Church Re-Newed

A few months ago I attended the ordination of a friend into the “Roman Catholic Women Priests”
The sermon that day rang in my head long after I left and I asked Bishop Marie Bouclin to share it with me.
She has since posted it on the web, so I can now freely share it with anyone who wishes

What follows is her document, verbatim. TBTG

Homily for Cathy O’Connor’s Priestly Ordination

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-9 (Jeremiah’s call); Response Psalm 22; I Corinthians 12: 4-11(the Spirit’s charisms for the church); Luke 10:1-6 (the sending of the 72)

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The readings we have just heard are about call. God who calls us, the Spirit of God who empowers us with gifts for service, and Jesus us who sends us in God’s name as laborers to bring in a plentiful harvest.

I’m sure the word of God came to Cathy saying., “… I appointed you a prophet”. Those were daunting words for Jeremiah and so he feels inaquate and afraid. But like Jeremiah, Cathy must have also heard the reassuring words, “Be not afraid … I am with you.”

Cathy has heard her call to priesthood within the community of Roman Catholic Women Priests. We are part of a prophetic movement within our church which began with the ordination “outside the law” of seven women on the Danube in 2002. Our mission is to prepare, support and ordain women and men who have been called by the Holy Spirit to help rebuild the church (and how prophetic is that with a new Francis at the helm) by proposing a new model of priesthood for a renewed church. We are, like other prophetic movements, just a bit ahead of our time. But in eleven years our movement has spread from Germany and Austria to France, the United States, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Scotland, England, Columbia, Ecuador, South Africa, and most recently, Spain. Cathy is the 15th person ordained within RCWP in Canada, and she is, I believe number 173 worldwide.

Most, if not all of you, are aware that our own church leadership does not recognize our call. Perhaps that is a good thing. It means we can propose a different kind of priesthood to those who seek a new model of church. A church where people are fully welcomed whatever their gender, race, colour, marital status or sexual orientation; where compassion is more important than power, where blessing trumps condemnation, where equality, collegiality, and consensus are more than just by-words. Operating in the margins means we can return to our Christian beginnings as small house-churches. We can become a truly catholic church together in an ecumenical bible-study or meditation group, an interfaith prayer group or a social outreach program, and we can grow together as followers and friends of Jesus, a discipleship of equals.  

However, even the most egalitarian groups need leaders, and priesthood is about leadership.  We study theology to become spiritual leaders. People have walked away from religion but will tell us they crave spirituality. Theological training provides for us the words to express both our religious tradition’s experience of God, found in our Scriptures and centuries of reflection, but also our own experience of the Divine at work in our lives. We also understand that as human beings, we need ritual to “embody” spirituality. One of the great strengths of our Roman Catholic faith is our sacramental tradition – those symbols like water, bread, wine, those sights, sounds, tastes and smells wherein we find the Divine Presence. As a Roman Catholic priest, Cathy will lead people in celebrating Eucharist, the “fount and summit of our Christian faith”, where we break bread and God’s word, where we drink at one cup, to keep alive the subversive memory of Jesus.

Jesus – who calls us to transform the world through justice and compassion. Jesus who  invites us into an intimate relationship with the Divine – that spiritual experience so many hunger for. And while it is true that Christ has no hands but ours to feed the hungry, provide clothing and shelter for the poor, care for the sick, freedom for the captives of all kinds, it is also true that for many of us, compassionate living is not enough. We want more. So we seek people of prayer, of contemplation, of spiritual knowledge and good common sense. People who can point to a reality beyond ourselves, but also within ourselves, to work for a better world.

Cathy has answered that call. It is a call to prophetic obedience. Obedience to the Spirit of God sending her to proclaim the Good News of Jesus the Christ. Prophetic because she becomes the herald of an emerging church. Our Roman Catholic church as we knew it, is dying. Our churches are slowly emptying as  tenacious cradle-Catholics die off and as the large majority of the two next generations of baptized persons see no need for organized religion.

If we are to evangelize these generations that have left our churches – and I am borrowing here from a talk given by Adam Bucko, of the Occupy Movement –  we will begin by listening to them. (Some of you may be familiar with the book he co-authored with Matthew Fox entitled Occupy Spirituality).  He suggests we journey with young people and develop with them a spirituality of vocation – by that he meant helping them discover what specific thing in this world he or she is called to fix. He suggests taking off our masks. I suppose by that he meant giving the impression that we have it all together, we have all the answers. It seems we are too eager to share our wisdom, in a word,  we talk too much. We must listen, listen, listen, be truly present to others, then let our life speak for itself, and never underestimate what young people are capable of doing. But, Bucko added, young people do not want to live divided lives. When they find their true authentic, gifted selves (we might say discover the spark of Divine that inhabits them) they want to live a life that is faithful to their best self.

We are all called, by virtue of our Baptism, to take up this challenge. Cathy, however,  has come to answer God’s call to spiritual leadership, to ministry in a post-Christian culture, not unlike the “lambs in the midst of wolves”. She will offer care of the spirit to those who call upon her and support those who wish to live compassionate lives of Christian discipleship. She will keep alive the subversive, counter-cultural memory of Jesus, in keeping with our Roman Catholic tradition, by providing the sacraments to those who seek them. She will make herself available to those of you who wish to gather in small groups, in house-churches, or even in larger groups as guests of friendly, non-Roman sacred spaces. We thank her for answering God’s call.

As you and I lay hands on Cathy, let us pray for a fresh infusion of God’s Spirit upon her. And then let us joyfully break bread together, drinking, all of us from the cup of joy and salvation. But be forewarned. The Spirit of God is dancing among us today. We are all called to enter joyfully into her dance. And it may well mean dancing as fast as we can! Amen.

