unity

At vigil Mass on Saturday, while we were praying the Nicene Creed, a thought flashed into my head at the second filioque – and the Son – wondering if it will be removed when the Orthodox and Catholic churches are reunited. Its insertion in the creed was one of the reasons given for the schism in 1054 – and one in which the Catholic side was almost assuredly in error. I certainly have no problems with dropping it…

What is more enlightening for me than the thought itself this weekend but that it coincided with Francis’s visit to Turkey. I hadn’t had the chance to keep up with news from the visit over the weekend but was catching up on some of the coverage through NCR today, reading about how Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had both spoken very strongly in favor of unity in the immediate future. Talks between the two churches have been ongoing for decades and I share in the hope that this unity will come soon.

Francis made very clear that all the various churches that make up the Catholic and Orthodox communions would retain their own identities, that unity is only in profession of faith together. Bartholomew spoke poignantly about how unity among Christians is already evident in the lives of those being persecuted for being Christian, whatever their denomination.

So, I guess the Catholics would not have to drop the second filioque, but I think it would be a nice gesture.

inclusion

This morning’s service was one of the most inclusive I have attended in a long time. I won’t name the church or the priest, who was a visitor, for his protection, as the freedom with which he treated the mass texts would land him in hot water with the bishop, although, interestingly, I doubt Pope Francis would bat an eye.

The gospel story (Mathew 15:21-28) was about the Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to save her daughter who is tormented by a demon. At first, Jesus ignores her and the disciples want her to be sent away, yet she persists in her request. Jesus finally says that he has come only for the children of Israel, that it isn’t right to throw the children’s food to the dogs. She answers that even the dogs eat the scraps from the master’s table and Jesus says that her daughter will be healed because of her faith.

I think, though, that what the woman exhibited more strongly than faith was maternal love. I’ve been in the situation of having a sick daughter and know what it feels like to pursue anyone or anything to help your child, even if you have to go against society’s norms to do so. A woman in that culture would not be permitted to approach and talk to a Jewish man, much less follow after him, calling out and begging, but she did it to save her beloved daughter.

In Matthew’s account of the story, even Jesus is a bit slow to recognize that God’s love is universal, that this woman and her daughter are as precious and valuable as Jewish persons are. The priest made this point clear, not only through his homily but also throughout all the prayers of the mass, weaving in references to God’s love for all beings and our own call to love and care for every person without regard to any difference of belief, ethnicity, race, body size, ability, or any other characteristic.

I so appreciated the message and the elegantly consistent way in which it was woven into the mass. That I knew that he, like the Canaanite woman, was bending the rules to do so, was a satisfying delight.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau

Sunday started with Trinity and I attending Mass. In a strange turn of events, the church, St. Michael the Archangel, is just one block down the street, but, at the moment, they are constructing a new church, and so are holding Mass in a large tent a few miles away. It was a children’s Mass, with children in the choir – singing and playing ipu – taking up the collection, and bringing up the gifts. It was also First Communion for one little girl. In this parish, instead of all the second graders receiving First Eucharist together, each child receives when they and their parents have completed the preparation process. Because it was a children’s Mass, we chanted a couple of prayers in Hawai’ian. The priest was a guest, visiting from The Philippines for the month. He preached a lovely homily about the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Eucharist, and prayer. I have always loved that gospel passage and have often wished that they had recorded all that Jesus taught them on the road.

In the afternoon, we went to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a national historical park on the Kona coast. It is the only surviving example of a pu’uhonua, which was a place of refuge in the days before the kapu laws were abandoned. In centuries past, the laws were very straightforward and the only penalty was death, to be executed by the witness(es) to the offense, lest the gods express their displeasure at the broken kapu by sending down a lava flow, storm, or some other calamity. If, however, the person who broke kapu could reach a pu’uhonua first, the kahuna pule (priest) could absolve him/her and s/he could return to the outside world. The trick was that the pu’uhonua was walled off within the royal compound, where commoners could not set foot, so the only way in was to swim at least half a mile in the ocean to reach safety.

Others could also seek safety in the pu’uhonua. The chiefs would declare a battle a week or so in advance. This gave women, children, and men too old or sick to fight the opportunity to seek shelter in the pu’uhouna to avoid being killed in the battle. There was a take no prisoners approach to war then and no such thing as a non-combatant, so, unless you were a warrior, you needed to leave the area where the battle was to be fought. After the battle, those who had sought refuge would be free to return.

We went to a ranger talk before we walked around the grounds. He had made whimsical insect sculptures, woven from coconut palm. He gave them to wahine (women) who answered questions. Trinity got one early on because she could remember and pronounce Pu’uhonua o Honaunau; I got one later for remembering the name of one of the four major gods, Lono, to whom the main temple there was dedicated. The insects are supposed to be used for stirring mai tais, but ours will probably stay dry! The ranger also played a bit for us on his nose flute. I hadn’t ever heard and watched one being played. The sound is haunting but lovely.

