Pressing a Response

Several friends and readers have been asking for my thoughts about the recent media coverage on Jane Kryzanowski, a member of the Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP) movement and soon to be ordained a bishop in that movement (July 21, 2018).

I share with Jane the long and painful, passionate and intimate journey into embracing a priestly call within a church that does not recognize or bless such a call. While Jane has chosen to follow a route that places her outside of a traditional ecclesial structure, I have moved to another one, i.e. the Anglican Church. How are such decisions made, and is one better than another? How do we even know that our priestly calling originates in God when the Church denies that possibility? How do we engage the spiritual challenges that come with each path? How do we honour those who choose different trajectories, especially ones we might disagree with? Where is God in paths that make others shake their heads in disbelief?

Our response to such questions varies widely according to personality and temperament, background and opportunities, life experience, spirituality and passions. And so I can only speak from my own history and understanding. In the 26-year dance with my priestly vocation I have run the gamut of responses: from outright denial to trying to run away from God (yeah, I met Jonah on the way), from bargaining with God and minimizing the serious nature of the call, from doubt to fear to finally a deep, all encompassing yes.

One of the paths I indeed explored several years ago was the RCWP movement. I engaged extensive conversations with a member of that movement and entered serious discernment for a short time before turning away from that path. Why? First of all, I am not a political activist by nature. This has been true in all areas of social justice, contentious issues and difficult ethical topics. It doesn’t mean that I am unengaged or disinterested, quite the contrary. My mode of engagement is different, more direct and invisible. My engagement has not often taken the shape of standing on ramparts, disrupting public gatherings, joining protests or lobbying church officials. My primary call and inclination has been to serve direct needs on the ground, to honour the earth through simple living off the land, and to engage pastoral opportunities in unassuming ways; I tend to leave the heavy political lifting in both church and society to others. Both approaches have their strengths and pitfalls.

While outsiders may see the RCWP movement primarily about public protest, I am aware that this is not its self-understanding. Its call to witness to injustice within the church is expressed through fostering a renewed model for priestly ministry and through serving direct needs on the ground, especially with those who feel alienated from the institutional church. Regardless of this noble purpose, priesthood with the RCWP movement would have felt to me like adding a political dimension to what I saw in essence as a call to serve the faith community. My priestly call felt too precious and too intimate to be tossed to and fro, potentially subjecting it to unpredictable seas of ecclesial confrontation. My desire for parish-based pastoral ministry was far greater than engagement in political activism.

I also struggled with what seemed a rather weak structure of discernment and accountability in RCWP. This aspect has surely evolved and matured since I last engaged its counsel. Discernment and accountability is both a communal and personal matter. I wondered about how to sustain a genuine priestly spirituality, and how to work for reform when the official ties with the existing church are forcibly severed.

I became acutely aware that the pastoral trust and opportunities I was enjoying in parish, diocesan and ecumenical ministry were quite unique; not every RC woman so called had access to these open ministerial spaces. Maybe these open spaces were there for good reason. Joining RCWP  would incur automatic excommunication, resulting in closing the open spaces within every ecclesial  structure, Roman Catholic and otherwise. Ironically, moving to the Anglican ecclesial community does not come with the same stigma. Despite what’s on the books about invalidity of orders, Rome’s 50+ year commitment to formal dialogue and close relations with Anglicans, including clergy, bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury leave little doubt about its practical recognition of Anglican Orders and its appreciation for the Anglican Gospel witness.

Paradoxically, the realizations arising from my RCWP exploration clarified my pastoral call and priestly heart with that uncanny peace the world cannot give. I gratefully acknowledged that I had ample opportunities to serve God’s people, while my spirit was guided and nourished from the priestly vocation in my soul. God affirmed the call inside, as well as how I was to continue living that call on the outside.

I discovered that, despite the prohibition on ordination, my ministry career could be surprisingly fruitful. This was possible in part thanks to a deepened understanding of sacraments, encompassing every occasion in which I could facilitate an embodied encounter between God and a person in need. I learnt that priestly ministry need not be limited to the institutionally ordained, that it could be deeply life-giving and love-giving even in the most restrictive circumstances. To increase the probability of such fruitfulness I chose daily to surrender to God, chose not be victimized by the pain but let it teach and hone my spirit, to keep my ego out of the driver’s seat, and to ground my experience in Christ Jesus. While I share the vision and the vocation with RCWP women, and while I certainly gained a greater understanding of what leads one to choose this ordination route, my path was clearly a different one.