A Gospel Retelling: The Good Samaritan

It’s been almost two decades to the day since I took my first trip into Syria. If you believe in coincidences, then it was a most remarkable coincidence indeed. Because, that summer, I was intending to go to Jerusalem at the end of the archeological dig in which I took part. It was also supposed to be my concluding trip to the Middle East, my last chance to understand the land of Jesus’ birth and death, my final opportunity to learn something about the people of the Holy Land.

Two days before the end of the dig, the travel agency called me to say that Canada and the US had put Jerusalem on a no-go list. My professor was thrilled. It would mean another pair of hands for the two weeks following the dig – another pair of hands to scrub pottery sherds, sort, label and pack, and it wasn’t going to cost her a cent. Not only was I not going to Jerusalem, the main point of my having made this last trip, but I was going to spend two hot dusty boring weeks doing slave labour. My professor was thrilled. I certainly was not. The leader of an 8-person group headed for Syria invited me to come along with them instead. I knew absolutely nothing good about Syria, but anything at all was going to be better than two weeks of menial work.

When we arrived in Damascus, our guide gave us a speech full of precautions: where we might go on our own, whom to trust, and whom to stay away from. One of his cautionary notes echoed what I had also heard on the dig in Jordan: stay away from the Bedouins. They are a dirty people, they are nomads, they are thieves, they are not to be trusted. They will happily kidnap any foreigner and, failing to get a decent ransom, will heartlessly murder them. In effect, the Bedouins are the gypsies of the Middle East in every way: feared, scorned and reviled. To make sure that we knew who he was talking about, Waleed pointed out a number of adults and children near the bus station. They were darker skinned than most others.
There were a good number of Bedouin men among the taxi drivers (no surprise there) and the majority of the children who ran about trying to sell sticks of gum were identified as Bedouins as well. When we began travelling into the country, he pointed out their dusty tents that seemed to be constructed of many pieces of woven rugs.

So we were well-informed as we went out. We recognized the moveable villages of tents around many of the ruins.

Then came the day when we arrived in Apamea. It was a blazing hot July morning, with not a cloud in the sky. My fellow travellers were all headed for the well-known mosaic museum at the outskirts of the ruins. I wanted to walk the streets of the town that had been the centre of philosophy and theology in the early days of Christianity. I wanted to get in touch with the essence of the place in my own imagination.

The bus dropped us off not far from the museum. Our guide chose to stay in the air-conditioned bus. So the nine of us walked together a little way. Suddenly I realized that I had left my water bottle behind. I turned around and discovered that the mini bus had left. With a mild curse, I told my fellow travellers of my dilemma. One of the boys laughed at me and said “Sucks to be you.”
I shrugged it off, turned my back on the group and started to walk up towards the tantalizingly close ruins.  My map told me that there was a cafe at the top of the hill anyway.

After half an hour of steady trudging up and down the rolling hillocks under a relentless sun, it seemed that the ruins were not much closer. By now my mouth was dry, my feet felt like lead weights and I was developing a headache. I had to sit down on a rock alongside the narrow paved road. A shepherd taking his sheep up the hill looked at me curiously and a couple of his flock nudged at me as they ambled past. I got up and continued on, feeling worse and worse. Despite the heat of the day, I started to feel cold. A couple of Bedouin boys zoomed by on bicycles and I got scared. The museum had disappeared from view some time ago. I could get into serious trouble and nobody would know. I sat down again, trying to decide whether to go on toward the still distant and unseen cafe or to turn back. I was feeling very dizzy.
Up the hill to one side of the road stood a Bedouin tent, its colourful flaps snapping in a breeze that came nowhere near where I was sitting.

I was about to get up and trudge on up the hill when a little girl in raggedy clothes ran out of the tent. She froze as soon as she saw me. Then she ran back inside. I turned back to the road and tried to swallow. But all I got was a sore sandpaper feeling in the back of my throat.

I heard a woman’s voice behind and above me and looked over my shoulder. An elderly woman dressed in voluminous clothes that were only marginally better than those of the little girl stood just outside the shadow of the tent, making sweeping motions with her right hand. Thirst and fear fought with each other in my head and heart. Fear won out. I turned my face away. Then I heard the voice again and looked back. The old woman looked at me and said something to the little girl. The little one bounced down the hill and stopped just a few feet away. She smiled shyly and reached out to touch my hand. She said something I couldn’t understand and then tugged my hand. I hesitated and then she said something that made me smile. “Yella,” she said. “Let’s go.”

By the time we got to the top of the hill, a glass of water was waiting for me. The old woman placed it in the palm of her right hand and offered it to me like a gift.

No water has ever tasted sweeter than that.

The woman gestured that I should sit just inside the roof of the tent and then she poured me hot sweet tea, a wise drink in such hot dry weather for it helps the body to perspire and cool down. She pulled out pictures of her family, and using gestures showed me her son and her daughter-in-law, the parents of this little girl. The little one pointed out her big brothers in the picture, using her hands too. I reached into my backpack and pulled out the photos of my three girls. The exclamations from the woman sounded complimentary and we looked at each other and laughed. Both of them talked to me, though I could not understand a single word. The old woman swept her arm across the vista from the top of the hill. I only guessed that she telling me what a beautiful view we had. By the second glass of hot tea, I felt much better. I reached into my backpack again to pay her for the tea. The old woman tossed her head imperiously and pushed my hand firmly back into my backpack. Then she scowled at me in mock anger, her eyes still smiling. She wanted nothing from me.

The hated, feared, reviled Bedouin, a woman who knew full well that she was not trusted reached out her hand to me that day, to a complete stranger who could never ever thank her properly. To me, she has become the epitome of the good Samaritan: an enemy to be avoided at all costs, willing to help without recompense. Image