|Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan ordains Abigail Eltzroth ARCWP in Asheville, NC|
|From left to right: Mary Theresa Streck ARCWP, Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP, and Abigail Eltzroth ARCWP|
Today we rejoice as we ordain Abigail Eltzroth the first Roman Catholic Woman Priest in Asheville, North Carolina.
In Abigail’s words,
On this journey I have received the shoulder taps of encouragement from friends, hugs of blessing from fellow ministers, and swift kicks in the rear from the Holy Spirit.
Going forward I need everyone’s laughter and prayers.”
In the first reading, Isaiah the prophet proclaims God’s vision for us as the kindom of God. According to scholars, like Diarmuid O’ Murchu, the word “kindom” is best translated as a “companionship of empowerment.
As empowered companions on the journey, all of us are called to be prophets and work for the harmony envisioned in our first reading in which “The lion and the lamb lay down together.”
The story of Jesus’ final days presented in Mark’s Gospel provides the context for the story of the woman who anoints Jesus. It takes place two days before Jesus’ execution. It is evident from Mark’s perspective that the male disciples don’t comprehend that suffering and rejection is part of the mission of Jesus. Its significance escapes them. In the end, they abandon or betray him. However, the female disciples, who have journeyed with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, are the true disciples who stick with him until the end.
Feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenaza observes that “The unnamed woman in Mark’s Gospel is the paradigm for the true disciple. “While Peter has confessed, without truly understanding it, ‘you are the anointed one,’ the woman anointing Jesus recognizes clearly that Jesus’ messiahship means suffering and death.”
Jesus affirms the woman’s prophetic gesture for all time, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Mk 14:9).
Even the outrage of the male disciples did not stop the courageous woman from pouring forth her gift. Jesus clearly defends her bold actions and reproves the men who criticize her for her extravagant waste of money which they claimed could have been used to help the poor.
He contrasts the extravagant love of the woman with their insensitivity:“Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me” (Mk 14:6–7).
Intuitively, this woman knows that Jesus is the Christ. When she breaks open the jar of costly ointment and pours the ointment on his head, she breaks through societal norms and overcomes false perceptions about what was important at that time. Jesus’ response to the anointing was to give her a prominent place as a faithful disciple and model for all Christians—wherever the gospel is proclaimed, she will be remembered.
It is striking that the Spirit of God inspires a simple, unnamed woman, one of the ordinary, average people ,who form the larger circle of followers of Jesus, to be the anointer of the Messiah and prophet of his messiahship. Ordinarily, in the customs of the day, it would be unheard of for anyone besides a priest or prophet, usually male, to preside at a public anointing. Yet, here she comes in her simplicity, in spite of the hostility and criticism of the disciples, to pour her vial of precious oil on his head.
It is a sad testimony to patriarchy’s influence that in spite of Jesus’ words, Christians throughout the ages have forgotten this unnamed woman. Today, the Roman Catholic Church has relegated the story about this woman to one optional reading in the official three-year cycle of scripture readings for Sunday worship. So, most Catholics never hear the story about this woman at a Sunday liturgy.
It is definitely time for a change so we can get to know and celebrate the women of faith who are role models for all Christians.
This courageous woman challenges us to move outside our comfort zones and go all in! She inspires us to listen to the urgings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, for the Spirit does at times move us to the unpopular, more daring public action, like joining rallies or marches for human rights, volunteering at shelters, signing petitions. Opportunities today abound! “Injustice anywhere” as Martin Luther King, once said, “is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Like her, we do what we can do—but whatever it is, it amounts to pouring out the extravagance of our love on others. Like her, we can break through the arrogance and fury of those who don’t understand, and anoint Jesus, the Christ who dies and rises each day in women and men everywhere. We are called to do what we can—to minister to the breaking Body of Christ everywhere around us—
reaching out, to the least and the last, the refugees, the undocumented, the homeless, the ravaged earth.
I believe each of us is being guided to pour forth the extravagance of our love in big and little ways each day. Perhaps, a smile, an act of kindness, a donation, a phone call, a shared meal. Like her, we will be criticized, some may be even be jailed as we walk in the footsteps of this unnamed, barely remembered woman.
Our movement is a justice movement so women will no longer be treated as second class citizens at the altar and in decision-making in our church.
Roman Catholic Women Priests have valid orders because our first women bishops were ordained by an anonymous Roman Catholic male bishop, whose spiritual authority is rooted in Jesus’ example of loving service, which evolved through the centuries and became known as “apostolic succession.” Therefore, all our ordinations are valid, but violate church law. We are disobeying an unjust law in order to change it in prophetic obedience to the Spirit. This is the reason the institutional church has excommunicated us.
As you know, the Catholic Church does not treat its prophets well. They burned Joan of Arc at the stake and later canonized her a saint. And since Pope Benedict canonized two formerly excommunicated nuns, Mother Theodore Guerin and Mother Mary MacKillop, I argue that he made excommunication the new fast track to sainthood!
Our movement is a bridge that is creating alternative inclusive faith communities for Catholics to cross over from our present hierarchical, clerical model of church to a circular discipleship-of-equals model. We are ordaining women to make equality a reality in a renewed Catholic Church where all are equal. As our second reading proclaimed, all the baptized participate in a royal priesthood of Christ.
In our faith communities, all are welcome to receive sacraments, divorced and remarried, gays, lesbians, transgender. In our women priest led communities, the entire congregation recites the prayers previously reserved for the male priest and are invited to share their thoughts in the homily.
Our governance in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests utilizes a discernment, prayerful approach in a circular model of decision-making. As a bishop, my main role is to ordain new priests and to be a member of the sacred circle, equal with the other priests, with one vote in making decisions.
“Inspired by the memory of Jesus and aware of his risen presence,” contemporary theologian Sister Ilia Delio, writes
“the disciples had a consciousness of being gathered in the name of Jesus, signifying a new whole, a new creation—in a sense a new cosmos. The Church becomes the sign and symbol of the new creation.”
As we embrace our connection with all beings and celebrate our oneness in the Heart of Love, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests stands in solidarity with all who work for justice and equality, and the healing of our planet, as we joyfully ordain Abigail, a priest in Asheville, North Carolina today.