Sunday, January 22, 2012

Homily: Martha: "A Gutsy Woman With Apostolic Authority" by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan at Ordination of Judy Beaumont

We "rejoice always, and give thanks for everything" because Judy Beaumont will be ordained today as a Roman Catholic Priest in a historic ordination here in Ft. Myers, Florida. Judy Beaumont joins Judy Lee in sacramental ministry with you, the beloved community, as an ordained woman priest serving The Good Shepherd Community. Together they serve the Body of Christ on the table, at the table and around the table as they stand on the margins with you, living God’s compassion and doing justice!

The ministry of Judy Beaumont and Judy Lee in Good Shepherd Ministries is a living witness to our liberating God’s transforming action in this local community. Because of their outreach, over 65 people have come from homelessness to having a home. They are living witnesses to the exhortation of the prophet Isaiah who calls us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and to work for justice. Their ministry has been to “bring Good News to those who are poor, to heal broken hearts and to proclaim release to those held captive and liberation to those in prison.” (Isa 61: 1-2)

As some of you know, I love to write. I wrote Praying with Women of the Bible to share the stories of our biblical sisters as great women of faith and powerful role models who are relevant for contemporary women and men. The research that I share with you today on our sister Martha is found in this book and is rooted in the scholarship of contemporary biblical studies.

Martha was certainly a gutsy woman and close friend of Jesus. She shared her grief, anger, frustration and deep faith with him. She is a role model for all of us especially those who believe that we are called to live Gospel equality.
The gospels record three encounters between Martha and Jesus.
In John 11:1–45, Martha and Mary send a message to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is sick. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Martha went to meet Jesus and told him about Lazarus’ death. Jesus assured her that her brother would rise again. Martha replied that she knew that he would rise again on the last day. “Jesus then said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection, and I am Life: those who believe in me will live, even if they die; and those who are alive and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Martha replied, ‘I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, God’s Only Begotten, the One who is coming into the world’” (11:25–27, The Inclusive New Testament ).

The Gospel of John puts on Martha’s lips a profession of faith in Jesus as Messiah that the author of Mark assigns to Peter. In the Gospel of Mark, Peter responds to Jesus’ question: “who do you say that I am?” with the response: “you are the Messiah.” (Mark: 8:29)

Both Martha and Peter proclaim Jesus as Messiah. Furthermore, scholars conclude that the Johannine community affirms Martha as having authentic apostolic authority (John 11:25-27). This certainly indicates that Jesus treated women as equals, empowered with spiritual authority. Yet, according to the institutional church, popes still relate their primacy to Peter’s profession of faith, while ignoring Martha’s.

Now how many sermons have you heard about Martha’s profession of faith and apostolic authority as similar to Peter’s? The good news is that Jesus treated women as spiritual equals. It is time the institutional church did the same.
Sisters and brothers, let us proclaim this from the house tops!!

The bishop of Venice, Frank Dewane, claims that the ban on the ordination of women is in the Deposit of Faith! Really! Since Jesus did not ordain anyone, this prohibition is a rewrite of the Gospels. It contradicts the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s own scholarship which concluded that there is nothing in scripture to prohibit the ordination of women.

In Luke’s account Martha takes the initiative and welcomes Jesus to her home. She protests that she has to do the household chores alone, while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to his words (10:38–42). A few of us here might possibly identify with Martha, especially those of us who don’t like to wash dishes or scrub pots and pans! Do you know any women like Martha or Mary?

Jesus is portrayed in these passages as a religious teacher who is comfortable in the company of women. He converses and eats a meal with Martha and Mary. I can imagine Jesus relaxing and enjoying himself as he shares food and friendship with the women. Yet, by eating with women, Jesus broke the gender taboos, which did not allow women to serve or even to enter the dining area where male guests were eating. Jesus challenged patriarchy’s oppression of women and set the standard of gender equality as God’s vision in the kindom. And again just six days before Passover Jesus was honored at a banquet given by the family in Bethany- and who served? It was Martha once again taking her rightful place in the dining hall- not hiding herself in the kitchen while the men served at the table. (John 12: 1-2) Another example of Gospel equality!

In Luke’s church well-to-do Hellenistic women hosted the Eucharistic celebration in their homes. Yes, this means that women presided at Eucharist in what is referred to in the New Testament as house churches. St. Paul in Romans 16 greets women leaders like Deacon Phoebe, apostle, Junia, Prisca and many others who worshipped in homes and risked their lives for the gospel. Scholars, like Gary Macy, in The Hidden History of Women's Ordination, present evidence that women were ordained during the first twelve hundred years of the church's history. One could say that is the church's best kept secret, but NO MORE- with the women priests movement, we have come full circle with a renewed priestly ministry in a community of equals!!

Roman Catholic Women Priests are ordained in apostolic succession because a male bishop with apostolic succession and in communion with the pope ordained our first bishops! He told the women that he ordained them to promote justice in our church.

It has been ten years since seven courageous women were ordained on the Danube in 2002. In 2006, 12 women were ordained in Pittsburgh in the first U.S. Ordinations. Now there are approximately 124 Women Priests in Europe, U.S., Canada, and Latin America.

As part of an international Roman Catholic Women Priests initiative, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests claims justice as constitutive of the Gospel and equality as a human right. Our vision is justice for all, justice for the poor, justice for women, and justice for women in the church including ordination.

Women priests are visible reminders that women are equal images of God, and therefore worthy to preside at the altar. We are living prophetic obedience to the Spirit by disobeying an unjust, man-made, canon law that discriminates against women in our church. Sexism, like racism, is a sin. Like Rosa Parks, whose refusal to sit in the back of the bus helped to ignite the civil rights movement, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests are not leaving the church, but leading the Catholic Church into a new era of justice and equality. No punishment, including excommunication, can stop this movement of the Spirit. In fact, one could argue that Pope Benedict, who has canonized two excommunicated nuns, has made excommunication the new fast track to canonization!

In both the Hebrew and Greek languages Wisdom is feminine, the feminine aspect of the one God and is personified as a woman. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. The New Testament identifies the crucified Christ with the Wisdom of God. …”to those who are called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, Christ is the power and the wisdom of God.”(1 Cor. 24) In this liturgy today we integrate this powerful image of Christ Sophia in our prayer and song. We are grateful to Kathleen Rosenberg, our music leader, for her beautiful Mass of Christ Sophia.

Now we ordain our beloved Sister, Judy Beaumont. Like Martha, she is a gutsy woman who reminds us that women are spiritual equals, that all are called to serve those in need and to transform unjust structures in our church and world . Like Martha, Judy will serve at the banquet of Christ’s compassion, and welcome all to the table of plenty. Wouldn’t Martha be proud of her? … and of us!!
Bridget Mary Meehan, D.Min., a Sister for Christian Community, was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 31, 2006. Dr. Meehan is currently Dean of the Doctor of Ministry Program for Global Ministries University, and is the author of 19 books, including Praying with Women of the Bible, and Living Gospel Equality Now: Loving in the Heart of God.She presides at liturgies in Mary, Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community in Sarasota, Florida and celebrates liturgies with groups in N.Va. She was ordained a bishop on April 19, 2009. Dr. Meehan can be reached at

(Special thanks to Bill Schuch for photos of ordination)

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