Fifteen women were allowed to witness Vatican Council II. Sister Mary Luke Tobin was one of them. Besides being a nun with the Sisters of Loretto, Mary Luke  lived her life as an antiwar activist; an international lecturer against rising militarism; and an advocate for justice, peace and human rights around the world. She was one of the most interesting people I ever met.

This is Part 2 in a series on Sister Mary Luke Tobin, a shape changer in the American Catholic Church. Read how I met her in my memoir, God’s Patient Pursuit of My Soul.

Women are not recognized as full members of the church.

Women are part of the church, but they’re not recognized as full, participating members of the church. Jesus, on the other hand, recognized that women had a major role to play in carrying out his message.

Saint Paul, in Galatians 3:28, says that Christians are

“neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, Greek nor Jew, but are all one in Christ.”

“This Galatians verse is the biblical text on which Christian feminism is based. Why? Because it says that in the Christian faith, all persons are equal before God and are to be recognized as such. They are not to be seen as anything less than full persons: they are not to be denied dignity because of their nationality, race, gender, or anything else.

As soon as you leave women out of any aspect of the church, it’s no longer a complete church.

chris manion blog on Mary Magdalene

Photo by GlasgowAmateur

“Fully recognized personhood is what the whole women’s movement in the church is based on. I think that Christian feminists are saying a simple thing. They want people to realize that the Catholic Church is a church for all of us. Women have to speak up and say that they are working toward a church that will include men and women equally and in every aspect of the church. Because as soon as you leave women out of any aspect of the church, it’s no longer a complete church. Are Christian feminists the first to stress this gospel view of human equality? It sounds like an idea that’s too important to ignore.

“Indeed it is. It’s the basis of so much of what we believe as well as the source of many of our problems in today’s world. Karl Rahner, the great Catholic theologian and an important influence on Vatican II, has given a wonderful definition of human identity. He says:

“every human person is an event of the absolute, radical, free self-communication of God.”

“Today we ask for contemporary language. We know the terms ‘event,’ ‘radical,’ ‘free,’ ‘communication,’ and ‘self’— so when Rahner says that each of us is a happening of God’s own self-communication, we have a neat explanation of the wonder that is a human being. Our greatness is freely God’s gift. Why should we then limit it for one another? God’s own self, not some other object or thing, is what is given to us.

Our greatness is freely God’s gift. Why should we then limit it?

“We share the divine life itself. All this, of course, is a matter of faith. When Rahner says that every human person is a self-communication of God, he means it. He’s not talking about just Catholics or Christians: everyone is created to receive God’s own self- communication. Simply by virtue of being created a human being, we are the recipients of God’s own self.

“This ties in with a saying of Thomas Merton’s: that God is in our center, and that because of God’s self-communication to us, we have everything we need. Of course, that’s not pantheism. We’re not God, but we certainly share in God’s life; and that makes our human dignity very high. “

“I love to tell a story about Thomas Merton’s last words. He went to Bangkok to speak with a group of Asian monks and nuns in 1968. Since this lecture is on film and he died in his room shortly after the lecture, you hear all this talk about the lecture containing Merton’s famous last words. But those weren’t his last words. On the way back to his room from the lecture and lunch he was accompanied by a priest who gave him some of the audience’s reaction to the talk. They were asking: why didn’t he talk more about converting people to Christianity? Merton answered in a way that very much explains what I’ve just been talking about.

“I think that what we’re asked to do today is not so much to speak about Christ or God. The point is to let Christ act in us. Then, people can find God by feeling how God lives in us.” That is how I am trying to live my life now. Letting Chris act in me. It means surrendering the driver’s seat which is an active gift I have to work on constantly since I keep trying to take the wheel back. Merton had a great impact upon my spiritual growth and contemplative journey.


“And Merton, of course, was in good company: Saint Paul himself says, in Galatians 2:20,

“I live not now, but Christ lives in me.”

“A statement like that makes me think twice about putting down Paul for being sexist in his writings. I’d prefer to think that something like ‘wives, be submissive to your husbands,’ Ephesians 5:22, came from someone else who was later writing or editing his letters for him and not from Paul himself. Can ‘wives, be submissive to your husbands’ conceivably come from the same man who said, ‘neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, Greek nor Jew, but we are all one in Christ’? I have to wonder. Maybe Paul did write all that himself.

“All I have to say about it, said Sr. Mary Luke, “is that we cannot tolerate his words against women as being handed down by Jesus—not if you watch Jesus and the way he included women, reached out to them, at a time when it was not customary or popular to do so.”

Next post: Who’s going to believe women?  Mary Luke Tobin on women in leadership positions in the Church.

Read more about Sister Mary Luke Tobin in God’s Patient Pursuit of My Soul, endorsed by Father Thomas Keating, known as the architect of centering prayer. Click here to read what others are saying about the book.