|Drawing by Gary Harness|
Bishop emeritus of Saltillo-Mexico Raul Vera was present for this presentation. I had a wonderful conversation with him about our movement.
Secretarial international pot la solidaridad con Los pueblos Oscar Arnulfo Romero
Secretary: email@example.com Jacqueline Campbell
By Living Gospel Equality and Inclusivity Now- Bridget Mary Meehan
(Talk in Rome for Spirit Unbounded, Oct. 13, 2023)
This lovely drawing by artist Gary Harness of a woman priest walking on water is a powerful symbol for me. Every day Roman Catholic Women Priests face the challenge of patriarchal resistance to co-create a new model of ministry that honors the gifts of all God’s people and to provide a place for everyone at the table especially the marginalized and excluded.
According to the story of Jesus walking toward the disciples on a stormy sea, Peter responds to Jesus’ invitation to “come” by leaping out of the boat and walking on water. (MT: 14:22-32)
Like Peter responding to the Spirit’s call, Roman Catholic Women Priests are coming out of the patriarchal boat and challenging an exclusive male priesthood by ordaining women for public ministry in a companionship of equals.
This prophetic call has placed us on the edge of the inside of the Church as we follow the teachings and example of Jesus that sets us free to love and to set others free from laws and structures that oppress.
“Outside the camp”, writes Richard Rohr, “is a prophetic position on the edge of the inside, which is described by the early Israelites as “the tent of meeting outside the camp” (Exodus 33:7). Even though this tent is foldable, moveable, and disposable, it is still a meeting place for “the holy” which is always on the move and out in front of us. “
In this Synod, Pope Francis has called for “enlarging the tent,” to create a Church where all are welcome.
This is what Roman Catholic Women Priests have been doing for 21 years
We foster radical hospitality in the community of the baptized by inviting everyone to celebrate sacraments including LGBTQ+, the divorced and remarried, and all who no longer feel at home in the Church.
I first experienced my call to ordination when I was a pastoral associate at Ft. Myer Chapel in Arlington, Virginia in the 1980’s. At that time, there was a priest shortage, so my job description included everything except presiding at Mass and sacraments. Often, when I conducted a communion service in the absence of a Catholic priest, the people would express their gratitude for the “lovely Mass.” Even though I made it clear that this was a Communion Service, they often called it a Mass. So, it dawned on me- if only- I could be ordained they would easily accept me as their priest. And that would happen only if I left my comfort zone and was ordained in another denomination.
Then that call to Ordination finally came. In 2005 I was invited by a group of women from different faith traditions in our Florida community to lead discussions on women in the Bible. During one of these sessions, I shared with them that I was invited to attend the first North American ordinations of Roman Catholic Women Priests, on the St. Lawrence Seaway. The women were delighted and told me that not only should I attend, but that I should be ordained and that they wanted me to be their priest! One woman even donated her frequent flyer miles so I could fly free to Canada.
I was inspired by the courage of the nine women who were ordained on the St. Lawrence River in the first North American Ordination of Roman Catholic women Priests. I knew then that it was time for me to jump out of the boat and prepare for Ordination.
On July 31, 2006 I was ordained a priest by three women bishops, Patricia Fresen, Gisela Forster, and Ida Raming. The ordination took place in Pittsburgh, on the river boat “Majestic.” As the bishops and over a hundred people laid hands on us, I felt Spirit’s presence moving through all of us like an electrical current in what I call- a holy shakeup!
After returning to my home in Florida, I received a telephone call from Dick Fisher asking when I was going to schedule Mass. A few weeks later, six people gathered around my dining room table to celebrate our first house church liturgy. We named our community Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community (lovingly nicknamed MMOJ).
After our local Bishop, Frank Dewane warned Catholics not to attend our Masses because they were not real Masses and did not count, our weekly gathering outgrew my mobile home. This growth led us to rent St. Andrew United Church of Christ in Sarasota for our Saturday evening liturgy. When the bishop threatened to excommunicate everyone who came to our first ordination over two hundred people filled the pews. Every time the bishop criticized us or threatened excommunication, our community tripled in size! In my experience, hierarchical opposition to women priests sometimes has been the gift that keeps on giving! The call for the full equality of women and for gender justice is the voice of God in our times that no one can silence.
I am a member of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, which is part of the international RCWP movement that began in 2002 with the ordination of seven women on the Danube. Our first women bishops were ordained by an anonymous Roman Catholic male bishop from a well- known line of apostolic succession. On April 19, 2009, I was ordained a bishop by women bishops who were ordained by Bishop X.
Therefore, our ordinations are valid, but in violation of Church law. Canon 1024, states that only a baptized man can receive Holy Orders.
In 2008, the Vatican issued a decree of automatic excommunication for the ordination of a woman. We reject this unjust punishment rooted in sexism. Women priests practice prophetic obedience to the Spirit by breaking an unjust man-made law in order to change it. We affirm the Church’s teaching of the primacy of conscience. Our movement offers a path toward gender justice and the healing of centuries-old misogyny in the institutional Church.
