Feast of Questions

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Pope Francis has decreed that Mary Magdalene will now have feast day on the same liturgical level of importance as the other apostles. For nearly 1500 years, she has been described as the apostle to the apostles. She has had a memorial day on the liturgical calendar for centuries, sharing the date with fifteen other memorials. Now that the day is a feast, the Gloria will be sung and prayers dedicated to Mary Magdalene will be offered. The celebration carries more weight. This is beautiful thing.

But… I have questions. Lots of them.

Why announce the change in the liturgical calendar now? This announcement follows hot on the heels of the statements Pope Francis made about convening a committee to study (yet again) the possibility of ordaining women to serve as deacons. It also was timed during a three-day Jubilee Celebration of Women Priests which included participants from the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests and Women’s Ordination Worldwide, and was widely also publicized by A Church For Our Daughters and Call to Action. On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Pope Francis made an announcement recognizing Mary Magdalene’s equal importance to her brother apostles while in the Piazza Pia activists from WOW held a purple stole witness for the ordination of women priests followed by a procession to Saint Peter’s carrying a petition titled Open The Door to Dialogue. So either this was a very lucky coincidence for the supporters of women’s ordination or a very shrewd marketing maneuver by Pope Francis to reiterate his message that the Church needs to create a greater (still undefined) role for women.

It should be duly noted that all Roman Catholic Women Priests have been excommunicated lata sententia for heresy, as have most of their public supporters. Attending a liturgy held by a Roman Catholic Woman Priest is an act of heresy. Members of the other three organizations are also considered out of bounds on many issues but since their actions are more indirect, they have not yet faced the same harsh penalties.

It’s true that Mary Magdalene had a memorial centuries before the ordination of the Danube Seven but it has taken the Church two millennia to not simply acknowledge, but to actually celebrate with a feast day the fact that, as Fr. James Martin put it, “Between the time she encountered Christ at the tomb and when she proclaimed his Resurrection to them, Mary Magdalene was the Church on earth because only she understood the full meaning of Jesus’s ministry.”

Why did it take so long? What was the Church so afraid of? The long held argument against the ordination of women centers around the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ followers. In the simplest of terms, the Church asserts that because Jesus chose to enter the world as a man and chose only men to be apostles, then clearly Jesus intended only men to serve as priests. No matter what position one takes on the ordination of women, one cannot avoid the obvious question: If Jesus intended for only men to serve as priests, why did he choose to first appear in his risen form to a woman? Furthermore, why did he then choose to send a woman to announce his resurrection? Keeping in mind his divinity, did Jesus not foresee the way these choices would influence the Church? Did the apostles, who were so entrenched in their patriarchal society, miss the message, as they so often did? Is it at all possible that by choosing to send a woman to announce the Resurrection, that Jesus was also sending the message that women had an equal, if not superior, role in proclaiming the Gospel? After all this is Jesus we’re talking about here. He could just as easily have appeared to the disciples in the locked room and foregone the encounter with Mary Magdalene. So why didn’t he do that? If we aren’t looking for that reason, we’re missing something.

Morning After Reaction: Like a Girl

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Like most people, I tuned into the Super Bowl last night.  My team wasn’t in it and neither were any of my secondary favorites so I was in it for the commercials and half-time show and hoped the game wouldn’t be a boring blowout win.  I was reading and posting up-to-the minute reactions to what I saw on the television screen on both Twitter and Facebook. There was a pretty obvious marketing shift this year from past years.  Gone were the overly sexy commercials with nearly naked women selling everything from sneakers to websites to beer. Mercifully missing were the Viagra and Cialis ads, although Fiat’s nod to the ‘little blue pill’ was quite clever. In their place were ads featuring emotional, tear-jerker themes: McDonald’s ‘Call Your Mom’, Dove’s ‘Daddy’, Nissan’s ‘Cat in the Cradle’,  and of course, Budweiser’s ‘Lost Puppy’.  But then came Liam Neeson, then Pierce Brosnan and every woman I know (myself included) swooned.  The NFL’s anti-domestic violence ad and the Always ‘Like a Girl’ ad were definitively meant to raise women up. Katy Perry is the first female act in a long time who managed to be reasonably clothed as were her backup dancers.  Their 50’s style bikinis covered more than the typical NFL cheerleader’s uniform.  Okay, wait a minute here – did the NFL finally get the message that women actually watch and enjoy football?

