Yesterday, I had my day planned out. Spend some time at the beach, bake a batch of cookies while I worked on my homework, frame out a blog post, and cook a nice meatloaf dinner. Long about noon, I came home from the beach and took a quick scroll through Twitter. I retweeted a link by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan calling for Pope Francis to recognize women’s ordination. Nothing new there for me. I openly support Catholic women who call for the ordination of women. Anybody who knows me knows that. Within a minute of tweeting that link, a Catholic priest pounced on me. That led to a debate. Five hours of debate in tweets of 140 characters or less. It was not the way I planned to spend my Saturday.
And yet, it was time incredibly well spent. I was told I am a heretic, selfish, stupidly misguided, emotional, full of rage and guilt, ignorant of scripture, lack doctrinal formation, lack objectivity, have an unformed conscience and am in desperate need of a stricter confessor. All of these failings have taken me out of the arms of the Catholic Church and out of the arms of Jesus. So my dear readers, read on at your own mortal peril.
I know my views on women’s ordination are considered heretical by the Catholic Church. I’ve wrestled with that view for years. I don’t take the church’s views lightly, nor do I suggest anyone else should. And ultimately, after study and prayer and discussion, I made the decision to follow my conscience and to trust in the truth of my experience of God’s love. The Catholic Church has always held the primacy of conscience and taught that individuals must follow their conscience even if they are wrong. (Vatican II, On Religious Liberty 1965)
So then who gets to decide what is truth? So who gets to decide what Jesus truly intended? This is why we need a church community: to challenge us and hold us accountable. It is why I have shied away from the spiritual-but-not-religious views that many people take up after becoming disillusioned with religion. Religious tradition serves a purpose and that is to lead us closer to God. My Catholic pastor has been known to say openly that if religious tradition is not leading you closer to God, it isn’t working for you. Find one that will. But don’t try to con God. Be honest with Him. It’s the only way the relationship can grow. I know many faithful Catholic women who have struggled with the church’s teaching on women’s ordination. Some find that they accept the doctrine as truth. Are they wrong? No. They have followed their conscience, as must we all.
The Catholic Church brought me closer to God and there have been days when I wish it hadn’t. It would be easier to show up Sunday after Sunday, halfheartedly shuffle forward to receive Communion, mumble through an obligatory confession a few times a year and go back to my everyday life with God safely tucked away in the tabernacle where He can’t wreak havoc on my life. But it did bring me closer. I found love, compassion, forgiveness and was challenged to show others the same. Along the way, I found the landmines and roadblocks that keep people from coming back to the church. I found people who, like me, equated the Catholic Church with God. If the Catholic Church rejected them for whatever reason, then in their mind God had likewise rejected them. And that is a dangerous lie. Jesus came for the lost, the broken, the sinners, not just the elect few. No one who cried out to Him went unheard or unanswered.
Yesterday was one of those days when I wished I could keep silent and found that I could not. I had things to do! And yet, I could not let the Twitter tirade go unchallenged. I poured out my convictions 140 characters at a time. The church is greater than the Roman Catholic Church. It is the community of all believers and belongs to all those who seek Jesus with an honest heart. To deny women ordination is to deny that women are also made in the image of God and other denominations have accepted that truth. That my disobedience to Rome is not disobedience to God. That becoming Protestant was not slapping God in the face but running into His arms. If in the end, after having followed my conscience to a religious tradition which brings me closer to God, if then I am wrong, He will not slam a door in my face. He knows my heart, my wounds, my scars and my desires. And most importantly, nothing can ever take me out of His arms. I am His and I trust Him.
Yes, I said it. I trust Him. I trust Him above all else. Especially above the threats of judgment and hell and condemnation. I did not arrive at this place lightly or easily. But I am where I am and my Shepherd knows my path. At the end of a long, heated debate, Fr. Paul told me he wouldn’t want to be me on the Last Day. Because if he is wrong, no biggie. But I am wrong, yikes. But from the way I see it, if I am wrong, I trust in God’s love and His mercy. I make no claims to have the right answers. But if Fr. Paul is wrong, how many people will he have browbeat into staying in a dishonest relationship with their God, encouraging them to maintain a false fidelity to church over an honest struggle for truth out of fear of hellfire and damnation? And which then is the greater sin? I trust that in the all-encompassing light of God’s love, it will cease to matter.