Saint John XXIII

Today, the Catholic church canonized Pope John XXIII along with Pope John Paul II. ¬†Although John Paul was pope for about half of my lifetime, it is John’s legacy that most shaped the church that I know.

Because I was born in 1960, the only church I have known is the Vatican II church. I don’t remember when the Mass was in Latin rather than the vernacular and the choir was the only one singing the responses. I grew up with the expectation that I would continue to study the Bible, theology, spirituality, and doctrine and be responsible for developing and acting in accordance with my own conscience. It would have been very different if John, elected at 78 and not expected to do anything of substance, had not had the vision and inspiration of the Spirit to convene the Council of the world’s Catholic bishops and invite observers from other faiths. He wanted an “aggiornamento” or updating of the church, to open the Church, which had not changed ¬†significantly in the centuries since the Council of Trent in reaction to the Protestant Reformation, to the modern world. This is the Church in which I was raised and which I continue to live out in my life to the best of my abilities.

Much of the secular media coverage talks about how the Church is “making” these two popes saints, but that is a mistaken characterization. Rather, the Church recognizes that these men are saints in heaven. God “makes” saints. Alleluia!

 

Remembrance

We just returned from Holy Thursday Mass. Fittingly, the focus of the homily was remembrance. The 4,000+ years of remembrance of the Passover, the almost 2,000 years remembrance of the celebration of the Eucharist, and the remembrance of our call to serve one another, symbolized by the washing of the feet. The twelve whose feet were washed were a cross-section of the community, diverse in race, ethnicity, and gender, with an age range of at least six decades.

There were other personal remembrances for me, especially of my former parish, which was the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. This made the Holy Thursday liturgy especially significant for us and it was always my favorite liturgy of the year. I was remembering our music ministry at Blessed Sacrament, which was brought to mind by the fact that some of the musicians this evening, including my daughter, were music ministers at Blessed Sacrament back in the day.

I was remembering the sculpture of Jesus, seated as though at a table, holding the bread and the cup, which dominated the wall behind the altar. It was such a welcoming presence; during times in my life when I felt unwelcomed by some in the Church, it was a comfort to meditate on it.

At communion, I was remembering that on Holy Thursday, instead of the usual hosts, we consecrated tiny individual unleavened breads that had been baked by one of our long-time parishioners.

The Holy Thursday liturgy ends with the Blessed Sacrament being placed on an altar of reposition, instead of in the main tabernacle of the church. Tonight, the church had placed a glass tabernacle in a simply but beautifully decorated space along the side wall of the church. I was holding in remembrance my favorite tabernacle, which was the one we used at Blessed Sacrament after our major renovation. A liturgical artist made a natural linen-colored square-based tent for us, decorated with piping that matched the red, blue, and green color accents painted in the tower of the church. On Holy Thursday, we carried the tabernacle in procession before the Blessed Sacrament and set it on the altar of repose. The Blessed Sacrament was placed inside, incensed, and then the tent flap was closed. I loved the symbolism, because the word tabernacle comes from the word tent and reminds us of the tent in which the Ark of the Covenant was housed before the Temple was built in Jerusalem. Like the Passover remembrance, the tent-tabernacle reminds me of the profoundly Jewish roots of Christians and the love and respect to which we are all called.

Letter on women’s ordination in the Catholic Church

Below is a letter that I wrote on one of the topics that is nearest to my heart, the call of women to ordination in the Catholic Church:

Dear Father,

Yesterday, my 23-year-old daughter and I were in attendance at 7:30 Mass. We are local, but not parishioners. When you began the homily saying that you were continuing a series on the sacraments with Holy Orders, my daughter put her hand out for me to clasp, because it is a very sensitive topic for us, especially in regards to women’s ordination, and we knew that we might wind up leaving together in tears. That we did not is a testament to your pastoral sensitivity on a very fraught topic.

I appreciated your statements about the theology coming along much later than the practice of Holy Orders for men only. The two theological defenses that you chose to share in your homily, that the Twelve were all male and that women priests would disrupt the imagery of the church as the bride of Christ, were presented in the most even-handed way possible. Thank you for not going into the whole “male as normative” line of argument, which flies in the face of the constant teaching that both male and female image God and that in Christ all are one. It also elevates maleness above other attributes. For instance, the Twelve were Jews, religiously and ethnically, but we don’t say that that is normative. I admit that the “Bride of Christ” imagery is problematic for me, as I don’t find it especially meaningful. I find much more power and dignity in the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, actively carrying divine love and service out into the world.

I also appreciated the historical context you included on the development of bishops, deacons, and priests in the early church, especially in being clear that both women and men served as deacons. There is also evidence of women serving as priests, presiding in early house churches. There are inscriptions and art depicting women presiders that has been recovered from early Christian burial sites. There is evidence of women, sometimes abbesses, who acted as bishops, into the Middle Ages. This history is not well-known, but it is very meaningful to those who do know it.

