Let me start by agreeing with a bunch of bishops on something (for a change). The US Catholic bishops quote themselves as saying:
Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor. This commitment arises from our experiences of Christ in the Eucharist.
-U.S. Bishops, Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions
My instinct is to wholeheartedly agree, because they are telling us to put the poor at the centre of our faith-life. I want to consider the quote more in the light of this week’s readings (and will resist the temptation to hold up the quote against the ACTUAL track-record of the clergy’s work and teachings to see if there is any consistency.
In the first reading, Peter is refusing to be silenced because he takes his orders from “God not men”. Go Pete! In the gospels and other writings Peter comes across as very relatable- flawed, passionate, impulsive, stubborn, honest, over-emotional and courageous (but also at times cowardly). He doesn’t come across as a great stuffed shirt of a patriarch, he comes across as a hot-blooded activist that Jesus often has to pull back into line but that is willing to stop and face his flaws and take responsibility for his mistakes. Peter rants and raves, promises and weeps, always comes back and gives it all another crack. Peter requires a lot of calling from Jesus, a lot of refocusing, a lot of forgiveness. I relate to this Peter who listens to Jesus and repents every time but who tells other authorities something along the lines of “#$%^ off”!
Are we really supposed to see in this Peter the grim-faced fun police, first pope who made a centralised and controlling institution out of Jesus’ words of subversive justice? I think the church fathers along the way (aided and abetted by that anti-hero Constantine) have reworked Peter in their sour-faced misogynist image. I could imagine working-class, awkward Peter coming into a pub and I would drink with him. I would drink with the fisherman-turned agitator who loved the street-preacher, Jesus recklessly but sometimes failed to deliver. “Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor.” Yes because from the first it was the fishermen not the pharisees that Jesus’ message touched and when pushed they simply refused to shut up. They were imprisoned, tortured, killed for their beliefs. Their adventures to me strike a parallel with the events retold by Emmeline Pankhurst in Suffragette, her autobiography.
The Spirit of God was in fiery Peter, in the suffragettes. She moves people to commit all and risk all for justice. Do we hear her? Perhaps not always but the heroic stories around people who ask for, struggle for and achieve social change, those stories burn within us; echoes of the story of Christ.We experience Christ in the Eucharist then (if the bishops are to be believed) as broken, powerless, committed to justice, poured out for others, unable to stand by and allow injustice to prevail. Christ would not be silenced, Peter would not be silence, throughout history there have been people who will not be silenced. Will we?
But Peter was like us. He denied Jesus and knew his own flawedness and was alone and saw the one he loved die. He returned to the mundane world of surviving and went fishing. His old occupation was empty, there was no success until Jesus spoke to him and his heart fired with love he had to leave it again and reclaim his broken call. Oh how I relate to Peter in this reading. Jesus blesses and gives fruitfulness to their work even as he calls them away from it. Peter is in “sin”, if he was Catholic he would be excommunicated for his radical sin of denying Christ but Jesus feeds him. The bread of life is what brings us back to Christ, not a reward AFTER we purify ourselves. His will to return is enough.
Jesus knows that Peter loves him, but he asks for words and deeds to support the strong feelings. Jesus’ call to Peter is stronger than work, stronger than possessions, stronger than the security of the boat. I often wonder if I cling to the church as a sort of boat, ensuring I don’t drown in the overwhelming world. But when Jesus calls dare I jump over the side of the rules and traditions and all I know and swim only toward the one who knows and loves me? Peter has overcome cowardice, the fear of walking on water, the terror of being persecuted, the lure of the safe and ordinary life. Peter’s whole heart has always leapt with passion into Jesus’ mission and in response to the person, Jesus in his life; but sometimes Peter has turned back at the final leap, has kept back some rational part of himself from wholehearted commitment to the struggle of the reign of God. Jesus must understand that reluctance. Jesus persists.
Likewise with the women called to ministry. The church has forbidden us to talk about this issue or think about it. This call has always fired our hearts with elation and tears and made us feel we would dare big things as we run to the side of the one who loves and calls us. When the chips are down we are afraid of our flawedness, of our powerlessness and again and again we crumble before the church who tells us we are mistaken, we are not called, that it is water we are attempting to walk on, that we will be judged if we don’t learn to deny our call and we suffer in silence and bury all our hopes in the tomb like the obedient wives and daughters we have been raised to be.
But when Jesus rises and comes to us in our mundane work and calls us again and again. what can we say? Do not we wish to leave it all behind and be in that light? Is not the call so strong that we want it even if we don’t know what it is, we want to plunge in and swim and….and then what? How do we unsilence ourselves, for after taking Jesus’ bread we are left with the grumpy humans who do not appreciate our message or our audacity? Can we claim Peter as a male “sister in the struggle”.
We can’t stop teaching. We can’t stop preaching. We can no longer collaborate with the suppression of our vocations. Any pope or bishop who tells us we may not speak our truth is only a man, but like Peter we answer only to God, not to men.2016 might well be high time to renew pressure on church authorities to ORDAIN women. We might need to boycott church events, to go on strike with the unpaid work we do, to write letters and to attend vigils and protests. Can we do any of that? (are there even enough women left in the church to do it?) Instead of putting out $10 in the plate “for the support of priests” what if we each put a card saying “ordain women” EVERY WEEK!! And then give the $10 to St Vinnies, or Oxfam or something so we are not profitting from our protest.