Homily for Priestly Ordination of Phillis Isabella Sheppard and Mary Ann Matthys in Albany, New York on August 27, 2022
It is with great joy that we gather today to ordain Phillis Isabella Sheppard and Mary Ann Matthys as priests in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests in the Upper Room in Albany New York!
Phillis describes her call to Ordination this way:
“I am called to build communities of hope, faith, and transformation.
Embedded in this call and life of faith is the conviction that love will prevail over hate; the reality of grace will outlast the desire for revenge, and that the pursuit of justice will satisfy the spirit’s longing for an honest freedom.
My understanding is that ordination is for community, with community, and for the creation of spaces of care and solidarity.
In this, I seek to be a follower of Jesus who welcomed all, especially those pushed to margins. He affirmed their humanity, and challenged the forces of exclusion. The Gospel I pray to embody is one of large embrace and a nonviolent heart. “
Mary Ann describes her call to Ordination this way:
An unlikely priest…that is what Mary Ann thought when she received this calling to the priesthood. “Really Holy One? Me?” Sound familiar?
Mary Ann is called to bring the Feminine forward in our time in a loving power-filled way. She does this by residing on the edge of the inside (as Richard Rohr describes it.).
Mary Ann brings a theology of Love, Original Blessing and goodness to all with eyes to see and ears to hear.
She is a way-shower who assists seekers in moving from an intellectual, information gathering approach to God into a relationship that flows from one’s heart.
Mary Ann functions as an anam cara for individuals and groups, helping them find their own path toward intimate knowing and communion with God.
We rejoice that both of you are our companions on this prophetic adventure!
In a provocative book, The Truth at the Heart of the Lie,How the Catholic Church lost Its Soul, James Carroll suggests that the path to renewal is already here in intentional communities that lift up the leadership of women.
Carroll’s hopes for the future are a reality in our women priests’ movement and in inclusive communities around the world.
As we know, women were prominent leaders in some communities in the first two centuries after Jesus’ death and before Christianity became a religion in the third century. Paul’s letters mention female heads of households who supported Jesus groups in their homes.
These diverse Jesus movements were loosely interconnected. They gathered around similar but not identical practices, and did not share a cohesive set of beliefs or doctrines. Sometimes referred to as supper clubs or associations, they had many structures for group belonging. They gathered around meals, and were primarily concerned about creating safe places to care for one another amidst the violence of the Roman Empire. After Jesus, Before Christianity, pp. 322-323))
There are connecting threads between these early centuries and our times.
Like Jesus followers in the first two centuries, we are developing intentional communities that provide a spiritual home for the marginalized and oppressed in the 21st century, and where all can feel safe and welcome.
These early diverse Anointed Communities did not seem to be seeking the way, but a variety of ways of following Jesus with many structures for group belonging,
Like them, we are exploring diverse paths in living as egalitarian, empowered communities.
Like them, our journey has been a chaotic, messy, tumultuous process, but also, joy-filled and fruitful ,as we explore together new forms of social cohesion honoring diversity and celebrating unity.
Like them, we‘re building the plane while flying it!
In the forward to The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair, Margaret J. Wheatley writes, “In a gathering of equals, the circle is an energetic social container capable of helping a group draw on wellsprings of insight, information, and story that inspire collective wisdom and action.”
As we grow in self-understanding, we are discovering that in order to do this, we need to utilize a contemplative, deep listening process to truly hear one another especially when there is a wide variety of views on important issues that affect the entire group.
As we move away from clerical domination, we are growing in our self-identity as companions on the journey-spiritual equals-and partners in diverse ministries, a beloved community, serving others.
The Upper Room Community, for example, is blessed with certified community chaplains who provide pastoral care and spiritual development programs, with priests, who facilitate sacramental service and liturgical rites and with women who are both chaplains and priests.
Let us rejoice that the Beloved dwells within each of us and moves through us in outpouring love -a never ending Pentecost of new life in our work for inclusivity justice and equality in our Church and world.
Now I invite Phillis and Mary Ann to share.