Monday, August 4, 2008

Roman Catholic Womanpriest: Gabriella Velardi Ward from New York: Homily on Mary of Magdala

Newly ordained priests from left to right
Judy Lee, Gloria Carpeneto and
Gabriella Verlardi Ward (from New York on far right)

JULY 27, 2008
1 Samuel 16: 6 – 13
1 Corinthians 12: 4 – 11
John 20: 11 – 18

I first met Tracy late one summer evening. She was holding the door to the bank open for people as they entered and exited. And she held a cup in her hand to collect handouts. It was a very warm evening and I asked her if she would like some fresh fruit or something to drink. After she said yes, I went a few doors down and got her those things. We got to talking and later, every time we saw each other, mostly at the bank, there was a special greeting. She was a very lost soul. The NYC school system had failed this young African American woman. There had been some family problems. There is much child abuse and societal abuse in the experience of the homeless.

Tracy had two children, an early teen and a toddler. Her mother was raising them. She did not see them often.

I generally met Tracy at night, as I walked home from my nightly meditation in the church. She, who lived on the street, was concerned that I got home safely. So, she would walk me home. It was also an opportunity for her to share her life story with me.

One Sunday morning, as I was getting ready for church, the doorbell rang. It was Tracy. Something had happened and she needed to talk. I told her that I was on my way to church but she could walk with me and we could talk then.

When we got to the Church, I asked her if she would join me at Mass. She was hesitant at first. She wasn’t dressed well. I assured her that she was fine and that she would be welcomed in the church. And so she came in. As I sat in the church with this woman who probably had no reliable shelter for years, I asked God, “What do I do now? How do I help this child of yours?” In that low soft voice, that you only hear when you are very still, in words formed in my understanding, as Julian of Norwich put it, God answered, “I brought her here. Your job is done. I will take care of her.”

After Mass, as she moved around the church, looking at the carved marble statues, I could see something was stirring inside of her. Soon after that experience, Tracy began putting her life back together. Through government programs, she was able to get an apartment. And last I heard, she was working to get her children back……..

God’s preference is for our liberation and for freedom from that which prevents us from being fully human and fully alive. God recognized something in Tracy. God saw into her heart and called her to something larger than the way she was living. God sees and recognizes what is in all our hearts, the gifts we are given as well as the way we use them to bring about a more loving and compassionate society.

In the Gospel reading, we see Mary of Magdala weeping outside the tomb, wondering where they had taken Jesus’ body. She turned and thinking that Jesus was the gardener, asked him where the body of Jesus had been taken. Mary did not recognized Jesus until Rabbi Jesus called her by name. While Mary then recognized her Rabbi, Jesus also
recognized something special in the heart and spirit of Mary. Jesus could have, just as easily, shown himself to Peter who had been there only a short time before. But Jesus chose to show himself to Mary. He must have seen her courage and commitment to him even in the face of scorn. Some scholars believe that the woman at Bethany, in Mark’s Gospel, who anointed Jesus’ head was Mary Magdalene. And, of course, Jesus knew of her strength as she stood at the cross where he was tortured and where he died.

Jesus knew she cared, he knew that she loved; he knew that she understood his message. Jesus knew that even though, and maybe because she was a marginalized person, being female in that culture, she was intellectually and emotionally reliable. She would bring the Good News of his resurrection to the others. He knew that she would be strong enough to withstand the others ridicule and scorn.

Jesus commissioned her to be the Apostle to the Apostles not because of her outward appearance, but because of what she had inside. Jesus knew that her femaleness was not a factor that it was what was in her heart that mattered. Jesus saw her and recognized her gifts. Can you imagine how she must have run to tell the others, Jesus is alive! I saw him! She probable could not stop herself from telling everyone she met on the way. The one she loved, the one who was crucified is alive!

By selecting a woman to bear the good news of eternal life, he allowed Mary to gift us, 2000 years later, with the awareness that women count, that women are capable and are equally chosen. And the strength of that message was so threatening to those in power, as it is today, that in the 6th century, Pope Gregory combined the four women who anointed Jesus into one. And that woman, the one in Luke, named as a sinner, became Mary of Magdala, the prostitute. And the strength and call of women was rendered invisible under the emerging patriarchal culture.

The message in these readings is clear. In the reading from 1 Samuel, God sees what humans sometimes do not. The family of Jesse and probably society, looked on Eliab’s height and stature, on Abinadab’s and Shammah’s appearance but God did not choose any of these. For God looked on what was in the heart of Jesse’s sons and chose David, the youngest.

In Psalm 139, we see God searching us and knowing us, knowing our thoughts and our ways. There is nowhere we can hide from God’s love. For God knit us together in our mother’s womb. God sees us, God knows us, God loves us. And God knows what is in our hearts.

God sees us, not for our outward appearance, but for who we are, for what gifts and talents we possess and God calls us, to fulfill our purpose, to bring love and compassion to the world. God sees our struggles, our joys, and our pain. CAN YOU HEAR God saying, “I SEE YOU, I SEE YOU, I…SEE…YOU”.

