We "rejoice always, and give thanks for everything" because Mary Catherine White will be ordained today as a Roman Catholic Priest in an historic ordination here in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Mary Catherine's ministry is a living witness to our liberating God's transforming action in this local community.
In 1998, 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 sisters, Martha and Mary, is rooted in the scholarship of contemporary biblical studies.
Based on this modern research, it is crystal clear that Jesus challenged patriarchy's oppression of women, and set the standard of gender equality as God's vision for the kindom.
Martha and Mary were certainly gutsy women and close friends of Jesus. They shared their lives with him, including their love, friendship, joy, grief, anger, frustration, and deep faith. They are role models for all of us, especially those who believe that we are called to live Gospel equality.
Martha and Mary appear in the Gospels more than once. In the Gospel of Mark, Peter responds to Jesus' question: "Who do you say that Iam?" by proclaiming, "You are the Messiah" (Mark:
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).
Scholars have concluded that the Johannine community affirmed Martha as having authentic apostolic authority (John 11:25-27).
Therefore, it was not just Peter, but Peter and Martha who both were inspired by the Spirit to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. This certainly indicates that God equally empowers both women and men with spiritual authority! Yet. how many sermons have you heard about Martha's profession of faith and apostolic authority?
In today's reading from Luke's Gospel, Martha takes the initiative and welcomes Jesus to her home. 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 be in the dining area where male guests were eating.
Today's reading includes an even bolder act by Jesus that turned the prevailing cultural discrimination against women completely upside down and inside out.
In Jesus' time, it was common for male disciples to sit at the feet of their teachers while the rabbi instructed them. However, such education was an opportunity reserved for men. Women only needed to learn how to be wives, mothers, and homemakers. A woman never would be allowed to sit at the feet of a rabbi. In Jesus' culture, being
a disciple was a role for men alone.
Martha needed help with some of the traditional women's chores related to the meal. There is probably not a woman here today who has not been in this situation. What is it like to prepare a special meal for our family and friends? It's a lot of work! Who would want to tackle that task all alone? So, Martha asks Jesus to tell her sister, Mary, to come back to her traditional female role, and help her. Her request appeared to be reasonable enough.
However, Jesus used this request as an opportunity to really hammer home his teachings about gender equality. Rather than send Mary back into the traditional female role, he announced that Mary had chosen the better part, and it would not be taken from her. Mary had chosen to be a disciple of Jesus. She had accepted the invitation to be taught by Jesus. With this action, Jesus let everyone know that
the Rabbi from Nazareth would not take the role of disciple away from
Mary, or anyone else... female or male... who chose to follow and be
instructed by him.
The Gospel account does not tell us what happened next. Still, Ican imagihow things unfolded. When Jesus refused to thrust Mary back into a traditional female role, the mouths of nearly everyone present in the room fell open in shock. It became so quiet, one could hear a pin drop. I then see Jesus turning to Mary and smiling at her. She is in tears, because he has affirmed her choice to answer the call from God to be Jesus' disciple. Then, I see Jesus turning to Martha, and extending his hand to her. She hesitates for a moment, but finally takes his hand, and lets him bring her into the inner circle, as well. The men make room for Martha at Jesus' feet, and Jesus gently seats
Martha next to her sister, Mary.
The dishes could wait. Jesus' teachings were more important, and Jesus would not allow ANYONE to be deprived of full discipleship.
We know that 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, the 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 thefirst twelve hundred years of the church's history. One could say that is the church's best kept secret, but NO MORE!
The good news is that Jesus treated women as spiritual equals. It is time for the institutionalchurch to go back to its roots and do the same. With the women priests movement. we have come full circle with a renewed priestly ministry in a community of equals!! Sisters and brothers. let us proclaim this from the house tops!!
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 thirteen years since seven women were ordained on the Danube in 2002. In 2006, 12 more women were ordained in Pittsburgh in the first U.S. Ordinations. Now, there are over 210 Women Priests in Europe, the United States, Canada, South Africa, 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 right movement, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests is 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 canonized two excommunicated nuns, made excommunication the new fast track to canonization!
Now we ordain our beloved Sister, Mary Catherine White. Like Martha and Mary, 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 and Mary, Mary Catherine will serve at the banquet of Christ's compassion, and welcome all to the table of plenty.
Wouldn't Martha and Mary be proud of her? ...and of us!! Amen!