superiors General [UISG], due out in January 2022).
· “I can’t breathe because God can’t breathe” in National Catholic Reporter (https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/i-cant-breathe-because-god-cant-breathe) June 10, 2020.
· “Who is Christ for African Women?” in Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table, ed. The Catholic Women Speak Network (Paulist Press, 2015).
· “How Are Theologians Challenged by their Engagement with the Sense of the Faithful in the Global/Local Church,” CTSA Proceedings 70 (2015): 60-71 (Keynote address at CTSA convention; also published in chapter 25 of Bradford E. Hinze and Peter C. Phan, eds., Learning from All the Faithful: A Contemporary Theology of the Sensus Fidei (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016).
· “When a sleeping woman wakes” in The Church We Want: African Catholics Look To Vatican III, ed. Agbonkhiameghe E. Orobator (Orbis Books, 2015).
· “African Spirituality for a New Ecclesia in Africa” in The Church We Want: Foundations, Theology and Mission of the Church in Africa, ed. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator (Paulines Publications, 2015).
· “Reimagining African Theology: The Promise of a New Generation” in Theological Reimagination: Conversations on Church, Religion, and Society in Africa, ed. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator (Paulines Publications, 2014).
· “The Sacrifice of Africa and the Midwives of a New Church and a New Africa” Modern Theology 30 (2): 408-413 (2014).
· “Dreams from My Mother, Prayers to My Father: Rethinking the Trinity of God, Woman, and Church” in Feminist Catholic Theological Ethics: Conversations in the World Church, eds. Linda Hogan and A. E. Orobator (Orbis Books, 2014).
· “‘Woman, You are Set Free!’ Women and Discipleship in the Church” in Reconciliation Justice, and Peace: The Second African Synod, ed. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator (Orbis Books, 2011).
· “Gender and Ecclesiology: Authorities, Structures, Ministry” in Gender in Theology, Spirituality and Practice,Concilium 2012/4, ed. Lisa Sowle Cahill, Diego Irarrazaval, and Elaine M. Wainwright.
· “Making Justice at Home or Justice Begins at Home” in Practicing Reconciliation, Doing Justice, Building Peace: Conversations in Catholic Theological Ethics in Africa, ed. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator (Paulines Publications, 2013).