August 17, 2021

Back at the pulpit, Sister Barbara answers her call

Sister Barbara Moore displays “Preaching the Scriptures through the lens of Age and Wisdom” published in 2018. Her previous work was titled “Preaching the New Testament: Rediscovering it named and unnamed women!”

After a hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and working life experiences of loss, Sister Barbara Moore is back preaching from a pulpit once more.

“It is so good to be preaching in a church again,” Barbara said.

But this summer she has been sharing her reflections on Scripture in Presbyterian churches in the Rochester, New York, area where she lives.

She laments that she can no longer preach in Catholic churches as she did several years ago because of a rule that stipulates that only ordained clergy can preach during a Mass.

Now retired Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester interpreted the rule differently and allowed laypersons, including women, to preach at Mass. That changed in 2014 when Bishop Salvatore Matano, as the new bishop of Rochester, ordered an end to lay preaching, citing a strict adherence to canon law. 

“You have to find different ways to do what you are called to do and put your energy where you can do the most,” said Barbara, author of three books on preaching and a former teacher of preaching and practical theology at the ecumenical Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester.

So, Barbara began a blog three years ago in which she shares weekly reflections on the Sunday readings at Mass. Here is the link. Also, she continues to look for out-reach opportunities to preach.

“I’m not saying that I have a right to preach,” said Barbara, a Sister of Mercy since 1961. “But if one has a call, it should be tested and, if found valid, should be celebrated and used.”

That is how Barbara phased into preaching in the first place. In the early 1970s, when women religious were moving from classroom teaching to other ministries, Barbara became a pastoral assistant at St. Monica Parish, Rochester, where a priest invited her to preach a monthly homily during Mass for the parish.

 “I had no previous training, but I loved it,” she recalled. And parishioners appreciated the way in which she broke open the Scriptures. This led her to more study earning a master of divinity degree and a doctorate in ministry in preaching. 

At just over five-feet tall, the energetic Barbara does not exactly tower at an ambo, or pulpit. She amusingly relates a story in which two carpenters at a Catholic parish built a small riser on which she could stand.

“When I first stood on it, people applauded,” she said, noting that one parishioner, seeing her several inches taller, kiddingly told her that she didn’t know Barbara had shoulders. To which the Barbara responded, “I didn’t know there were two front rows!”

She remains concerned about the church missing out on the gifts of laypersons.

“I think the older I get the more I realize the Holy Spirit functions where she will and gives gifts to people and calls people, and it is so sad when we stand in the way of the Holy Spirit because of human law. This is the sadness I feel.”

Also, aging has shown her the “devastating effect of the failure to welcome women on an equal basis” in the Catholic Church. 

“People with young daughters are having a real struggle. Some of our younger clergy as sincere as they are step back into pre-Vatican II liturgical practices. I feel the church as a whole will certainly continue, but it is losing credibility with many people.”

Reflecting on her preaching, she said: “I love God’s Word and while I cannot preach in my own tradition, I deeply appreciate other Christian churches who invite me to preach and the invitation to teach adult education in the Catholic community. In addition, the weekly blog enables me to share reflections of the Sunday readings. In a real sense my computer has become a virtual pulpit. The Holy Spirit has a great sense of humor.”

Written by Gary Loncki, Communications  Director on the Internal Communications Team for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

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