Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Homily for Pentecost Ordination of Clare O'Brien as a deacon in Windsor, Canada by Bishop Michele Birch-Conery ARCWP



On this Pentecost Sunday, we are privileged to witness the anointing of another woman called to priestly ministry at a time when, after 15 years, we in our international movement continue to ordain Roman Catholic women. Is this Sacramental action presumptuous on our part? Some people would say “Yes” because of a prevailing habit of disbelief grown from the clash of unexpected change made in relation to what has been or may still be forbidden. However, what we practice, in going ahead, despite a particular canon law forbidding the ordination of women, is not disobedience but prophetic obedience.

This is action fraught with consequences we are willing to undergo, for the sake of a more equitable, inclusive church. For us, this means a church that values the leadership of women in the ways appropriate to the 21st century, and not to the times of narrow and outdated understandings of women, times when women themselves had no say in defining who they were.

One of our first bishops, Patricia Fresen, from South Africa compared our initiative to the breaking of apartheid in South Africa, and that change is comparable to the evolution of many like movements for equality. Thus, we are going ahead while our curial Church continues to re-affirm the definitive “No” to the ordination of women, a law made infallible by John Paul 2. This “NO” was contrary to the findings of a conciliar gathering of theologians, called together at his request. They concluded that, for the times they were in, there is nothing standing in the way of women’s ordination either scripturally or theologically. The papal answer remained “No” and from this “No”” we were borne from deep within the church. Some courageous bishops discerned that now was the time to go ahead with the Sacrament of Holy Orders for women. It could never come to be otherwise. Thus, in the spirit of their loyalty to justice for women, and in their love for the Holy Spirit, we do not leave the church to become a sect or a cult but rather, we stay to witness to the creation of an equitable and inclusive model of church we lost centuries ago.

Our witnessing is not an easy way forward. We encounter obstacles and misunderstanding on all sides at the same time as we know the joys of ministering with the People of God, indeed, ministering with you who are here with us today. You are with us in prophetic obedience. In this ordination you anoint our ordinand with us and you give witness to the validity of this Sacrament, even as we remain illicit in the eyes of the church. Valid but illicit. This has long been the slow way change comes to our church. And on the long roads we walk to freedom, it is the way positive changes come in the whole of our global communities as together, we inhabit this fragile planet.



Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? Holy One asks these questions in the reading from Isaiah. God’s call comes to Isaiah in a vision filled with archangels and angels wrapped in layers of wings folded for adoration and worship in his vision of a temple. Why was the visionary receiving a new call when he was already a prophet? Hadn’t he already answered his calling on numerous occasions and yet, here he is once again.

Why does an angel touch his lips with a burning coal? With close reading, it becomes clear that the vision unfolds in 4 phases. Firstly, the prophet experiences the holiness of God and he is filled anew with the awe of his first love in his first call. He becomes aware of his unworthiness to receive more and, with the grace of God, he undergoes a cleansing or purifying experience and, finally, he responds to his new call “Here I am. Send me.”

He has been filled with the Holy Spirit in another Pentecost, the cleansing of his lips symbolically foreshadowing the tongues of fire in the New Testament Pentecost, when the apostles and disciples gathered in the upper room and receiving the Holy Spirit, poured into the streets as if drunk at 9 in morning.

They began their preaching ministry because they were commissioned now to spread Jesus ’words even to the ends of the earth. They were commissioned to stand for justice, to live humbly in service to others offering themselves in acts of kindness such as Jesus had repeatedly shown in the healing miracles of his public ministry. They were to teach his ways just as he had already taught them in living the beatitudes. They were to live, each from their own gifts in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Then, what of us on this Pentecost Feast Day, June 4, 2017 AD set aside for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this Sacrament of Holy Orders, an outpouring intended for the deepening vocation for the newly ordained and a day for the renewal for each one of us, who have also been called by name for the renewal of our own personal and public sacred callings. Holy Spirit. Here we are. Send us.


Finally, in acknowledgment of the current multiple crises in our global communities and in the imperilment of our planet, I thank our God for the coming forth of multitudes of activists and prophetic justice workers. Our call now necessitates deep and daily conversion at all levels of our understanding and spiritual development. Now, more than at any other times, possibly, in the history of the world, are we in need of the strength and courage to stay in solidarity with all people of good will who are addressing the critical life and death issues of today and for the future.

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