Tag Archives: Women

Playing Small Doesn’t Serve Anyone

Change the World - ChristinaNoelI was at an event last week, and I met a woman who looked incredibly familiar. We gave each other that knowing glance and simultaneously asked, “How do I know you?” It quickly became obvious that we share many acquaintances in common – for such a big city, the Catholic community in Chicago is a very small world! We have a number of similar interests, and as we played the name game, we naturally began talking about our careers.

I asked what kind of work she did, and there was a long pause followed by a deep sigh. It would be an understatement to say that she is not pleased with her current employer. We made light of challenging work situations, until she finally asked about me. And what do you do?  I laughed.

Typically in these types of settings, where networking opportunities are at a premium, I try to paint my situation in the best possible light. I usually say that I’m in transition between full-time jobs. I talk about freelance writing projects, working from home, and pursuing new full-time opportunities.

Until this point in the evening, it had been such a casual and candid conversation. So, I simply said, “Well, I’m actually unemployed!”  We both laughed!

Upon overhearing all of this self-deprecating banter, a mutual friend inserted herself into the conversation. “Hold on just a minute ladies! Let’s try this again. You two obviously don’t know each other very well!” She then proceeded to re-introduce us to one another.

She began, “First, I’d like to introduce my friend Beth, a two time author, who holds a M.Div. from Catholic Theological Union, and who is an amazing young adult minister. Second, I’d like to introduce my other friend, an inspiring individual who cares deeply about education, international development, and is the founder of her own non-profit organization.”

Wow!! If there was ever a moment where two women were caught in the act of selling themselves short, this was it!  If our mutual friend had not stepped into the conversation, I would have gone home early only knowing one more Millennial who is frustrated with her 9-to-5 office job. And she would have left only knowing me as one more Gen X-er in search of full-time work.

I used to keep a clip from Marianne Williamson’s book “A Return to Love” posted above my desk. I need this reminder, sometimes multiple times a day!

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

A while back, one of my best friends shared this article about how we introduce our friends at parties.  The author says it perfectly, “Introducing your friends for who they are rather than focusing on what they do will remind them they are loved before and beyond their titles. It’s an easy way to remind them that you see them for their hearts instead of their accomplishments.”

It’s hard to carry on a conversation without talking about the things that keep us busy for most of our waking hours! How do you introduce yourself without referencing your resume for talking points?  Several years ago I went away on a weekend retreat because I needed a couple of days of prayer with an intentional community of faith.  I was not going there looking to make friends or find a date or network over similar career paths. As a matter of fact, I made a point of not talking about my job or introducing myself by my role at work.

When people asked, “Where are you from?” I mentioned where I lived, how long I’ve been there, and why I loved my neighborhood. When people asked, “What do you do?” I told them about how much time I spend in my garden, my volunteer commitments, the ways I spoil my nieces and nephews, and my role on the condo association board.

I’m pretty sure it drove some people crazy! One person finally asked me point blank, “What kind of work do you do?” Sensing their frustration with my vague answers, I simply said, “I work really hard five days a week, and I’d rather spend my weekends not talking about my job.”

It takes a certain confidence to be the kind of person who always has something interesting to talk about. I can think of one friend in particular who does impeccable work, at a prestigious organization, and works with influential people every day. But she rarely talks about her job.

In addition to the work she gets paid to do – she is also an athlete, she travels, she loves the theatre, she belongs to a book club, she’s involved with her church, and many other things. There is always something else to talk about!

Isn’t it time that we start defining ourselves by our passions …. by the things that give us life and bring us joy … and not just the activities that help us pay the rent?  I was grateful to be reminded of this again last week.

I need to be more conscious of how I introduce myself, how I refer to my friends, and to keep a handful of questions in my back pocket that open up the conversation beyond the daily grind.  Playing small doesn’t serve anyone.

(Photo by Christina Noel photography)

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Reflections on the Installation Mass

What an honor to serve at the Installation Mass of Chicago’s Ninth Archbishop, Blase Cupich and to wish the best to Francis Cardinal George as he begins a much deserved retirement after 17 years.   There are so many stories to share!

