I have Seen the Lord!

Today, July 22, is one of my favourite feasts in the church calendar — Mary Magdalene. Deep connections and affection well up for this courageous woman of Christ, the first witness to the resurrection, the one commissioned by the risen Lord himself to “Go and tell.”

This “Apostle to the Apostles” has played a big role in my ability to embrace the priestly calling God placed in my heart some 25 years ago. Mary rushed alongside me as I struggled with the tension between the intimate new beckoning God was forging in the depth of my very being and the Roman Catholic prohibition to claim that same calling. It was she who made me realize that it was the risen Christ calling me, it was she who helped me echo the cry from her heart and recognize it as my own: “I have seen the Lord!” Rarely have I experienced such an intimate identification with a Biblical figure besides Jesus himself.

It is Mary’s bold witness that validated my calling as coming from God through Jesus. It is she who helped me to trust Christ’s summons in my heart to “go and tell.” It was she who held my trembling fearful heart as I allowed the priestly calling to mold and grow my inner landscape into a fertile field for God’s service at the heart of a Church tradition that both nurtured and inspired, dismissed and feared this calling in a woman. I owe Mary Magdalene a tremendous debt of gratitude and honour for her unbidden yet loving and generous gifts of guidance and strength, of courage and vision.

Given this personal and enduring friendship with Mary Magdalene, I fully endorse that she is regarded as a guiding light, an inspiration and role model for all women who feel a divine call to full priestly ministry, a call that Rome continues to resist and even deny. My heart is in full solidarity with these women, even as I am now preparing to fulfill this call in the Anglican tradition (which btw considers itself a full part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ). But as I am now standing in a different ecclesial place, I am beginning to see different things and beginning to see the same things in a different light.

I have to ask the obvious: Why is it so painful to move to another expression of Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church? A rhetorical question maybe, for I know the reason well; I lived it intensely for many years. The Roman Catholic Church is my ancestral and spiritual home; how can I possibly “turn my back” on this holy Mother Church? Somehow leaving the home of our biological childhood seems obvious and expected. We consider it normal and healthy to leave the family nest in order to stand on our own two feet and find our own path. However, now that I have moved to the Anglican expression of Gospel discipleship I am making a surprising discovery: I have not left my ecclesial home, “home” went with me. Just as the lessons of my upbringing continue to guide me in adulthood, so the best of Roman Catholicism continues to animate life in my new ecclesial home.

But just as our upbringing bestows on us both blessings and curses, so does our ecclesial upbringing. Part of growing up, cleaning up and waking up is to exorcise and heal all that binds us in negative and hurtful ways. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to make the denominational move: I wanted to take as little unresolved negative baggage with me as possible, and worked hard to purify the motives for the move.

Blending the best Roman Catholic spiritual attributes with the Anglican gifts and blessings, new configurations are now growing in my spirit, leading to deeper insights and richer expressions of ministry and service. Would this have been possible had I remained safely (even though painfully) at “home”? Sometimes, no often, it takes leaving home in order to discover a bigger, wider and better home.

Which brings me to the next question. In the past 50 years the Christian family as a whole has been on a momentous ecumenical journey. We used to kill each other in the name of the Prince of Peace! It’s therefore momentous that we have now moved into the joyful recognition of the risen Christ in one another, animating and guiding each tradition according to its calling and charism. We have been echoing Mary Magdalene’s startling exclamation: we have seen the Lord in one another.

This remarkable achievement is truly cause for great rejoicing, especially in this 500th year since the conflicts of the 16th century splintered the Body of Christ in the west into countless fragments. And we are certainly celebrating this year, from small ecumenical study groups in rural communities right up to Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Orthodox patriarchs.

But in the euphoria of celebration, we also need to continue asking: what are the practical spiritual and ecclesial implications of the significant strides we have been making towards Christian Unity? What is the Christian Unity we seek? If it is not uniformity, as most will agree, then how does the abiding diversity of our ecclesial understandings and practices challenge our understanding of Church as encompassing more than one tradition? And if we truly honour other traditions for the unique gifts and practices they share in the Body of Christ, do all need to embrace similar practices? Do all, and Rome in particular, need to ordain women? Now I know that even asking this question will not go over well with RC advocates for women’s ordination. Nevertheless the question deserves attention. Notwithstanding the very valid critiques of ecclesial patriarchy and clericalism in the RC Church, I cannot help but wonder. Is the new thing God is working out in our ecumenical journey that we grow our ecclesial vision so large, that moving to another tradition will no longer feel like betraying and leaving “Holy Mother Church” because “Holy Mother Church” really includes all traditions who profess Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour?