But, you may ask, was this response not a capitulation to an oppressive ecclesial system? Was this not a cop out on my part, a cowardly supporting of the status quo? For some, this would have been so. For me, not so. Instead, guided by Scripture and prayer, good mentoring and challenging self-reflection, this response lead me to develop a robust spiritual resilience in the midst of an unjust ecclesial situation. I grounded my priestly identity in God, and only secondarily in the church. I developed skills to avoid feeling victimized by an unjust ecclesial practice and to help me rise above ecclesial limitations, skills that continue to serve me well even now as an Anglican priest.

Undoubtedly there is an ecclesial tension within Roman Catholicism when it comes to the ordination question for women. Our own Scriptures and tradition, our own Pope Francis, continuously remind us of the God of surprises, the God who doesn’t fit into our limited boxes of understanding and interpretation. We embrace God in a person, Jesus Christ, who revealed the radical nature of God’s grace and mercy for all people. Jesus, God’s grace in the flesh, engaged people in need, touched clean and unclean people alike, to the scandal of the religious establishment. He was in many ways a breaker of those human rules that did not serve God’s reign, and thus still continuously calls us to a higher standard of justice, wholeness and integrity.

Every time Pope Francis emphasizes that God keeps doing new things among us, I think of the priesthood for women. In his homily at the closing of the 2014 Synod on the family, Pope Francis said: “God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.” Well, God may not be afraid of new things, but church leaders seem to be. However, time is a necessary discernment tool in both personal and ecclesial development. Time will test the new thing God is doing in women such as Jane and myself who experience a divine call to priestly ministry. All we are asked to do is to be a faithful steward of the tiny part entrusted to us in this larger ecclesial drama, and leave the rest to God.

In order to live this tension creatively, freely and faithfully we need a long view, one that extends beyond our own few years on this planet. But I see a uncanny irony in Rome’s certainty that women cannot possibly be ordained when considering the following words from Pope Francis: If one has the answers to all the questions, that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.

There is no denying that each of us can be called onto different paths to fulfill a similar purpose, even if we find ourselves shaking our heads at one another’s choices. Whether inside or outside traditional ecclesial structures, we are all in this together. There is that of God in everyone and in every choice motivated by love. As long as the primary driving energy is love and humility, grace and mercy, with anger, bitterness and resentment surrendering to these four, each person’s journey is deserving of trust and respect despite our own misgivings.

We need to learn to think and say with Pope Francis, who in turn of course echoed Jesus, when he said: Who am I to judge? I share Pope Francis’ dogmatic certainty: God is truly in every person’s life. Taking this reality seriously, my own discomfort or disagreement with paths and choices others take can then become God’s invitation to deeper self-reflection and ongoing grounding into God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Who am I to say that God does not use everyone to further God’s reign of justice, peace and mercy? Would that we can afford one another this mutual trust and respect even when finding ourselves on different routes of life.

  • Here is a personal account by Christine Haider Winnet who joined the RCWP movement.

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TOB and Ordination III

Back in September 2015, I was one of three Canadian women presenting at the International Women’s Ordination Conference in Philadelphia on the question:
Theology of the Body – Friend or Foe of the Ordination Question?
This is Part III — Part I can be found here, Part II here.

St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) can provide a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality, both in families and in the Church as the family of God, including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarized as unity in diversity, equality in mutuality, individuality in community.

A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In the sacramental churches, the main obstacle to the ordination of women is the idea that the masculinity of Jesus requires the priest to resemble him as a male. But this is a fallacy which is rooted in the patriarchal norm of the father as head of the family and not on divine revelation.

“This is my body.” What matters for the sacramental economy, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed human nature in a human body, and “became flesh.” The proper matter for the sacrament is “flesh,” not “maleness.” Therefore, the necessary and sufficient condition for outward resemblance is the human body, whether male or female. The advent of women priests and bishops is required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine person who became incarnate and abides in the Trinity. All the sacraments are nuptial. None of the sacraments were instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.

Doctrinally, nothing essential (dogmatic) needs to change in order to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. The TOB confirms that there is one (embodied) human nature, shows that men and women equally share in human personhood, and makes clear that the human body, male and female, is what makes Jesus Christ visible as an incarnate divine Person.