Let me start by saying, I’ve taken the Red Line train to Holy Name Cathedral dozens of times!  Tuesday morning, I was so excited/nervous that I got off the train one stop too soon.  And I was so exhausted on the way home that I went two extra stops before I realized that it was time to get off!  (I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there someplace.)  Needless to say, it was a really incredible day!

Amanda Thompson, Christina Bax, Beth Knobbe, Sarah Balough

Altar Servers: Amanda Thompson, Christina Bax, Beth Knobbe, and Sarah Balough

How Did This Happen? 
Almost a month ago, I received a phone call from the Office for Divine Worship.  They had recently met with Bishop Cupich to discuss the installation ceremonies.  Bishop Cupich specifically requested both men and women altar servers at the Installation Mass on November 18.  There would be four women and four seminarians represented.  Would I be willing and available to serve?

I said YES immediately for two reasons. First, I grew up in Nebraska, as did Bishop Cupich.  (Although, I don’t think ODW knew about this!)  I did not know the Bishop, but there is a comradery that exists among Nebraskans in Chicago, and I wanted to show my support. Second, I’m kind of a church-nerd, and I really wanted to be there! Seriously, how else does one get a front row seat for a Mass like this?!  (Unless of course, you’re the Mayor, and even he was seated in Row 7.)

Honestly, in the excitement of meeting our new Archbishop, the significance of women altar servers had been lost on me.  As one of my seminary classmates, now at a church on the East coast, quipped to me afterwards, “this would never happen in my Diocese!”

What Was It Like?
The mass was wonderful – beautiful, prayerful, lively, humorous, spirit-filled!  You can watch the procession and listen to the homily online.  As a matter of fact, I should go back and watch it myself!  There was a pillar blocking my view of the Cathedra, so while I could hear everything just fine, I could not see any of the ceremony!

It was liturgy with style and grace at its very best!  I found myself repeating the refrain of my favorite liturgy professor, “Hold holy objects with reverence and care.”  In other words, don’t drop the candle and don’t trip on the stairs!

In some ways, the Mass itself was not all that different.  And yet, this Mass was incredibly significant!  It was one of those grand occasions where I’m tempted to impart meaning on every minor detail.  With all the pomp and circumstance, everything seemed so much larger than life.  I will try not to embellish too much!

A Spirit of Welcome! 
On the day the Church installed a new Archbishop, “welcome” was an overriding theme!  There was an atmosphere of welcome and inclusion that I hope to hold onto for a long time.  To be honest, being welcoming and inclusive is not something that the Church has always done well, and I think we still have a long way to go.  There are moments from this day that I will truly treasure.

When the altar servers gathered in the sanctuary for rehearsal, instinctively and without prompting, there began a round of introductions.  Everyone made sure that names had been shared – Andy, Adam, Beth, Christina, Fr. Matt, Fr. Brad, Juan, Michael, Amanda, and Sarah.

Beth, Christina, Fr. Ken

Beth, Christina, Fr. Ken

As we waited for Mass to begin, the atmosphere in the sacristy was like a gathering of old friends – priests, deacons, lay men and women, seminarians.  There were hugs and handshakes, conversations about parish meetings, and genuine concerns expressed about the recent school closings.

Women serving on the altar is not something you see every day – and certainly not at the installation of a bishop!  If anyone objected to our presence, no one said it.  Not with their words or their body language.  As a matter of fact, I heard “thank you” a lot – thank you for being here, thank you for serving, thank you for all that you do.  I heard this from priests and laypeople alike.

After mass, I ran into a priest who I’ve met many times.  He is a very faithful and capable priest, but his demeanor is rather … stiff.  It is easy to mis-read his cues as unfriendly.  When we passed each other in the sacristy, he exuded the warmest smile and most friendly greeting that we have ever exchanged!  On this day, in particular, that one encounter meant a lot!