Mary stood at the tomb weeping in grief and loss. “They” had taken away her Lord and she didn’t know where “they” had laid him. She grieved deeply for what was now over and gone, what was now no longer possible, or so she thought. The One who had healed and transformed her life, the one who had fed her soul was gone, forever. Now what? I felt a similar desperation when I first realized God was calling me to priestly ministry. In fact, two Marys rushed to my side in that painful moment. That visceral reality-check caused two burning questions, each connected with each Mary, to spring from my heart in fear and trembling: “How can this be?” (Luke 1: 34) and “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13).

The two Marys and I have traveled a long journey together. We’ve grown a deep and abiding friendship. Each Mary modeled how to give my fiat to God. Their witness, each in her own way, have guided and sustained and inspired my trembling heart. Now with great joy and deep satisfaction, I serve two rural parishes as an Anglican deacon, preparing for ordination to the priesthood in four months. I have come a long ways.

Today I salute you, Mary Magdalene. You have fed my courage to give my yes to the summons of the risen Jesus: “Go and tell.” My tears of pain and grief have turned into tears of joy and fullness. You, Mary, are still my trustworthy partner in mission and ministry, as I lead God’s people in worship and preach each Sunday with your passion, courage and conviction: “I have seen the Lord!”

For another article on Mary Magdalene, click here.

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My Body, my Blood (Part I)

One Sunday at Eucharist I was pondering once again the meaning of the Body and Blood of Christ. To say that it is a mystery is not to dismiss curious minds and inquisitive queries, but rather to point to something that transcends words or any human understanding. In fact it is only a mystery that can touch our deepest existential reality, because we too are a mystery even unto ourselves.

Anyway, this one particular Sunday I again allowed my spirit to encounter Holy Mystery in the Eucharist. And my thoughts wandered, as they tend to. This time thoughts turned to the Theology of the Body (TOB), a series of catechetical talks given over several years by Saint Pope John Paul II. Several questions have puzzled me over this magnum opus of the\is Holy Father. First of all, the first popular interpretations of the Pope’s TOB insights focused exclusively on marriage and sexuality, creating the impression that our bodies are only worth theologizing about when we become sexually active. Once I explored the TOB on my own (with the help of a dear friend) I discovered that it is about much more than what happens in the marriage bed. A second, way more urgent question, emerged: how come it has taken us 20 centuries to reclaim the sacramentality of the body, something so powerfully communicated in the Word made Flesh? Our human body was good enough for Jesus of nazareth. This very Lord who is the reason for our Church, whose bodily gift of self in the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, took on our flesh in the womb of a woman’s … body. How come we have so ignored the radical implications of this truth when it comes to our bodily comfort level? How come we now need the TOB to return us to this fundamental message in the Incarnation?MotherOfTheEucharist2

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. Despite this amazing Good News Christian history has had an abominable track-record in honouring the human body. 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 could 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)

We speak of transubstantiation when referring to the ordinary food and drink of bread and wine being transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Eucharist. I find it fascinating that women engage in a type of biological “transubstantiation” every time their bodies grow another human being, The new life generated by the marital union is literally fed by the mother’s own body and blood.

ElizabethMaryIn her yes, Mary became first in offering to the world God’s holy body and blood through the birth of her son Jesus, our Messiah and Lord. Through God’s gift of growing new life in her womb and nourishing it with her own body, every woman knows something about 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. Have we really tapped the sacramental significance of this glorious and mysterious wonder of biological transubstantiation called pregnancy? God deems both male and female bodies worthy sacramental vessels, capable of transforming ordinary food, 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; 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.

In one of his Lenten sermons a few years ago Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, urged all of us to offer our bodies and blood as a daily Eucharistic sacrifice and gift to the world, thereby transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary presence and action of God: “Let us try to imagine what would happen if also the laity, at the moment of the consecration, said silently: ‘Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood. A mother of a family thus celebrates Mass, then she goes home and begins her day made up of a thousand little things. But what she does is not nothing: It is a Eucharist together with Jesus! A [religious] sister also says in her heart at the moment of consecration: ‘Take, eat …’; then she goes to her daily work: children, the sick, the elderly. The Eucharist ‘invades’ their day which becomes … Eucharist.” (Zenit, March 12, 2010)

CupBlessingEvery time we drink the cup of blessing that we bless, we share in the Blood of Christ, thus committing ourselves to be poured out in love for others. Every time we eat the Body of Christ, we are called to offer our own bodies in sacrificial love for the healing of the world. Daily gifts of self to others redeem relationships between men and women, as well as with creation and with God, whether in the marriage bed, in school or workplace, at the recycling depot, in the dance recital or the communion procession. Our body is an integral expression of our personhood, thus affirming creation as male and female in the divine image as “very good.” It is thus that we glorify God in our bodies, male and female.

An earlier version of this reflection appeared in the Prairie Messenger, June 11, 2014

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