Speaker says bold spirituality needed to fight ‘culture of silence’

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – A Mercy sister used Gospel stories to help illustrate how to develop a spirituality she said is needed to boldly speak out against a “culture of silence” that allows oppression and gender-based violence.

Sister Mary Kay Dobrovolny, from Omaha, Neb., told Mercy sisters and associates July 19 that the woman who in St. Mark’s Gospel was healed from a flow of blood provides such a model.

In Chapter 5, Verses 25-34, the anonymous woman touches the cloak of Jesus, who wants to know who touched him as he notices his power leaving him. Although initially reluctant to come forward, the woman falls at Jesus’ feet and reveals herself.

“Jesus is the one who calls her out of her silence and then acknowledges the significant role of her own bold and courageous action,” said Sister Mary Kay, who teaches theology and directs campus ministry programs at the College of St. Mary in Omaha.

“While the power went out from Jesus,” she said, “it was the woman who initiated the contact and made it possible for the healing power of God to restore her to full health.”

Sister Mary Kay spoke at an annual gathering of sisters and associates of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West Community held at St. Bonaventure University in St. Bonaventure. She delivered two talks on four Gospel stories under the title “The Spirituality of Finding Our Voice in the Gospel of Mark.”

About 260 sisters and associates attended the July 18-20 event, which had as its theme “Theology of a Merciful Heart.”

Using another Gospel story, Sister Mary Kay developed her theme from the account of the woman from Syrophoenicia in Chapter 7, Verses 24-30, of St. Mark’s Gospel.

In the story, Jesus retired to a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet, a Syrophoenician woman, a Gentile, approached him with head bowed and begged him to heal her daughter of an unclean spirit. Jesus refused her harshly, which Sister Mary Kay said was perhaps because of her religion and ethnicity. The woman issued a retort to Jesus, who then healed her daughter.

“Instead of cowering in the face of opposition and a power play by Jesus, she modeled courage and tenacity,” said Sister Mary Kay.

“She chose to challenge Jesus and believe in the inherent dignity of herself, her child and all others who present their needs to the teacher and healer named Jesus. She did not walk away in silence but stood her ground and responded to Jesus with dignity, integrity and a belief in the legitimacy of her request,” Sister Mary Kay added.

Following each presentation, participants were invited to discuss a series of reflection questions based on the talks. Participants interviewed said they found value in both the talks and discussion.

Sister Carolyn Schallenberger, from Pittsburgh, said Sister Mary Kay’s perspective on the account of the woman healed from a flow of blood showed how cultural differences played a role in the story.

“This will enlighten me to read Scripture differently and take that view to different parables and stories,” she said.

Sister Rita Brocke, from Erie, Pa., said the talks helped her explore humility as a woman.

“We need to ask if we are being called to a different way of expressing humility by speaking out, taking stands and being prophets,” she said.

Jane Bigelow, a Mercy associate from Buffalo, considered the talks a continuation of her biblical studies.

Sister Mary Kay “put a different perspective on the Gospel, especially for women. She broadened my understanding of Mark’s Gospel,” she said.

Sister Virgencita “Jenjen” Alegado, from the Philippines, said all people have experienced silence in different forms, even in the church. She said the Gospel stories used in the presentations are for healing.

“I find hope in what (Sister Mary Kay) was saying, especially in the story of the Syrophoenician woman’s persistence. We need creativity and perseverance to share the message of Christ,” she said.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.