Other Things You Didn’t See on TV
This is a fabulous picture! I find it funny, because the high-def photography makes it appear as if Cardinal O’Malley is standing immediately behind us.  He was easily 8-10 feet away!


Christina, Beth, Bishop Sean O’Malley (background), and Bishop Blase Cupich

During the hand washing, I kept thinking about my Sacraments class and various lectures on liturgical symbols – symbols make real what they signify, so make sure they’re done well.  I used a lot of water!!

I also took a good, long look at Bishop Cupich’s hands.  Hands carry a history, hands tell a story.  My grandma had hands that were strong enough to carry a crate of calf bottles and knuckles big enough to knead bread dough.  Bishop Cupich has hands that are soft yet well-worn with age and wisdom.  Hands that have surely baptized babies and anointed the elderly. Hands that will touch a lot of lives here in Chicago.  Christina and I also both noted how he looked us in the eye during the rite.  He has these piercing blue eyes, set deep into his face – inviting people in and reading everything around him.

At the sign of peace, we turned to greet those around us.  One of the bishops, sitting in the area near us, walked over and said, “I’ve never seen altar servers SMILE for the entire liturgy!”

Also during communion, one of our fellow altar servers, Juan Ramirez, sang every verse and refrain of the hymn Pescadores de Hombres without ever opening the worship aid.  As I turned to look at him, I could see all the bishops seated behind us – not exactly the epitome of ethnic diversity.

The liturgical ministers (readers, greeters, ushers, musicians) represented the breadth of the church of Chicago.  Prayers of the Faithful were recited in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Ojibway, Croation, Italian, and Tagalog.  I enjoyed the shouts of “Vive!” in response to Bishop Cupich’s greetings in Spanish.  It made me long for a day when our bishop’s conference is a wider representation of the people of God.

Finally, what does all this mean?

Christina, Blase, Beth

Christina and I meeting Bishop Cupich at the reception.

I am sure there are people for whom this change in administration is more than a little nerve wracking.  Change is always hard, and I’m sure those changes will be coming soon.  It was great to be a part of the excitement and anticipation of something new.


I’ve been through more transitions than I care to remember in recent years!  I’ve seen how leaders set the tone for an organization.  We pick up cues about what is acceptable, what is preferred.  I see how young people mimic the work of their mentors, until they begin to find their own way.  If this Installation Mass is any indication of what is to come, then what a great example for others to follow!

Is Bishop Cupich sending a message?  To paraphrase his first press conference, I think Pope Francis has sent us a pastor.  Bishop Cupich recently had this to say about women in the church:

The church must engage the larger issue of women and begin by listening to women them­selves…. This is a very big knot that needs attention and it will not be untied lec­turing women, and it will not be solved unless men in authority in the church clearly and deeply understand that there is a very great difference between the way women approach things and the way men approach things.  (Talking About Faith to a Skeptical World in a Secular Age)

If Bishop Cupich is serious about listening to the needs and concerns of women, then inviting women to serve at the table of the Lord is certainly a good place to start!  What a joy to witness and participate in this new beginning.


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Young Women Making a Difference

This week, the National Catholic Reporter recognized 12 young women making a difference in the Church.  I am honored to be counted among this group!  As I watched the news spread via Facebook, I was incredibly grateful for the accolades and curious about some of the criticisms of the article.

I was challenged in a particular way by this comment which was posted on Fr. Jim Martin’s facebook page:

@ Ana Vargas: I would love it if these 12 women could nominate another 12 women who – without the benefit of doctorates and masters degrees – are also models of the faith and are building up the Church. As an intellectual I am always humbled by the sanctity of those uneducated or even illiterate saints.  St. Bernadette, St. Martin de Porres, pray for us.

Ana, you are so right. There are so many women in the world who are making a difference in their communities and advancing the mission of the Gospel without the benefit of formal education.  Education is a gift and a privilege. It does not make any one of us more worthy of recognition.

Each woman on this list is impressive in her accomplishments and deserving of recognition.  Yet there is a definite bias toward privilege.  I imagine this is as much a reflection on the average NCR reader and those who nominated us, as it is a reflection of the nominees themselves.