Jesus, born in a male body, nevertheless revealed a strong feminine spirit: gentle and compassionate, nurturing and affectionate, always concerned for the other. Scripture and the prayers of the Church refer to him as the Wisdom of God –a designation considered female in Scripture. In the beginning, John’s Gospel tells us, Wisdom/Spirit was with Logos, the Word. Wisdom and Logos encompass both masculine and feminine attributes of God. To the question in Job (38:29) “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?” we answer Holy Wisdom, Mother of the universe. Henceforth, every living creature is knit together in, and comes forth from,  a woman’s womb –divine image, likeness and activity. We have only to think of Julian of Norwich’s famous words: “A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself.”

Jesus never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family was a not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal, sacramental love of Christ for the church is not intrinsically patriarchal (as the TOB exegesis of Ephesians 5 abundantly shows), and Jesus Christ is head of the church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a human male.

To act “in persona Christi” means to act in place of a divine Person. Neither men nor women are fully divine persons. Any baptized human person, male or female, can be ordained to act “in persona Christi.” All ministries, including ordained ministries, should be gift-based, not gender-based.

The blood and water flowing from a woman in childbirth commingles with the blood and water flowing from Jesus on the cross in one great act of birthing a new world, recalled vividly in every Eucharist when water is mixed with the wine/blood of Christ.  Jesus was flesh of Mary’s flesh and blood of her blood, having grown in her body for nine months; at the crucifixion it was equally Mary’s flesh that was tortured and her blood that was spilt for our salvation.

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed.” Every woman knows intimately, even if she is not a biological mother, her God-given potential to transform ordinary food and drink into the body and blood of a new human being. In every conception and birth God’s great incarnation and Eucharistic work is revealed in and through a woman.

But in the spiritual realm, all priests male and female are in the business of birthing. We learn from Jesus that we have to be reborn into our new lives in Christ. The priest has a recognized role as midwife in bringing others into new life and caring for them as they mature in faith. The female priest at the altar visibly and audibly signifies the feminine, the maternal, with all the symbolism and associations around creation and procreation, birthing and caring. These are all associated with the life-giving, nurturing God, but which are given particular resonance when borne in the body of a female priest. The symbolism comes to full bloom in a priesthood of both sexes, thereby manifesting in greater expression the very essence of JP II’s Theology of the Body, which is the sacramentality of the human body as manifested in both male and female bodies, both capable especially together of making God visible—tangible—audible—present! (Green, pg. 47-52)our bodies are created by God to be living sacraments, to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds.

To be continued …

Prairie Encounters

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TOB and Ordination II

Back in September 2015, I was one of three Canadian women presenting at the International Women’s Ordination Conference in Philadelphia on the question:
Theology of the Body – Friend or Foe of the Ordination Question?
This is Part II of four — Part I can be found here.

Our bodies are created by God to be living sacraments, to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds. This is clearly the message JP II transmits through his Theology of the Body. While completely unintentional on the part Pope John Paul II, it is our conviction that in this firm claim by the Holy Father lay the beginning of a reversal of church teaching on the ordination of women.

We speak of transubstantiation when referring to the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Eucharist. It is fascinating to think that women engage in a type of biological “transubstantiation” every time those who are pregnant grow another human being. The new life generated by sexual intercourse is literally fed by the mother’s own body and blood.  When she said yes, Mary became first in offering the world God’s holy body and blood through the birth of her son Jesus. Through God’s gift of growing new life in her womb and nourishing it with her own body, Mary, and every woman with her, can grasp a bit of the mystery of transforming ordinary food and drink into new life —a profound Eucharistic transformation, culminating in the great Eucharistic sacrament of the Incarnation of God’s own son Jesus. I wonder if we have really tapped the sacramental significance of this glorious and mysterious wonder of biological “transubstantiation” called pregnancy, whether we have personally experienced it or not.

Herein may lay a promise and potential of powerful witness through the ordination of a woman because of her gender. A woman priest, simply by being female, subverts the outdated and prejudicial associations of male-only priesthood. Women carry powerful symbolic associations with bodiliness and earthliness which are crying out to be reclaimed for the sake of the fullness of God and now also for the sake of the healing of “Our Common Home: the Earth.

After opening his encyclical on the environment Laudato Si with quotes from The Canticle of St. Francis, Pope Francis then immediately states:  This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf.Gen2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

It is a chilling exercise to substitute the word “women” wherever Pope Francis refers to the earth. Chilling indeed to apply his words to the many and varied ways women and female ways of knowing and living have been “used and abused of the goods with which God has endowed us.”

