This is the day God has made, let us rejoice and be glad as we ordain Barbara Billey of Windsor, Ontario, Canada a priest with the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.
In Genesis 1: 2 we encounter the Ruah, the Great Spirit, who hovers like a nurturing mother over the earth at the dawn of creation. Throughout the eons, the Spirit’s creative energy has been blazing forth in our evolving cosmos as billions of galaxies came into being!
We are in awe that there are 18 galaxies for every person, and our bodies are made of stardust. The Holy One has inspired our intimate connection with all of creation.
Let us delight that each of us is part of the dynamic cosmic dance of creation. Let us contemplate the entire community of creation, one in the Heart of Love beyond anything we can imagine or dream of!
In Jesus, we encounter the radiant face of God whose wisdom words call us to action as prophets, mystics, healers and reformers. A passion for the kin-dom of God compelled him to surrender his entire self for the evolution of God through him and through us. Jesus’ central focus was the transformation of human consciousness, then and now.
In Christianity’s Dangerous Memory, best-selling author, priest and spiritual teacher, Diarmuid O’ Murchu believes that Jesus’ vision of Gospel empowerment was characterized by mutuality and circularity. His companionship of equals embraced the oppressed and reflected power with us in partnership rather than power over as in domination and control.
Today, women priests are lighting a fire that transcends the Roman Catholic Church’s patriarchal power system of domination over and control of women’s lives. Our international movement offers a new model of an inclusive, empowered, community of equals, rooted in Jesus’ vision of the kin-dom as a companionship of empowerment. We are on fire for gender justice and women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church, ordaining women as priests in prophetic obedience to the Spirit. Our movement is illuminating the darkness of centuries old misogyny in which sacred power was the exclusive privilege of men.
As co-creators with Holy Wisdom, Sophia, we connect the Feminine Divine with the all-encompassing embrace of Divine love and her creative energy that illuminates the path of justice and equality.
Now Michele Birch-Conery, one of our first priests ordained in North America will share her reflections on the evolution of our movement in relation to Luke’s Gospel.
Thank you, Bishop Bridget Mary and all of you gathered with us to celebrate this 10th anniversary of our North American ordination as we ordain Barbara Billey a Roman Catholic woman priest.
We are just one part of a cosmic reality, but an important one. Our wider understanding encourages the creation of new communities for interdependent living. We gather as communities to address global dilemmas such as economic inequity and violence of all kinds, including abuse of our natural resources worldwide. How do these changes in our consciousness influence a joyous day like today? How does the celebration of a Roman Catholic woman’s ordination in Windsor, Ontario fit in with the entrance of all of us into a new time in the history of the universe?
Humans have stood at the threshold of transformations for centuries. Pioneers have opened the doors and stepped across into the new realities that brought necessary advancements for all their people. Our ancestors risked being the first to leave a world they knew and, for their good and the good of others, they crossed a threshold and set out to build a new and usually a freer world.
Barbara Billey’s ordination represents the crossing of another threshold and that crossing continues to open a way forward from the constraints of a great big “NO” about the roles of women, in our church, and in the world. For her sake and ours, Barbara, too, has undertaken her journey to ordination and now into her priestly ministry, against expected resistances. She is well prepared to continue with us in our ARCWP international movement for women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church and in that action, for women in all faith traditions and beyond.
Our initiative for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church has been characterized by a series of firsts and this foundational reality continues to today, the day exactly 10 years from our first North American ordinations on the St. Lawrence River.
It was the Feast of Mary of Magdala and, in recognition of her, it was also a feast, we could say, of all those women in the early church who have disappeared from our church’s history. But, through the work of historian scholars and an archeologist like Dr. Dorothy Irvin, these women have been re-discovered and recognized to have been ordained deacons, priests and bishops, for service in their faith communities. Our women from the early church, as well as the courageous male Roman Catholic bishops from within our church who began these ordinations, were with us in spirit in that first North American ordination.
No one present, whether in agreement or disagreement of our Sacrament, could have denied the power of the Spirit present in the illumination and fire of the occasion. We were on a cruise ship that, in the ordination rite and in our universal participation, became an ecstatic church ship, now sailing from Ganaoque, Ontario into the Thousand Islands and towards Rochester, New York. It held our Canadian- American realities for the start of our international movement in North America, a movement bound by the living waters of Sacred Presence we cannot deny. In looking back, I’m in wonder that our Detroit River is linked to the St. Lawrence and our origination by way of Lake Ontario, the Niagara River, and Lake Erie.
Three ordinands for the priesthood were from USA and I was from Canada. Four other women from USA had come forward for ordination as deacons. Then what? This small handful of ordained women was commissioned to return to their locales, on our vast continent and just begin their witnessing and their ministry. The whole of North America was before us, a blank slate and what would we write? What would we speak? To whom would we speak? Who would come forward in support of this disobedience? In spiritual language, such disobedience is called prophetic obedience: obedience to the Spirit rather than the Law. How many times did Jesus counsel that, including in the gospel for today? What realities would we would face now?
The good news is that we are not alone when we return from our ordinations. We have our newly forming local faith communities, as you today enfold and embrace us. We receive affirmation, especially from ordained women and men from other Christian denominations and faith traditions, a number of you here today. As Barb and I interact with people throughout Windsor, those with or without religious affiliation, we often hear, “Thank you for your courage. It’s about time this happened.” As companions walking an uncertain road made only by walking, we find the ground itself upholds us.
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” This passage suggests a completing energy, of the Spirit, in the vitality of our calls to ministry. Well into his mission and aware of his impending death, one of the most political-religious coups of all time, Jesus speaks with urgency about divisions that are inevitable when fulfilling our calling to his way. This is one reality and consequence for initiating transformational change but there is another more subtle message when we consider Jesus’ compassionate way of being.
Within divisions, we each have a sacred calling where the Spirit dwells. Sometimes, we must become empowered to change or leave oppressive institutions or people. In other circumstances, apparent division provides creative tension that opens the door to embracing difference. In differences, our gifts can be applied to new callings that take us into greater dimensions of loving through acceptance and collective goodwill. The Global Charter For Compassion is one example of the evolutionary potential of difference within centuries old division.
In our time, the ways of non-violence are becoming clearer as we we learn and know better how to be together in justice and equality. New discoveries and technology are bringing about the marriage of science and religion, which helps expand our recognition for much needed change that serves all of humanity, especially the most marginalized. We recognize our imperiled planet and know that we must evolve out of our separateness as individuals and beyond dominating practices into the co-operation necessary for the interconnectedness of our global communities. Our survival depends on such transformations of consciousness.
And now today, in one aspect of such transformation, we are received in this little chapel, this little church ship situated alongside the Detroit River and we receive Barb, as I was received 10 years ago on the St. Lawrence. Now she comes with her much needed gifts and her sacred calling joined with ours. Who knows where the Fire of the Spirit will yet lead her? We only know that she is ready.
Thank you, Michele for your wisdom with us.
A new day is dawning for women who are created in God’s image as spiritual equals. We are united with all God's people as companions of empowerment – prophets, healers and mystics, in love with the Holy, and with all creation in one cosmic dance.
Jesus always gives us freedom to choose, to search our own conscience. “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” he asks. As a midwife of grace, Jesus turns us toward Holy Wisdom, Divine Mystery who dwells within our hearts for answers to the depth questions. As One Body in Christ with people of all faith traditions and with those who do not subscribe to one, we can make a difference by using our gifts to advance the evolution of God’s cosmic kin-dom. What will we choose and how will we be fire?