Also missing from this list of “young women” are those under age 29.  I work with young women between the ages of 18-25 every single day.  While they are not yet fully established in their careers, they never cease to amaze me.  They are truly making a difference in the church, some locally and others on a global scale.

When I was in my early-20s, there were so many women who encouraged me in my faith and supported me in following my dreams.  I would often wonder why they were so generous!  Each of them, without reservation, told me to pay it forward.  When you have the chance 5, 10, 15 years from now – give something back to another young woman.

So, below is my own list of young women who are making a difference – all under the age of 30.  Yes, all of the women on this list are college educated, and some of them even have Master’s degrees.  (It’s my list, and I admit that I am biased!)  However, none of them take this for granted.  They are talented and smart. They are committed to lives of prayer and service. They are making a difference in their communities and in our Church.  (And I am so proud of them!)

Christina Rosales (Loredo, TX) – Christina is a reporter for the Dallas Morning News with a passion for human interest stories.  She is an excellent journalist!  She speaks with authority because she speaks from a heart filled with compassion and justice.

Kim Brightmore (Chicago, IL) – Kim teaches third grade at St. Agnes of Bohemia in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood.  She is dedicated to Catholic education and brings a smile and sense of humor to her classroom. Her enthusiasm for faith and her desire to see God in all things is contagious.

Katie Kustusch (Chicago, IL) – Katie is a Missionary of Compassion with Hearts Home International currently serving in El Salvador.  She is committed to sharing the joy of Jesus with those on the margins of society.

Lillianna Franco (Chicago, IL) – This former Miss Illinois Teen Latina is committed to making a difference in the Latino/a community. She strives each day to inspire and motivate other young women to succeed.  During her time at Northwestern, she was co-leader of NU Inter Varsity’s “LaFe” chapter and led our annual mission trip to Nicaragua.

Karla Santana (Managua, Nicaragua) – Karla works with the Fabretto Children’s Foundation in Managua, Nicaragua.  She is committed to the children of her country and their future.  She is a beacon of hope in the face of adversity.

Anna Bisaro (Warwick, NY) – Anna is a budding journalist with deep sense of social justice. She has held internships in both Italy and South Africa, and she is an avid tri-athlete. Anna strives to make the world a better place by sharing stories and making a positive change for those in need.

Rachel Grubb (Knoxville, TN) – Rachel was received into the Catholic Church this past year.  She is completely and utterly in love with her newfound faith!  She recently completed her Masters in Orchestral Conducting and plays violin with the Knoxville Symphony.

Christina Landauer (Arlington, VA) – Christi is a beautiful wife, mother, and friend.  She strives to live out the teachings of the Church in her everyday life and pass them on to her children.  And she is incredibly strong-willed just like her daughter!

Christina Paschyn (Parma, OH) – Christina is an experienced international journalist who teaches at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Doha, Qatar.  She is passionate about women’s issues in the church and society at large.

Diana Martinez (Chicago, IL) – Diana is a rising senior at Northwestern, president of her sorority, and former student chair of Northwestern Students for Life.  Last summer, Diana served as an intern at a local adoption agency, and she is an outspoken advocate for the unborn.

It amazes me that God would allow me the privilege to journey with each of these young women and so many others (women and men!) who walk through the doors of the Sheil Catholic Center each week.  As my friend and fellow nominee Christine Riley says, “It doesn’t mean anything if you’re not helping anybody else along.”

I challenge you!  What have you done, what will you do today, to support and encourage young women in their walk with Christ and in their desire to make a difference in the world? 

Many thanks to Sr. Margaret Feldner, Sr. Shirley Finnegan, Sr. Louise Hembrecht, Sr. Janet May, Sr. Barbara Bowe, Sharon Rief, Roxanne Rochester, Peggy Burke, Kathy Lunsky, Elizabeth Dreyer, Lisa Biedenbach, etc. etc. who believed in my gifts and encouraged me to follow that small, still voice of God calling me to service and ministry.  I would not be the woman I am today without you!

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