Sunday, June 23, 2013

Homily: Like Mary of Magdala, Women Priests Are Apostles in Communities of Equals by Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP


We rejoice because five courageous women will be ordained today. Joleane Presley and Barbara Duff will be ordained priests. Marianne Smyth, Mary Collingwood and Mary Theresa Streck will be ordained deacons.
There is no shortage of vocations. Women are answering God’s call and justice is rising up in the Roman Catholic Church! In 2013 the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests celebrates ordinations in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, New York and Florida.

 These women join more than 150 in our international Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement that began when seven women were ordained on the Danube River in 2002. Women Priests in the United States now serve over 60 inclusive Catholic communities. We are in 30 states in the United States, Canada, South America and Europe.

According to a recent CBS/Gallup poll, 70% of Catholics in the United States support women’s ordination. In addition, male priests are expressing their solidarity. 400 Austrian priests, 300 German theologians and 800 Irish priests have endorsed women’s ordination. Maryknoll Roy Bourgeois, Franciscan Jerry Zawada, Jesuit Bill Brennan, Redemptorist Tony Flannery, the Irish Priests Association, and the Austrian Priests Initiative have endured condemnation and punishment by the Vatican for their support of the Women Priests’ Movement.  For some, like the hierarchy, the growing acceptance of women priests  is a spiritual revolution, but I prefer to call it a holy shakeup of the Liberating Spirit in our midst!

Did you hear about the latest trial balloon floated by the German bishops of an unordained diaconate for women? It could become a new Women’s Sodality dealing with “Linen and Things”!

Now the church is at a crossroads with a new pope and women priests. Five hours before Francis was elected Janice Sevre-Duszynska, one of our women priests who is with us today, presided at a Eucharist in Rome with other activists who support women’s ordination. It is a joy to report that generous folks, like you, in grassroots communities donated money to send Janice to Rome to represent our movement. Thank you!

During the Easter homily Pope Francis affirmed women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection.  He said: “…The women are driven by love and know how to accept this proclamation with faith: they believe, and immediately transmit it, they do not keep it for themselves.”


Amen, Pope Francis, like the Easter women, the Risen Christ is sending us to celebrate the good news that we are all sacraments of God and every moment of life is filled with the Divine. Although our new pope has not requested my advice. I’d like to offer it anyway. Call a Council of the People of God and appoint some top feminists like Elisabeth Johnson, Joan Chittister, Elsie Tamaz, and some of the nuns on the bus like, Sister Simone Campbell, to the top jobs in the Vatican Curia!

One of my favorite women in the Gospels is St. Mary of Magdala, apostle to the apostles. Even though the male apostles, except John, deserted Jesus in his hour of need, Mary and the women were there at both the cross and the tomb. The guys didn’t believe the faithful women when they reported that Christ had risen. Like Mary of Magdala, contemporary women still encounter disbelief and rejection from church authorities. Women are still second class citizens in our own church.  Sexism, like racism and classism, is a sin that breaks our hearts today. More than ever we need the experiences and wisdom of women if our church is to become more whole, more balanced, more human.

Two-thirds of the poorest of the poor in our world are women. We must advocate for justice for women in areas like equal wages for equal work. If women priests were decision makers in the institutional church, issues like contraception would be no-brainer! Of course, the ban on contraception would be lifted by the majority of Catholics, but not by an all male, celibate hierarchy!


The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy should follow the example of the Risen Christ, who called Mary of Magdala to be the apostle to the apostles and who treated women as equals.


The early Church Fathers recognized Mary of Magdala’s leadership among the apostles. Pope Hippolytus who lived from 170 to 236 AD, addressed the role of women in early Christianity: “Lest the female apostles doubt the angels, Christ himself came to them so that the women would be apostles of Christ… Christ showed himself to the male apostles and said to them…’It is I who appeared to the women and I who wanted to send them to you as apostles.’” (Brock, Ann Graham, Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle The Struggle for Authority, 2003 (quotes Hippolytus (DeCantico 24-26, CSCO 264) pp. 43-49)


St. Gregory of Antioch (d. 593) portrays Jesus as appearing to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at the tomb and saying to them: “Be the first teachers to the teachers. So that Peter who denied me learns that I can also choose women as apostles.”   (Brock, p. 15)   


In Romans 16:7, St. Paul praises Junia and Andronicus, a married couple, as “outstanding apostles” who were in Christ before he was.


Since Paul, Junia and Andronicus were apostles, there were more than 12 apostles.  The “twelve” was a symbolic number referring to the twelve tribes of Israel.


Gary Wills, a prominent Catholic scholar, in his new book, Why Priests: A Failed Tradition? , states that Jesus was not a priest, and that neither Peter nor Paul were priests or bishops. There were no priests or bishops in the early Jesus movement. He reminds us priests do not have magical powers or exclusive control of the sacraments, rather it is the community of believers who celebrates sacraments. St Augustine taught that the mystical Body of Christ gathers around the table and is on the Table.  

As part of an international Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests  works for justice and equality for all on the margins in solidarity with other reform groups to move the church from a paradigm of priestly ministry that is hierarchical and clerical to a community of equals that is circular, empowered and rooted in the ministry of the baptized. It is my hope that we will promote healing of centuries-old misogyny in our church.


We are ordained in apostolic succession because our first bishops were ordained by a male bishop with apostolic succession, therefore our orders are valid. We are disobeying an unjust, man-made canon law, 1024.  The unnamed male bishop, who ordained our first women bishops, told Patricia Fresen that he was ordaining her a bishop, not for her, but to promote justice in our church.


Utilizing equal rites to achieve equal rights, women priests are visible reminders that women are equal images of God and that our God has a feminine face.


In this liturgy today we integrate the powerful feminine image of Christ Sophia in our prayer and song.  Thanks to our music director, Kathleen Rosenberg, for the beautiful musical mass of Christ Sophia. The Greek word for Wisdom is Sophia.  The New Testament identifies Christ with the wisdom of God.  “…to those who are called… Christ is the power and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:24)  The connection in scripture is made between the crucified Jesus of Nazareth and the cosmic risen Christ in Christ-Sophia.


Today Christ Sophia’s prophetic voice rises up in the poor and marginalized in the global South reminding us that “injustice anywhere,” as Martin Luther King said, is “a threat to justice everywhere.” We are honored to have Olga Lucia Alvarez, one of our priests from Colombia, with us today, who works with base communities living God’s liberating love and justice on the margins.

Now we ordain our Sisters, Joleane, Barbara, Marianne, Mary, and Mary Theresa. Like St. Mary Magdala, the apostle to the apostles, these priests and deacons will proclaim the good news of God’s enlivening presence with us in our work for justice and equality in our church and world. They will serve with their sisters and brothers at Christ Sophia’s Abundant Table of Boundless love for all.  Let us rejoice with Joleane, Barbara, Marianne, Mary and Mary Theresa as they are ordained by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests today!

Bridget Mary Meehan, D.Min., a Sister for Christian Community, was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 31, 2006. Dr. Meehan is currently Dean of the Doctor of Ministry Program for Global Ministries University, and is the author of 20 books, including Praying with Women of the Bible, and   Living Gospel Equality Now: Loving in the Heart of God.
She presides at liturgies in Mary, Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community in Sarasota, Florida and celebrates liturgies with groups in N.Va. She was ordained a bishop on April 19, 2009. Dr. Meehan can be reached at  
sofiabmm@aol.com  , www.arcwp.org, www.bridgetmarys.blogspot.com

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