Attention: Letters to the Editor,
Your lead story in the December 7 issue, “Women Find a Way” was inspiring to me, as it brought back many of the impressions I still treasure “in my heart’ as a participant in the historic ordination of womenpriests (Pittsburgh, 2006). When all of the arguments about validity, canon law, historic precedence, ‘simulation of sacrament’ and male modeling of Christ are set aside, what is left for those of us who witnessed this ordination (and the many that have followed and will continue) is a profound sense of wonder at the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. It seems to me, that in the Roman Catholic tradition there has always been that struggle between the mystic and law bound, the sacred and the powers that rise up to defend and define it. And so it was that on that ship in Pittsburgh. For all present, the ordinands and the people supporting them, we realized that the time had come to reclaim the legacy of all baptized people to the call of priesthood, at whatever the temporal cost, including excommunication and loss of jobs and status.
NCR would do well to follow the stories of those witnesses who have felt the power of this experience, a life changing and transformative moment for each of us as well as our church. During the ordination, as I knelt down on the floor of the boat carrying us down the river, one thought came to mind, that after this moment had passed, none of us could return to the way things were. I was reminded of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, when He announced that the Scriptures ‘had been fulfilled’, right there, in the synagogue on a ‘typical’ Saturday morning in ancient Palestine. The hearers of that message for the most part rejected it, to the point of trying to kill the prophetic voice calling them to change. But some accepted the Spirit readily, and a church was born. The struggle played out into the next generation, when the barrier of Gentile and Jew had to be met head on. Paul took up that challenge, ‘moved by the Spirit’ to take the gospel message to all, in communities which welcomed women as deacons, apostles, and sacramental leaders of house churches. Sadly, those doors quickly closed to women, until a Roman Catholic bishop in apostolic tradition, called three women priests to lead their people as bishops, saying, ‘not for them, but for the church’ and its mission.
The Womenpriests movement, in my understanding is about reclaiming an inclusive church, as it was in the beginning, even as the fight goes on with those who want to keep the status quo. This false comfort zone of tradition, which excludes women and protects hierarchy, puts our church at risk of losing its credibility. The people in the pews are loudly signaling to the Vatican that they want women priests and married men to lead them in sacraments. Whether we are active participants in these ordinations, or those hearing the story and saying, ‘a last’, we feel that a journey has begun to return us full circle to the heart of the early, pre-Roman church where presiders and the people they serve recognize that they are called together to ‘be Christ’ on this earth, in humility, service and prophetic mission. The legal conundrums holding the tattered arguments about apostles being male, and ‘imaging Christ’ as men, fall away when confronted with the realization that in our lifetime, here and now, we are called to make this change. The conflict of law and spirit, power and prophetic calling, plays itself out once more in the struggle to recognize the true vocation of these womenpriests. Going back to 2006, something within me shook when I heard the women candidates shout, “I am ready!” It was the same for us praying with them, and for those who would hear this story and tell it. We are all ready.
Respectfully submitted by Lorraine Nagy