What is it that is important?

I spent Sunday with my parents because my Dad, while he insists on outliving every doctor’s prognosis, is very clearly dying. The cancer treatments have prolonged his life, but they are not working any more. The well-muscled arms that once shovelled snow off the driveway as if it were just heaps of Styrofoam are now just bones held together by skin and sinew and a walk just as far as the condominium’s garden takes a lot of energy. He sits in one of the chairs in the shade and waits for my mother to come back from her walk down into the Don Valley where they now live.

But there’s a lot about him that hasn’t changed.

When I told him that one of the attractions of Miramichi (where I’ve applied for a job) is that it is very close to the ocean, he insisted that there’s a great chunk of the province of PQ between Miramichi and the ocean. I was about to tell him that he was wrong, thought about it and said “I guess I’m not remembering it right then.” He must have expected me to argue, so he repeated it in a more forceful tone. I looked at him and said “Do you really want to fight?” He almost smiled when he said no

After he finished his coffee, he disappeared into his den. My mum said he as probably having a nap. As it turns out, he wasn’t – he came back with a map of the Atlantic Provinces and a very rare apology.

My dad had been forced to start working when he was 16 years old. By that time he’d already helped his mother and baby brother make their way from a city that was about to be bombed out to a safer place, walking at night, sleeping in ditches by day and spending weeks on foot bouncing back and forth between enemy lines. When they did reach safer territory, like many other internal refugees, he was put to work on a farm. The city boy learned to hitch horses to farm wagons and to harvest hay.

When the war was over, there was no schooling to be had for those who had missed the schooling they should have had. So, he read books and watched others and taught himself whatever he needed to know as he went along.

The skill he was proudest of was mathematics. And he was well-known as an amateur chess master both to his colleagues and in the Scarborough neighbourhood where we lived. He traded those skills: piano lessons for his kids from a high school music whiz who really wanted to improve his chess skills. When we moved to Willowdale, he did the same –chess lessons for the church organist in exchange for piano lessons for his kids.

My dad is still brilliant at mathematical puzzles – he has the kind of mind that would have led him into engineering under different circumstances. Instead, he worked as a machinist – proud of the fact that he sometimes had to correct the engineers.

He wanted his sons to get the best education possible and did everything he could to help them. Learning, school, education: it’s all important to him.

Meanwhile, my mum has also recovered somewhat – it seems that her dementia was more likely delirium: her medications have been changed recently and she seems more “with it.” I did something I’d never done in all my struggles with education and endorsement. I told her how dreadfully disappointed I was that that I had lost my denominational validation.  And then I told her that I was currently considering a denominational switch. I was so surprised that she was happy to hear that.

As important as my education has been, putting it to real use is even more important to me. I know I have a gift and I want to – NEED to use it. My parents’ gifts were diminished by earthly powers beyond their control.

My Spirit wrestling has resulted in changes beyond any I’d have foreseen – and now I need to pay back, by not hiding my light under a bushel.


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.