Catherine Heinhold, Maryknoll lay missioner presently serving in Sao Paulo has these words to share about one of her ministries in Brazil. The training course for new catechists that I give meets in the choir loft of the main church of my parish, Santa Terezinha. Men, women, and teenagers take two hours out of their very busy Saturday for eight months to prepare to form young children in the Catholic faith. One of my favorite things about training new catechists is discovering more about the bible with them. Some of the people who want to be catechists didn’t own a bible before the course, or don’t know, in the beginning, how to look up a specific passage. Others bring their well-thumbed, highlighted, and underlined bibles with them to our first class – and through them I end up discovering passages that I hadn’t noticed before. But even those who read the bible every day have had few opportunities to learn about scripture – how and when it was written, how culture, location, and time influenced what was written, and how we as Catholics interpret and understand the word of God.
The first surprise comes when we read Genesis, chapters one and two. Wait a minute, there are two creation stories? I see the surprise on everyone’s face match with the delight in my heart about this discovery. In the first (chapter 1), man and woman are created last, on the last day, as the pinnacle of creation. Most importantly, they are created together, at the same time. In the second (chapter 2), the man is created right away, after the earth and heavens. Then, everything else is created and then at the very end, the woman is created from the rib of the man.
This second story has had a profound impact in every culture where it is heard, often overshadowing the first story. Here in Brazil, in my parish and in my class for new catechists, I have witnessed this: “Well, this is how God created things, the woman came from the man, and we suffer because of her sin.” I have heard women I care about use this passage to explain why they are subservient to their husbands at home, why teach their daughters to do the same, and even to minimize physical abuse they receive from the men who have vowed to love them. Everyone in class agrees that men and women are equal in the eyes of God – but this equality is not often manifested in the eyes of society.
In class, we sit with these two passages, these two different descriptions of reality. I do explain the reasons why we have two versions of creation, the two different traditions of story-telling that were eventually woven together – but what’s most important for our group at the moment is not the history and the reasons why, but what it means for us today – in that choir loft, in our church, in our families and our society. How do we respond when people use the bible to justify inequality? What can we each do personally to make our world a more just and loving place? We don’t end up solving all these problems in class, but we leave feeling a bit more aware of the challenge of living up to how God sees us, and making God’s vision a reality in the world we live in.