We walk in the footsteps of heroic women saints like Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc, Mother Theodore Guerin and Mother Mary Mackillop who followed their consciences and withstood hierarchical oppression including interdict, excommunication and death.
Church leaders have reversed outdated teachings, unjust laws and harsh punishments in the past. Sometimes this happens when the person is safely dead! In Joan of Arc’s case, she was declared a saint after being burned at the stake. In our times, Pope Benedict canonized St. Hildegard of Bingen and the two formerly excommunicated nuns, Mother Theodore Guerin from the United States and Mother Mary MacKillop from Australia. Apparently, excommunication is not a barrier to sainthood!
Women priests are renewing sacramental theology and liturgical rites by emphasizing a theology of blessing, accompaniment and community empowerment. We are turning the pyramid of hierarchical domination into open, participatory circles in which the community of believers makes decisions about ministries, spiritual programs, liturgical celebrations, and governance.
For example, at our ordinations, after the bishop lays hands on the Ordinand, the entire community is invited to do so too. For me, the highlight of every ordination is watching the faces of people as they bless the newly ordained. In a people-empowered Church, the community is taking their rightful role in affirming the call to ordination in communities of equals.
I will never forget seeing Marie weep after receiving communion in our house church. She said that after a hostile encounter with a priest years ago, she felt unworthy to receive the Eucharist in her parish community, but now knew that she was accepted in a caring faith community.
During COVID, my neighbor, Pearl, asked me to baptize her grandson, Champ, in her home. As we gathered around in a circle on her lanai, I began by affirming that Champ was loved by God from the first moment of his existence and now welcomed into the Christian community by his family and friends. I invited the baby’s mother to pour the water as I recited the words. Grandmother Pearl and the entire family participated in the anointing with oil.
When people are sick and infirm, I gather with their family and friends in their own surrounding to celebrate the sacrament of the anointing of the sick in a communal setting, inviting others to also anoint and pray together for healing and wholeness.
When my friend, Jack Duffy, one of the founding members of MMOJ community was dying in July of this year, his adult children asked to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick with their Dad. As they said goodbye to Jack. I sat with the children and the dog on his bed, and cried with them. Before cremation, we gathered again to say a final farewell to his earthly remains and to affirm our eternal connection in the community of saints.
One time I co-officiated with a Lutheran pastor at a Catholic Mass at a large wedding on Englewood Beach in Florida. Sheila, the bride, had been married three times and was not interested in jumping through the annulment hoops. Now in her seventies, she met Ed, the love of her life and wanted both the Lutheran minister and me to co-preside at a ecumenical liturgy that reflected both of their faith traditions.
In June of this year, I took care of my dear friend Peg in her home during the last two weeks of her life. Peg was a support member of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests from the beginning days of the movement who made things run smoothly and efficiently. She decided that she would like to be present at her own Celebration of Life.
So, together, we planned a beautiful Eucharistic Liturgy and invited her friends, colleagues and women priests to participate on Zoom. We sang her favorite songs, viewed a special video called “Soul Sister” that I had created for her featuring photos from different times in her life. During the homily time, everyone was invited to share tender words of gratitude and love. We saw tearful faces and heard many wonderful heart-warming stories about Peg and the impact she had on so many lives. As I anointed her body, the entire gathering held out their hands in blessing. When Peg held up the Cup at the Consecration, she embodied the love of the feminine divine embracing and connecting us spiritually forever.
Roman Catholic Women Priests are redefining the ancient tradition of Eucharistic table sharing that builds community wherever we are including cyberspace. Like Jesus’ followers in the first centuries, we are gathering together to break open our lives, to share bread and wine in memory of Jesus, to reconcile and heal each other, and to live the Christ-Presence in our lives.
Since COVID shuttered Churches, our community has become a Church without walls. Our weekly celebration of Eucharist occurs through a live online gathering in which the priest and online community participate in a shared homily and pray the words of consecration of the bread and wine that each member brings to the celebration. Then each member of the community receives Communion in their own home.
In our Eucharistic gatherings there has been a growing awareness that the Real Presence of Christ is experienced not only in the bread and wine that we consecrate, but also in the words we say to each other when we receive Communion: “you are the Body of Christ,” or, “You are the face of God.” The experience of the Real Presence of Christ in us is drawing us more deeply into the Divine Mystery in which we live and move and have our being beyond anything we can describe or even imagine.
Theologians today are reimagining the Eucharist as a profound act of cosmic love in which the whole expanding universe- all the stars, galaxies, black holes, and the entire planet- are present.
In the encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis wrote: “In the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed, the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love.”
In this mystical vision of Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ encompasses all people and all creation in an ever- expanding act of transforming love.
The two-year Synod -that includes women as voting members for the first time- is a positive step forward for gender justice. I hope our brother, Francis’ call for an open dialogue with the marginalized includes Roman Catholic Women Priests.
Here we are! We are ready!
We come from the inside edge to share our lived experiences of widening the Church’s tent by providing a spiritual home where everyone is welcome, and where justice and equality for women is a lived reality!
Come join us on this exciting journey. Get out of the boat and walk on water with us!!
|New York Times|