Saturday, March 14, 2020

Homily: Ordination of Shelley Gilchrist ARCWP as a Priest by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP on March 14, 2020 in Deland, Florida, We Are Making Equality in the Roman Catholic Church a Reality Now, One Ordination, One Woman Priest, One Inclusive Community at a Time!

We rejoice today as Shelley Gilchrist is ordained a priest to serve our sisters and brothers in sacramental ministry in Deland, Florida.

I would like to share Shelley’s own words about her call to priestly ministry.

“My grandmother’s twinkly smile and my grandfather’s winking eye, loved me into “being.” And so did their prayers. Our family had a significant amount of suffering, but I never lost the sound of that “still small voice,” whispering, “I’m still here. I’ll lead you…keep going.”

“Still, more than once along my circuitous journey, doors have slammed in my face. I’ve had my share of “dark nights of the soul.” But a few short years ago, windows began to open and I was swept into the Heart of God Ministry of Miriam Picconi and Wanda Russell. Miriam and Wanda were my mentors while I was seeking commissioning through The Federation of Christian Ministries. Diane Dougherty gave me their number and when I called and asked if they would mentor me, Miriam said, “Yes.  What do we have to do?” 

As I became part of their faith community, I felt a love and an
affirmation I had been seeking.  I was touched by their ministries within The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests and eager to begin studies within the online “People's Catholic Seminary.” When I read and reflected on the writings of women theologians such as Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, I found a resonance within my soul.  I wanted to share the unconditional love of our Creator God and invite everyone into this forever Cosmic Dance. I wanted the whole word to know The Table is large and available to everyone. I answered a lifelong call that will be served as a woman priest, within the beautiful circle sharing of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. I am humbled, I am thrilled, I am ready.”

Today Shelley joins the band of women priests in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests here in Florida, in the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America. Together we walk in solidarity with Deacon Phoebe, Apostle Junia, and the other important women, whom St. Paul praised as  leaders of house churches in his Letter to the Romans . Like the Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel, Shelley is offering living water in her proclamation of the Gospel and celebration of sacraments in inclusive communities where all are welcome.

The dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in the gospel is the longest theological conversation between Jesus and anyone in the gospels. In this sacred text Jesus breaks open the boundaries between a “chosen people, ” a "despised people" and a "despised sex." His message is truly liberating and twofold: 1) the living water, the presence of the Holy One, is available to all and is in all and 2) rule- keeping and social or religious acceptability is not what true religion is about.

According to biblical experts, the woman understood Jesus’ mention that she had no “husband” not as a call to true repentance, but as a call to grow in true faith and worship. Jesus’ referral to the woman’s “husbands” may have pointed to the Samaritan practice of intermarriage outside the tribe, a custom that caused tension with the Jews because it destroyed Jewish ancestral lines. In the text Jesus does not appear concerned about or judge her for her marital history.

So today this means that no man-made canon law should bar Roman Catholics without annulments in second marriages from reception of Communion. In our women priest led communities everyone regardless of marital or gender status is invited to receive communion at the banquet table of God’s love.

Scholars remind us that the Samaritan woman reflects the esteem that the Johannine community had for its women leaders. Jesus offered a profound example of Gospel equality that shocked his male apostles then, and continues to shock the Roman Catholic hierarchy today.

Like Shelley, each woman priest is rocking the boat of Peter with the tenacity of the Samaritan woman!

We are living prophetic obedience to the Spirit by disobeying an unjust, man-made, canon law that discriminates against women in our church. Women Priests are not leaving the church, but leading the Catholic Church into a new era of justice and equality. No punishment, including excommunication, can stop this movement of the Spirit. In fact, one could argue that our previous pope Benedict XV1, who canonized two formerly excommunicated nuns, made excommunication the new fast track to sainthood! 

As we ordain Shelley today, like Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we are breaking open new boundaries and claiming our spiritual authority to live our call to priestly ministry as spiritual equals in the Roman Catholic Church in the 21st Century. We are casting our buckets into the fountains of grace that fill us to overflowing as we go forth to proclaim the good news of divine goodness in everyone everywhere we go. We celebrate this holy shakeup on this day our God has made!

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