A priesthood of different genders can affirm sexual difference (in positive and negative ways): women and men are equal but not the same, much in the same way as the TOB claims. Each brings different qualities and values attributed to God, embodied and symbolized in both male and female. There are several strengths in a priesthood of both women and men:

* An increased capacity to bring to Christian life and worship all the gendered ways  of being and symbolic meanings of the divine as reflected in both male and female;

* A restoring of the fullness of the principle of sacramentality which has to include male and female embodiment;

* A fuller expression of the meaning of the Incarnation, i.e. the Word becoming flesh in Christ Jesus.

* A fuller manifestation of the very Theology of the Body as articulated by St. John Paul II, in the fact that a priesthood of both sexes is a more honest reflection of the TOB claim that both women and men are first and foremost a human body in their fullest and most fundamental sense which is then subsequently expressed in male and female.

From cover to cover, the Theology of the Body is focused on human beings, male and female, as images of God that fully share one and the same human nature as “body-persons.” John Paul’s entire treatise is devoted to showing that Trinitarian communion becomes more clearly visible when man and woman, being of the same flesh, live in communion with each other and become “one flesh:” in marriage by sharing the gift of love and the gift of life; in community by holding all things in common and live in mutual love and mercy; in celibacy by giving one’s best self spiritually “for the sake of the kingdom.”

God deems both male and female bodies worthy sacramental vessels, capable of transforming ordinary food and drink, ordinary events and ordinary situations into  the radiance of the risen Christ present and active in the world.

Without negating the reality of sin, our bodies are created to be living sacraments. Despite our glaring flaws and shortcomings, both male and female bodies are created to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds, in the same way as our Lord Jesus Christ revealed. According to the Theology of the Body, we make God in Christ present every day when we make giving ourselves to another a gift of love, mercy and beauty. Long before any of us end up in the marriage bed, and those who never do this in a marriage bed, we gift the world with our very selves in the quality of our love, our compassion, our forgiveness.

To be continued …

Prairie Encounters

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TOB and Ordination I

Back in September 2015, I was one of three Canadian women presenting at the International Women’s Ordination Conference in Philadelphia on the question:
Theology of the Body – Friend or Foe of the Ordination Question?

Ever since I explored Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB), I have become convinced that this profound theological reflection provides the most solid argument in favour of ordaining women to the priesthood. In fact, it strikes me as quite peculiar that most supporters of TOB seem to oppose the priestly ordination of women and most supporters of priestly ordination of women seem to have written off TOB as having anything positive to contribute to this discussion.

I beg to differ quite seriously with both positions. I am hereby sharing the text of this presentation in four installments, beginning with Part I of four:

You, O Lord Jesus Christ, may dwell in me
as the new creation bestowed in baptism.
You are the pattern for my life, my fullness
– clothing me “in Christ.”
I may act in your name, O Jesus,
in my loving, comforting, peacemaking.
I may care in your name, I may teach in your name.
I may guide and console in your holy name.
I may enter the Eucharistic mystery as co-creator,
transforming divine spirit
into a new body and blood in my womb
and give birth to God’s beloved children.
I may preach anywhere but in sacred liturgy.
I may “be you” everywhere but at the altar.
I may act “in persona Christi” with the poor and hungry,
with the sick and the lonely,
the troubled and the stranger
—everywhere and always
except in the source and summit
of our faith, the Eucharist …

One of the most challenging things for the human mind is to suspend knowing what we know in order to learn and see something new. This may be the case today as we try to examine in a most cursory manner Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) in connection with the question of priestly ordination for women in the Roman Catholic Church. Our guess is that if you do know something about TOB, it likely comes from Christopher West’s interpretation of the TOB. Popular and widely endorsed by Catholic Bishops everywhere, West has focused his entire TOB interpretation on sexuality and marriage. But whether we are married or single, we are our bodies long before, and even without, expressing our sexuality in an intimate sanctioned genital relationship.

Either the Theology of the Body has something to offer for EVERY body at any age and in any of life’s seasons, or it is an inadequate theology. So let’s take a brief “hermeneutical” trip, and see whether there is anything in JP II’s thinking that can serve as a new foothold in favour of ordaining women to the priesthood.

We’re using TOB as a springboard for further reflection on the ordination question for women.  Keep in mind, however, that Pope John Paul II never intended to provide direct arguments favouring the ordination of women; after all, he’s the one that closed the door on even discussing the matter. But that should not stop us from looking at the TOB and see if it can nevertheless offer a theological and anthropological foothold for ordaining women. If it does, it would clearly be a case of unintended consequences, exactly the type of thing the Holy Spirit loves to use:).

