|Mary Eileen Collingwood ARCWP presiding at liturgy with Sunday''s Bread Community|
in Pittsburgh, PA.
We have travelled a long road, my friends. During Lent, we let our egos return to the dust; at Easter, God raises us up from the dust. Today, God calls us to transform the Earth! We rise each day a new creation in the Spirit, sent forth to set the world on fire!
How did this happen? Well, for me…
When I attended a Catholic all-girls high school, staffed by the Sisters of Notre Dame, we were introduced to the documents of Vatican II, right off the press. It was during this introduction to those documents that I began my journey of putting things together concerning who I am as a woman, as a Catholic, and as a Prophet.
Since the Middle Ages, the same set prayers for the Mass had been prayed in Catholic churches all over the world. But, as a direct result of the first document from that Vatican Ecumenical Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, or, in Latin, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the liturgies and prayers for the Mass were changing.
When someone asked, “Sister, why are we saying the Mass prayers in English now, instead of Latin?” The sister responded, “Because it is important that the Word of God be understood by the people gathered for worship.”
When someone in the class asked, “Sister, why do we stand now when receiving Communion?” We were told, “Because we are representing the Risen Christ in all our dignity.” Standing was the correct posture if you believed that you were representing the Risen Christ as you journeyed in this world.
When someone in the class asked, “Sister, why are the responses so different now? Why, instead of responding with “And with your Spirit” when replying to the priest’s welcome of “The Lord be with you,” do we now respond with “And also with you?” And the nun’s reply came “Because we are not divided by two realities, body and spirit. We are one human being consisting of body and spirit, which makes us who we are. To say “also with you,” implies both body and spirit. To say, “with your Spirit,” implies we are divided in our essence as a human being.
When someone in the class asked, “Sister, why do we have so many more responses in the Mass now, as compared to our liturgies before the Council documents? Why are some of us permitted to read from Scripture, and help with the distribution of Communion?” And the reply came, “Because we are the People of God, and therefore, should have an active role in participating in the Mass.”
And to think, that is where it all started for me… I’m sure you probably guessed, it was me asking all those questions! And what great answers I received! The Spirit was alive and well in those classrooms at that time, where I was fortunate enough to be.
Many things have happened in the institutional church since then. But instead of reminiscing—or complaining-- about all of that, I propose we pick up on today’s readings, today’s thoughts, today’s workings of the Spirit.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians is that “we are all connected.” It was by one Spirit we were all created into the Body of Christ.
In the reading from Sr. Joan Chittister, we hear of the wonderful and innovative ways that the Spirit is at work among us. Many who adhere to the institutional church’s rules and regulations, would deem these “innovative ways” as contrary to the plan of God. But who among us can actually state with clear conscience that they have a handle on how the Spirit of God moves-- that they know the parameters of the Spirit’s movements, in, around, and among us?
In the scripture stories from Luke in the book of Acts, we read how the Spirit of Truth can be understood by all people everywhere. In John’s gospel, we are also confronted with the difficult passage about the unsettling talk of “retaining sins.” As scripture scholar Michael Simone suggests, “While we may never find a fully satisfying way to understand this saying, it might be helpful to remember that discipleship comes at a cost. Christ allowed the apostles to turn away anyone who did not take his mission seriously. They ‘retained’ their sins until they had the maturity to follow Christ.” Whether you consider this explanation a platitude, or otherwise, it is a stab at trying to decipher what exactly was being said here.
As a faith community who supports the calling of women to priesthood, we are charged with a very prophetic role in the history of the Catholic Church. We are worshiping and living in an age where prophetic witness to the Spirit’s yearnings and direction come at a cost. (Dialogue: What are some of the costs we must bear?) But one thing we must not endure, and that is to compromise our integrity and belief in the Spirit at work among us.
Pentecost did not remove problems, it caused more difficulties. It is good to reflect on the reality that the greater the presence of the Spirit, the more gifted are God’s people. And gifts do tend to make people jealous, defensive, and eventually aggressive. (DIALOGUE: What examples can you name of this reality?)
With good reason then, when Jesus breathed upon the apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he simultaneously granted the power to forgive sins. Wherever there exist the abundant gifts of the Spirit, there will have to be readiness to forgive. We are actually challenged to see the failures and offenses of others as somehow the excesses of their good gifts.
This presents a challenge for us today especially in the world of Catholic Church governance. The church does not “have a monopoly on insight, on grace, on the promptings of God in this place at this time,” says Chittister. “The Spirit of God is a wild thing, breathing where it will, moving as it pleases, settling on women and men alike.”
You would think that by now, I would have gotten all my questions answered since my high school days. But I must confess, the longer I live, the more questions I have. That’s how I know the Spirit is still alive and well! May you also be blessed with the energy your own questions impart as you walk this journey with the Living Spirit among us.