I appreciated you quoting Pope Francis saying that the church does not YET have the authority to ordain women, because that is much more hopeful than the statements of John Paul and Benedict. Given that the Pontifical Biblical Commission found no biblical reason that women could not be ordained, there is hope that the Holy Spirit will enable the Church of the future to recognize and accept through Holy Orders all who are called to serve, regardless of their gender.

I know a number of women who have discerned this call. As you said, you can’t know what it is like to have such a call but to be excluded from fulfilling it. The women that I know who felt called but who are vowed religious have all stayed with the Church, serving God and all people through the ministries that they are allowed to perform. Most of the other women that I know that felt this call to the priesthood or diaconate have withdrawn from active participation in the church because it is too painful to be constantly reminded of not being able to be what God has called them to be. Most of these women still identify as Catholic, but do not participate in parish life and worship. A few joined other denominations, including one who is now an ordained minister.

I myself have walked a fine, and perhaps cowardly, line of not knowing. From my early teens, I was involved in music and liturgy planning ministries. When I was a young mother, I had two dreams that I was a priest. I actually went to a discernment meeting in the diocese, back before they specified that you had to be either unmarried or a married man to attend. When we broke into smaller groups, I wound up going with the deacons, who shared that often the deacons’ wives would go to all the courses and training with their husbands, but that there was nothing that they could offer them in the end as their husbands were ordained.

Knowing how difficult it was for my friends who felt called to stay in the church, I decided not to try to discern if I was actually called myself. So, I have spent a couple of decades in this uncertain space. Of late, the deacon at the parish I most often attend has been ill and I find myself looking at the priest alone in the presidential chair and thinking that I could be there assisting as deacon. After a homily about the obstacles we face to saying “Here I am” to God, I went and spoke to the priest about these persistent thoughts of myself as deacon, knowing that, in some diocese, women are pursuing the possibility and that there is an international movement to restore women to the diaconate. I told the priest with whom I spoke that I knew there was nothing he could do in our diocese, but that I needed someone to listen, which he very graciously did. I appreciate his willingness to give me a time and space to share my situation with him and his support in the limbo in which so many women reside, not just on the question of ordination, but in the larger sphere of existing as a Catholic woman, especially a married one, when you are treated as somehow “other” in the one place in which you should be accepted in your fullness as a child of God.

He could neither do nor did I expect him to do anything about my dilemma. This applies to you as well, but I wanted to try to convey to you my thanks for your sensitivity in not causing me or my daughter any more pain than we already feel as women in the church. While my hopes of the “Yet” being in my lifetime diminish, perhaps it will be within my daughters’ lifetimes. We can only hope and pray.

In the love of God, the peace of Christ, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit,
Joanne

Slam(ish) Poem

My new and exciting experience this month is attending my first ever workshop with the Binghamton Poetry Project., which is a weekly, five-week community poetry working/learning hour with (mostly grad) students from Binghamton University facilitating. Our facilitators present a topic, which includes a couple of example poems, and then we write and some volunteer to read what they have just written from prompts based on the poems.

This was week three, and I finally got brave enough to read my prior week’s poem at the beginning of class. In fact, I got so brave that I also performed the poem I wrote during class. I say performed rather than read because we had an introduction to slam poetry and our prompts were to try out the style, which isn’t meant to be read from the page but experienced in performance. I was (perhaps inordinately but quietly) proud of myself for attempting this, given that I am not current/hip/adventurous enough to have ever been exposed to the style, and more so because I was the only class member that actually was brave/foolhardy enough to attempt it, rather than writing something else that was in their head that had nothing to do with the prompts.

So, here I am breaking the rules, presenting my first – and perhaps only – attempt at slam poetry in written form, rather than as a performance video, because a) I am not technically able to produce and post a video, b) I am not skilled enough as a performer for it to really make a difference, and c) it’s easier to potentially embarrass myself once in a room of about twenty people than to post it to the internet where I could be embarrassed permanently.

Yes, I am a feminist.
No, I do not hate men.
Yes, I went to Smith, but
No, that does not automatically make me a lesbian,
– although what difference would it make if I was?
Yes, I am Catholic, but
No, I don’t just do what the bishop says.
Yes to primacy of conscience.
No to denying my own God-given talents.
Yes, my worth is not tied to money ‘cuz
No, I’m not paid for the work I do.
Yes, I’m a poet.
No, I’ve never sold a poem.
Yes, I make a difference.
No, you can’t make me feel worthless.
Yes, I have silver hair.
No, I do not qualify for your senior discount.
Yes, I am blessed – or lucky –
if you don’t believe in blessings.
No, I won’t stand for being abused
or letting others be.
Yes, I’ve got my troubles, too.
No, I can’t let them define me.
Yes to knowing who I am.
No to being stuffed into your stereotype.

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