Our bodies are essential to our humanity, to everything we do, from cradle to grave. Indeed, we experience all of life, and all of our relationships, in and through our bodies. The skin is the largest sensory organ, and healthy loving touch is fundamental to healthy development and growth. When we pray, we pay attention to our posture. When we engage in conversation, our bodies speak volumes about our intent, motivation and purpose. The most exhilarating moments of giving ourselves to others are visceral experiences, deeply involving our bodily movements, sensations and expressions, and at times deeply involving spiritual dimensions.

God fashioned the human body as the foundation of our identity. A human body was necessary and enough for Jesus of Nazareth. This very Jesus who is the animating energy of our faith and the reason for our church, whose bodily gift of self in the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, took on human flesh in the womb of a woman’s  . . . body. Yet, throughout most of Christian history, we have ignored the radical implications of this truth when it comes to the Incarnation of God in Christ and our bodily comfort level.

Here is the TOB quote most relevant to our exploration: Although in its normal constitution, the human body carries within itself the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact that man is a body belongs more deeply to the structure of the personal subject than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female… which are, as it were, two different incarnations, that is, two ways in which the same human being, created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), is a body. (TOB, par. 8.1)

When the first person in Genesis exclaims, This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, Pope John Paul suggests there is a unity deeper than gendered difference. The presence of “the other” gives rise to a greater self-consciousness and the meaning of personhood, visibly expressed in the body. Creation in the image of God, therefore, is not limited to the individual person but is also an image of the Trinity as a communion of persons. Formatively, this means that each one of us, female and male, is an image of and a participant in the very life of God. At an anthropological level, original unity is an embodied recognition and reception of another person as a gift offered in creation by God to co-create.

The sovereign God took on human flesh and redeemed us through the human flesh of Jesus Christ, thus revealing the capacity for the human body to make visible the invisible God. In Christ Jesus the physical and the spiritual were reunited as one. No more separation between the flesh and the spirit, between the sacred and the profane, between the human and the divine.

However, despite this amazing good news, Christian history has had an ironically opposite track record. At varying times we have degraded the body, chastised the body, dismissed the body, even blamed it as the source of all evil, in particular the female body. In light of the Incarnation, and despite St. Paul’s summons, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (I Cor 3:16 & 6:19), such a track record should be considered deeply heretical. Given this dubious legacy, it is refreshing to re-read Katrina Zeno’s presentation at a TOB conference in Rome a few years back in which she said:

As human persons we do indeed have a very specific nature, an embodied rational nature, which perhaps could even be called a sacramental nature. At all times and in all places our embodied human nature is created by God to point to something beyond just the material. We are not relative only to ourselves and to our acquired goods and pleasures. On the contrary, “the body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine” to cite one of the most frequently quoted passages from the theology of the body (Audience 19, section 4). Our bodies are created by God to be living sacraments, to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds (Zenit, Nov. 14, 2011).

To be continued …

Prairie Encounters

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No again … and Yet …

It has been a heady month of October on the global ecumenical front, in no small way thanks to Pope Francis. A man of action, and cognizant of the power of gesture and relationship, Francis spent October 2016 — inaugurating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation — in key encounters with leaders from the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and LWF President Bishop Mounib Younan both signed Joint Statements with Pope Francis; a Joint Statement with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill was signed earlier this year. Each statement confesses the sins of conflict and strife over the past 500 years (1000 years in case of the Orthodox!), reaffirms Christ’s own animating and salvific presence in one another’s traditions, and commits its leaders and faithful to new paths of joint witness, prayer and mission. Without glossing over disagreements still present, each statement includes a clear commitment to address these differences by “walking together” as one Body of Christ.

These are no small matters. This is history in the making. Publicly signing formal agreements at the highest ecclesial levels has clout and raises the bar to a new level. Many are bursting with joy and relief, praise and thanks to God at this monumental development in the Bblessingwelbyfrancisody of Christ. Our church leaders are now able to admit that historical and theological divisions, though painful and full of conflict at the time, nevertheless have enjoyed the blessing of God’s Spirit as evident in the particular charisms, strengths and gifts of each tradition: Lutheran, Anglican, Roman, Methodist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, United and later on the family of Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches. Not everything is resolved, to be sure, but our conflict-ridden world is in dire need of concrete global examples of reconciliation and healing. The Christian family has a particular responsibility in this area as we claim to follow our Lord and role model, God’s own Son Jesus Christ, who came to “reconcile the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and that “all may be one” (John 17:21).