For centuries God called women to the ordained priesthood. God sees these women as capable, filled with faith, able to bring the people of God to faith, hope and love and to the understanding of life beyond this plane.

In 1994, Pope John Paul II, with Cardinal Ratzinger, stated in Ordination Sacerdotalis, that the ordained priesthood was definitively reserved for men alone. And, there was to be no more discussion of the topic. For years after that, priests, scholars, people who worked for the institution were afraid to bring up the subject. We know from Paulo Freiere’s book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, that in any oppressive system there are a number of things present, contradictions, lack of dialogue and fear instilled by divide and conquer tactics. The institutional church was certainly acting as an oppressive system.

In 2002, seven women, on the Danube River, said, no more. We will no longer cooperate in our own oppression. These women, in a God filled, Spirit filled move, were ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood by two Roman Catholic bishops. A year or two later, Roman Catholic male bishops in good standing with Rome, and in full apostolic succession, approached several of these women saying that they felt called to consecrate the women as Bishops so the movement could grow and go above ground.

Last year, when I was ordained a deacon, Bishop Patricia Fresen, the ordaining bishop, said the pectoral cross she was wearing was given to her by her ordaining male bishop. He asked her to wear it whenever she ordains anyone so that he could be present to the women being ordained.

And, God said to the women of Roman Catholic WomenPriests and to all of us, I SEE YOU, I KNOW YOU, I CALLED YOU. We, like Mary of Magdala, have been ridiculed and trivialized and now we are excommunicated. We know that excommunication only has power if you give it power. So, we do not accept excommunication, we do not give it power. We name the oppression for what it is, as sexism, a bias against women and the need to subject women to the all male institutional church’s authority and power. In the history of the world and the church, we have experienced sexual abuse, rape and murder. And yet we claim full humanity.

We know that God sees our struggles, our joys and our pain. God says to us, “I SEE YOU, I HEAR YOU, I KNOW THE INJUSTICE AGAINST YOU AND I STAND WITH YOU.”

In 1969, God stood with lesbian and gay people at the Stonewall uprising. God was there when the community said no more, we will not be intimidated any longer. We will claim who we are as full human beings with dreams and aspirations just as any other human being. The gift of the LGBT community to society, the Roman Catholic Church and ultimately to the world, is that this 5 or 6 day rebellion, forced all of us, gay or straight, to look deeply into what it means to be human. It forced all of us who had been taught to repress our God given sexuality to look at our own identity, to claim it, to embrace it and to live it. We could not deny it any longer. We had to deal with it. As we learned more about what sexuality means, society and the LGBT community identified being bi-sexual and transgendered as ways of being a sexual human being. And God says, loving physical relationships are good and of God. And yet, the LGBT community has been ridiculed, experienced violence and murder. And yet the LGBT community claims full humanity.

And God says: “I SEE YOU, I KNOW YOU, I LOVE YOU.”

Mary stood at the tomb wondering who would roll away the stone. The LGBT community, at Stonewall, rolled away that which blocked the community from full humanity and a fully human sexuality. RCWP women stood at the wall that barred full equality in the church we love so dearly. Roman Catholic women stepped out in 2002, in our own Stonewall on the Danube when seven women were ordained. These women were on a boat so there was no chance of being stormed by the bishops as gay people were by the police at Stonewall. Quite an image!

And God says, “I SEE YOU, I KNOW YOU, I CALLED YOU.” God sees what humans sometimes do not see. God’s preference is for the liberation of the individual, whether poor, homeless, abused or suffering women and men, whether women called to ordination in the Roman Catholic Church, or whether lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered people. God’s preference is for freedom from that which prevents us from being fully human and fully alive.

It is a risk when you step out. It is not easy to experience ridicule and violence. But when our heart says enough, we are commissioned to be prophets. There are many gifts of the Spirit, as Paul’s letter to the Corinthians states, but those gifted with prophecy are called, in the words of Martin Luther King, to a vocation of agony. We have the choice to accept this commission or not. Some, like Harvey Milk, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc and Patricia Fresen, are called to be extraordinary prophets like Jeremiah. Some of us are called to be everyday prophets and work quietly to bring love and compassion into the world.

So, followers of Mary of Magdala, Roman Catholic WomenPriests and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered people call for liberation from the restrictive understanding of what it means to be human and call for freedom from that which blocks our liberation. Step out, whether extraordinary prophets or everyday prophets, we are seen by God and called to be agents of change, to create a more compassionate and understanding humanity.

So, claim your call, speak out against injustice, step out into your life, acknowledge who God made you, go where you may be ridiculed and proclaim the Good News. God wants us fully alive, right here, right now!

1 comment:

M.McShea said...

There is a lot of violence, misunderstanding and injustice in this new global age.

When I was child, I knew my country and my faith and my place in the scheme of things. Now, with all the resources and talents worthy of a golden age of humanity, many are lost and confused.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became an --- (adult), I put away childish things.”

It is time for individuals and institutions to put away the past and embrace the present and future as responsible children of God.

God bless you and keep your courage. More people than you can imagine pray for you. Many are in need of a modern mature global Christian message.

Keep the faith.