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The Role of Women

18 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Anders Adermark

Photo via Flickr user Anders Adermark

On his recent flight from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis told reporters, “Concerning the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands.” He added that it is not likely to ever change. The clarity of the statement surprised some in part because Pope Francis has been so supportive of the ministry of women in the church. He said, in fact, that “women can do many other things better than men.”

Are there fundamental differences in men and women that require such different roles in ministry? Making a gender role distinction by restricting women from overseeing word and sacrament, limits women, but also may limit men in the congregation. In a recent interview with Salt and Light, for example, Stephen Colbert shared a story about witnessing a female priest oversee Eucharist:

When I heard a woman say ‘This is my body,’ the freshness of hearing a woman say that gave the message a universality that it always should have — and I’m not saying it doesn’t coming out of a male priest — but it opened my ears to the possibility that it is also my body. That in my participation in the Eucharist, I participate in the gift that Christ gives me …

Saying women are better than men at many things also limits men. When he says women are better than men at some things, is it really because men are less capable of these things or is it because of society’s role restrictions? Take Glennon Doyle Melton passage from her latest book, Love Warrior, as an example:

God created woman as a Warrior. I think about the tragedies the women in my life have faced. How every time a child gets sick or a man leaves or a parent dies or a community crumbles, the women are the ones who carry on, who do what must be done for their people in the midst of their own pain. While those around them fall away, the women hold the sick and nurse the weak, put food on the table, carry their families’ sadness and anger and love and hope. They keep showing up for their lives and their people with the odds stacked against them and the weight of the world on their shoulders. They never stop singing songs of truth, love and redemption in the face of hopelessness. They are inexhaustible, ferocious, relentless cocreators with God, and they make beautiful worlds out of nothing.

It is a beautiful passage that made me nod my head and smile. It’s true. Women are amazing at this kind of love. I see it all around me. I think she is getting at what the Pope means when he talks about the essential ministry of women in the church. I have to wonder, however, aren’t these actions human actions, not feminine ones? Society calls on and expects women to hold families together, but that is not to say that men can’t.

Pope Francis’ statement about female ordination seems to carry some finality. Yet, in our love of God and neighbor, in our love of Christ and the Church, and in light of our recent presidential election, I believe it is essential now more than ever to continue to ask critical questions about how gender roles in our church and our world limit us all so that all of God’s children can flourish.

Gospel Reflection for June 12, 2016, 11th Sunday Ordinary Time

7 Jun
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: 2 Samuel 12.7-10; Galatians 2.16, 19-21; Luke 7.36-8.3

“Do you see this woman?”

(Luke 7.44)

“Accompanying Jesus were the twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities — Mary called the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.”

(Luke 8.3)

Sunday’s scriptures treat us to biblical soap opera — sex, sin, and extravagant repentance in both Old Testament and New. Sinner is the label that identifies the woman who models repentance in Sunday’s gospel — Luke’s memorable story of a woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair.

Sinner is a label little used today. Our news reports murder, fraud, sexual abuse, arson, robbery as crimes and acts of violence rather than sin. Sin is a religious word, which literally means missing the mark. In the bible sin refers to breaking the terms of the covenant relationship Israel made with God — the ten commandments. In Jesus’ time one could be labeled sinner for not keeping dietary laws or working with Gentiles as tax collectors did.

The woman labeled sinner in Sunday’s gospel has no name. That has not stopped commentators through the centuries from identifying her as Mary Magdalene. The four gospels hold no such evidence. The gospels contain maddening silences, nameless characters, and gestures from a culture 2,000 years ago that we readers must interpret. This Sunday’s gospel challenges us to look past labels and appreciate who people really are, especially when they change.

When have you connected the wrong dots and misinterpreted a person or interaction?

Read more about the woman who loved too much and about Mary Magdalene in Sunday by Sunday. If you like learning more about the women of the gospels, click here to subscribe.

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Tensegrity

6 May
woman-of-faith

Photo via Flickr user Theresa Huse

A student of mine wrote the following and asked for my response:

I am fully starting to grapple with being a feminist Catholic, and am personally finding this to be somewhat of an existential crisis. I cannot remove my heightened sensitivity to anything gendered away from me– especially in the faith that I hold so dear and want so badly to participate fully in.

There are no easy answers, but here is part of my living, breathing response. Mary Hess, a Catholic feminist I deeply respect, long ago introduced me to the architectural term tensegrity. It is a word describing tensional integrity. When multiple things are held in tension, it makes the structure stronger. In my being, Catholic and feminist are so often in tension with each other inside my body. I do believe, although the tension can be uncomfortable and even painful, ultimately it makes me stronger.

I lean on the writing of other feminist Catholics, and other feminist women of faith like Dorothy Day, Joan Chitister, Anne Lamott, Marie Howe, Kathleen Norris, Karen Armstrong, Elizabeth Johnson, Rachel Held Evans and Dorothee Solle, to name a few. I welcome their voices, their truth into my head and heart. I lean on the strength of the nuns, the liberation theologians, the lovers of Christ, the feminists who are living for peace day in and day out, quietly or not so quietly transforming our communities. I study the history of dual anthropology and mind-body dualism. I read our creation stories, where I am created in the image of God, very good. I read about the women in the gospel who actually got it, and Jesus’ radical way of seeing them. I read the Bible from the perspective of the women and wonder who they were.

I remind myself that women are the ones who have presided over the table since the beginning of time. I meditate on the power my body has to bear a child and breastfeed that child and how that is a real, powerful, gorgeous iteration of love. I understand, in a small way, the phrase, “Here is my body, broken for you.”

I believe institutions must be moved from the inside. I hold onto my jurisdiction and teach equity where I have earned trust, where my voice is valued. When my Lutheran and Presbyterian friends invite me to preach, I say yes.

I write. And teach. And write some more. After all this, it still hurts. It’s still not always enough. Humans are broken. We draw lines that God does not see. As a feminist Catholic, my heart is continually disappointed. If we stay awake to our gender and our faith, it doesn’t get easier.

I wake up, and try again. I live in the tension, tall and strong. And this is faith.

 

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