Ruth and Ordination…..
On Friday, I awoke to a particularly disturbing news story. In Queens, just a few miles from where I live, an unknown man splashed acid upon the face of a woman, Alexandra Dyer, who was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 20014 through Roman Catholic Women Priests. At this time, the specific intent of the suspect remains unknown. Even so, given the use of a weapon that’s been wielded against many women who have broken traditional religious law around the world, it is difficult not to speculate about the connection. An ordained deacon myself, I struggled with those implications, wondering how to respond. Today’s first reading is helping me to do just that…..
In the opening chapter, Ruth, a Moabite woman, makes the surprising choice of accompanying her mother-in-law, Naomi, to her homeland rather than staying in her own familiar territory, among her own people. Her words of commitment are familiar:
“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ru 1:15).
Probably it is that familiarity that interferes with our ability to comprehend how radical it was then for a woman to make such a commitment to not only another woman but an elderly one at that. After all, in doing so, she risked a lifetime of poverty, given the fact that both women were widowed and without sons. Why, then, did she do it, especially since Ruth was not an Israelite herself? The most obvious reason - she was listening to her heart, one open to the will of God. And so, in spite of Naomi’s protests, she went. Once there, Ruth gleaned the fields of one of Naomi’s male relatives, Boaz, in order to fulfill their needs.
As I read those words, I couldn’t help but think of those of us who have refused to listen to the protests of others to follow our own hearts’ responses to God’s loving presence in our lives through seeking ordination as deacons, priests, and even consecration as bishops. In spite of the challenges we face in venturing into unknown territory where few other Catholics have gone, we have journeyed on, longing only to tend the fields, one could say, of God’s creation. Many of us have established small church communities that often serve the most vulnerable among us, just as Ruth dedicated her life to serving the vulnerable and embittered Naomi. One striking difference between us and Ruth exists - the reactions of the men who see us serve.
In returning home, Boaz sees the young foreign woman in his fields. Rather than banishing her immediately, he asks about her, and then speaks to her himself. Upon learning her connection with Naomi, he reassures her that he has ordered the young men in his fields to leave her alone, thus offering protection. Later, at mealtime, he extends an invitation to her. This is what he says:
“Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine” (Ru 2:14). And so, the text tells us, she joined the reapers and ate until she was satisfied, even having some left over.
How differently the Vatican has responded to us! Rather than seeking to know we are - and then to converse with us to better know us - the official Church has determined on its own that our actions and our apparent underlying motives to be so malicious that we are to be excommunicated, spurned, even. After all, anyone who supports us is to be excommunicated when discovered. Unlike Boaz, the Church has extended to us no invitation to share a meal of bread and wine. Neither has it offered us protection by eliciting statements that clearly state we are to be respected, that, at the very least, we are to be left alone as we tend our fields, our small church communities, in spite of the theological differences that may exist between us. Rather, they have remained silent, respecting Pope John Paul II who stated back in the 1990’s that no talk regarding women’s ordination was acceptable. That silence has proven to be not only cruel, but harmful.
For one, many of us who maintain blogs and websites cannot escape the malicious words of people who disagree with us. Like many other on-line trolls, these people do not simply argue our perspective, they resort to name-calling and worse, even while identifying themselves as Catholic or Christian. As one example, months ago, I had to stop replying to stories about ordination because I grew so weary of being told that I would be going to hell (and worse) for trying to take people from the one, true church. That, however, may have been proven to be rather inconsequential given yesterday’s attack. If that man did target Alexandra due to her priestly status, what was it that he saw in her loving service to her community? Disobedience? Audacity? Impropriety? Evilness? What was it that convinced him that it was his right to punish her so harshly? Of course, to do such an heinous act is a sure indicator of mental instability, but yet….. but yet, questions must be asked.
Could he have possibly come to believe that due to the Church’s excommunication of we women that we are not worthy of any respect? Could he possibly have thought that since the Church claims only to act according to God’s will that God wants us women to be so spurned and rejected? And then, in taking it even further, did he become so obsessed with our apparent willingness to disobey not only the Church but also God that he decided to take it upon himself to punish whom he could? Let me be clear here: I do not blame the official Church for this attack - and I know the perpetrator’s intentions are not yet clear - but yet, given the fact that those in the Vatican continually insist that they and only they rightfully know and communicate the will of God, neither do I think they can continue to extend their silence.
And so, this is what I ask - no - this is what I demand:
First, Like Boaz in this beloved story of Ruth: Seek to know who we are. Listen to those we serve; invite us for a meal of bread and wine. Allow us to explain our call for ourselves. Do not presume to know our intentions and motives.
Second, Act as Boaz did: SPEAK UP, telling your faithful to leave us alone as we serve those in our communities.
Third: Note this final point from the story of Ruth:
A second time, in her story, Ruth breaks convention when she lies at the foot of Boaz’ bed at night. Again, rather than sending her away for such audacity, Boaz sees in her act only goodness, the last proof he needs of her loyalty. It is then that he tells her that he will do what he must to secure her hand in marriage, a marriage that, the last verses of the book tell us, allowed for the Messianic line of David to continue. With this in mind, this is what must be done:
The Church - for its own future and legacy - must stop denying women full inclusion in the Church. They must come to see that it is only through the full integration and union of all people within its community, leadership and ministry, that the Church will truly flourish. Only through the union of all - and especially through the resounding “Yes!” of each - may the promise of Christ be fulfilled.