Today we often hear the word empowerment used in regard to women’s rights, minority rights and so on. The idea conveyed is that recognizing others’ rights enables them to function out of the power their rights confer. Because of this, the term has come to have negative connotations for those frightened by the prospect of formerly powerless groups now assuming power. The word, however, is not new. In St. John’s Gospel we read:
To his own he came and his own received him not. Any who did accept him he empowered to become children of God (1:11-12).
Here we see the term used in a way designed to frighten no one. Though Christ empowered others in a unique way, is it so different with us? We can all remember occasions when we found ourselves in an accepting environment—in school, a workshop, a retreat, a parish meeting, a social event—when a teacher, speaker, or even a stranger touched our heart in some surprising or challenging way. Perhaps their comment or attitude toward us evoked long-forgotten goals and gave us courage to try once more. Or perhaps they brought out in us unsuspected powers of imagination or unknown skills. But empowerment need not stop there. If bringing these powers back into our ordinary daily context, we in turn surprise our companions in such a way that they begin to see us in a different light, a chain reaction occurs. Seeing us with “new eyes” enables them to be more accepting of us and we, experiencing ourselves as more acceptable, increase further in growth and maturity. In addition, we might find that the wrongs we had imputed to others were not there at all—that in these “enemies” there were unsuspected riches. Need we fear this empowerment which brings out the best in all of us?
—Mary E. Penrose, OSB
|Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.|