While so many positive steps are being made, it is hard to keep the negative at bay. Dan O’Grady, a psychologist, has been quoted as saying that “our negative and critical thoughts are like Velcro, they stick and hold; whereas our positive and joyful thoughts are like Teflon, they slide away.” A bit of this happened in the aftermath of all these momentous ecumenical gatherings. When interviewed by journalists aboard the papal plane returning from Lund, Sweden, Pope Francis once again reiterated the Roman Catholic ban on the ordination of women. Instantly social media erupted with knee-jerk reactions, expressing outrage and profound disappointment in some quarters and dismay over pestering the Holy Father with this perennial question in other quarters.

That is too bad, for the positive ecumenical steps of the past 50 years can nevertheless provide some important solace, lessening the need for such negative reactions. Let me try to tease out a few.

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill hug each other after signing agreements in HavanaFor church traditions who have shared literally centuries of suspicion, judgment and conflict, it is a monumental step to acknowledge Christ’s saving action in one another’s faith and spirituality, liturgy and mission. In other words, Christ is present and active in those ecclesial communities which have developed separately from Rome. This acknowledgement is extended to several major traditions which ordain women, i.e. the Anglican and Lutheran Churches. Rome does not consider itself to have the authority to change its teaching on women’s ordination, but that does not preclude that Christ can work through ordained women in other traditions.

Even acknowledging that the fullness of the church subsists in the Catholic Church (Par. 8, Lumen Gentium) may be quite acceptable to other Christian traditions. The same paragraph in Lumen Gentium adds that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.” But the burden of proof and of greater responsibility rests on the one who makes the claim to total fullness.  Just because the “fullness of the church” subsists in the Roman Catholic Church, it does not automatically follow that the same Church lives each aspect of that fullness to its best. Some aspects have gathered dust in obscure corners of the Church’s own archives; other aspects have withered because of neglect. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to live that fullness is precisely what may have given rise to other traditions, some of whom live these aspects  better and more faithfully, as articulated eloquently in paragraph 4 of the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio). Could it be that ordaining women is one of those aspects?

lund-2016-peace-of-christThe fruit of ecumenical learning leads to a realization that we need all churches together in order to provide a full and complete witness to the Gospel. For the neglect of one church could well be the strength of another, and vice versa. If we could truly realize how much we need each other, then the gifts and graces of one tradition, including ordained women, can serve to hold accountable and guide the other traditions.

My personal response to Pope Francis’ reiterating the ban on the ordination of women is quite simple: “If women are not to be ordained, then please tell God to stop calling us.” God’s calling activity in the heart and mind of a faithful Roman Catholic woman is a mysterious and challenging dance, one which is rarely chosen at will by the woman herself and despite her personal fear and resistance. Rather, it is a dance in which we women (yes, I include myself) feel seduced (in the loveliest sense of that word) by a divine Partner who fuels our human desire for fullness and surrender, for wholeness in ministry despite the official teaching of the Church, a dance which is at the same time recognized by the faith community in surprising and genuine ways despite the prohibition from on high to do so.

There is an authenticating force that arises when one has lived with such a deep divine calling for a lifetime. Such a calling does not rest until it is consummated in ordination as the most complete expression of the gift of one’s very self in service to God’s holy people — an apt example of losing one’s life in order to find it.

Yes, I have moved into another room in the Christian household to pursue this priestly ordination. But I have not left the Christian household. The tradition I have embraced, with valid differences in some key aspects, is nevertheless endowed with many of the gifts and charisms as the one which gave birth to and nurtured my calling so well in the first place, thereby affirming the words in Lumen Gentium. If the ecumenical agreements of the past 50 years mean anything, it is that denominational moves such as mine are no longer the scandal they once were. I am convinced of one thing: Christ is still leading and guiding me, and will continue to bless my journey. What’s more, Rome’s best ecumenical insights now agree with this. Who knows what “new thing” the Holy Spirit can do with this:

God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us “new”. A Christian who lives the Gospel is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this “newness”! (Pope Francis, homily, October 19, 2014)

We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face.” (Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, par. 244)

This reflection was also published in the Prairie Messenger, November 16, 2016

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