It’s okay – there was some balance.  Tough guys with their trucks were present as always.  The Cure.com ads featured some short puerile jokes about balls which my teenage boys found absolutely hilarious and I have to admit I couldn’t help but snicker. And Victoria’s Secret was there to remind us that half-starved underwear models still reign supreme.  And the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey – well – that could’ve waited until post-game thank you very much.  My twelve-year old son really doesn’t need to know about Christian Grey’s ‘playroom’.

The one that captured the heart of Twitter last night was ‘Like a Girl’.  I have over 300 followers on Twitter and about seventy percent of those are ordained clergy and religious of various denominations.  Within minutes the Protestant Twitterverse lit up with posts like: I preach like a girl.  I lead a church like a girl.  I study the theology of Barth and Kierkegaard like a girl. And what was especially awesome to see was the ordained men who posted: “To women clergy: you don’t just lead ‘like a girl’ but ‘like a woman’ and that is equally wonderful.”

And the Catholic clergy?  Radio silence. C’mon guys – really?!  Nothing to say about the sisters who founded the Catholic schools and hospitals?  Nothing to say about the sisters on the frontlines of Catholic social justice?  Nada?!  Not even a shoutout to the all female directors of faith formation and theology professors?!  And the sisters were no better. Not a peep on that one. Plenty about the steady stream of heart-tugging commercials but not one word on Like A Girl.

Why so quiet? The Catholic Church is supposedly in need of the feminine genius and Pope Francis and other church leaders are calling for women leaders to serve in a variety of key leadership roles in the Church. But I have to wonder, is that real or is it merely showmanship?  Because for every bishop and cardinal who openly supports an increased role for women, there is a Fr. Illo who bans girls from serving on the altar because that is a priestly function and somehow altar girls take that away from the boys who would serve. Ordaining women is still non-negotiable and any real, meaningful power in the Church remains firmly in the hands of men and women are beholden to the whims of those men.

But there are those who make the argument that men and women are meant to be complementary, to serve in different roles. Okay, so in a good, healthy marriage, tasks aren’t divided by outdated stereotypical gender roles but by personal strengths and weaknesses.  I have a brother who does all the ironing, because he’s better at a straight crease than his wife.  Is he less manly? Hardly. I have a sister-in-law who rebuilds cars. Is she less feminine?  Not at all. For generations now, we’ve had men serve in the priestly role that requires not only the leadership skills generally associated with maleness, but also kindness, gentleness, tenderness, deep compassion and nurturing traits which are associated with femaleness. So it raises the question, if a man can embrace his total self, made in God’s image, which is neither male nor female but both, then why can’t a woman?

There are Catholic women who have all the qualities to make good priests. There are Catholic women who feel they have been called by God to serve His people, in His church, on His altar. But women with such a calling are faced with two roads: Be ordained a Catholic priest and be excommunicated for heresy or leave to be ordained by another denomination.

So what? There are Catholic women who are happy with the way things are now. Why do we need women priests anyway?  Simply put, there is a serious lack of perspective when only one voice is being heard.  Remember Archie Bunker? From that ‘time when girls were girls and men were men‘?  Whatever he said went. Period. And Edith always went along with him, even when he was being an idiot, because she loved him. But just because she loved him, it didn’t make him right. If the Catholic Church continues along this path of all-male perspective all the time in a world where women have learned to embrace all of their strengths, including those formerly reserved only for men, they run the risk of becoming the Archie Bunker of Christianity. And for a force as large and powerful as the Catholic Church, that would be a very sad state of affairs.

As for me, I cried the first time I heard a woman pray the consecration. Some part of me that I had locked away long ago came to life again. To see a woman on the altar and to hear a woman preach breathed new life into my soul. Not because the men I heard all these years were wrong to preach like men but because she is also right to preach like a woman.