Tag Archives: women

Bread for everyone

“Ask and the church will deny it of you, because it is not how we have always done things, seek and you will be told off for being out of your seat and off-task, knock and the door will be slammed in your face.” This is not how Matthew 7:7 originally went, but it feels like how it is trying to remain in relationship with”the church” hierarchy as a queer, ministry-bound catholic woman, and now even more so as a borderline coeliac.

I had decided, just today that given how many people I have been openly telling about my blog, it might be time to tone down the criticism and to try to focus on whatever positivity I can find within my faith…but I guess God let me know a long time ago that I was never going to be allowed to get comfortable and complacent within “the church” that the voice God called out of me was a fish-wife voice (read the prophets though, feminists are not God’s first fish wives nor even the most ranty). So I apologise for the negativity I really do…but I was thinking calm and half-baked thoughts about how to write about the next part of the mass (the Eucharistic prayer) all week when a woman at church drew all our attention to the latest silly rule made up by Rome.

It appears that when Jesus asked “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?…” (Luke 11: 11-12; see also Matt 7:9-10 where the question is about giving a stone instead of bread) he wasn;t reckoning with the callousness and lack of empathy of certain self-styled “fathers”.

In effect forcing a celiac to eat gluten (or you know, be excommunicated) is just that! I guess I am not a true celiac because I just try to take the smallest amount possible at communion time and live with the gut pain. Yes I get gut pain from gluten, like a stone in your tummy, or a scorpion stinging your insides. There are people more intolerant than me who can faint from gluten, from having it once. Most people I suppose wouldn’t die from one wafer, but it does add a disincentive to the habit of daily mass (which used to be a big thing for me when I was young). So that is the first problem with this teaching, the excusion (or torture) of people with Celiac disease.

This is compounded by a compassionless society that we currently live in, where people delight in trying to point out that differences in people are due to all sorts of psychologically motivated weakness, “lifestyle choices” and generally being a “special snowflake” and trying to debunk everyone else’s special needs while acting entitled around their own needs, wants and choices. Celiac sufferers can find it hard to be taken seriously by friends, family and people who sell food. The church has not caused this giant empathy vacuum (or at least not single-handedly) but surely if we read the words of Jesus we are supposed to be the antidote to it, the counter-cultural voice insistantly reminding that “actually I care”. For the church to side with the sneerers and shamers (in this case I think by omission rather than intent) defeats the purpose of even having a church. Sacrament is hollow when it is only for the privileged (see eg 1 Cor 11:22 and the background around that). God made disabled people, allergic people, yes church-Fathers even the queer people. Difference is part of the divine design, “In God’s own image” diverse and challenging (but if you think humans are too varied, try to get your head around parrots some time),

The second problem is that while it might seem reasonable to have a reductionist view of “bread” where it is always wheat and water (I question if the little circles they hand out at church are such a faithful or recognisable version of anything “bread”like in any case, and as a child was frankly delighted with the surrealism of it all) this binds us into a culturally chauvinist reading of the Last Supper where Jesus is excluding the vast millions of people on the planet for whom the staple is rice (or corn, or quinoa or anything non wheat-based).The bible in fact does not give us a recipe for the bread used at the last supper, it may well be reasonable to suppose it was made from wheat, but “bread” has not always and everywhere meant “wheat” my own mother used to make it out of rye and barley; my sister, a professional baker adds things like chia seeds or sunflower, or whatever in all the varieties of “bread” that people want for their meals- their suppers and picnics and date-nights and lunch-boxes. We buy loaves, rolls, flatbreads, buns made of oats, spelt, chickpeas, rice, tapioca, etc, etc etc. Mexican dinners get wrapped in bread made from corn. People in Asia see bread as strange and exotic as they team rice with ever meal (yes breakfast too).

Why do we need to limit what “bread” means other than out of a desire to limit people or exclude them. Did Jesus limit? Did he give strict prescriptions? He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes but we can’t even eat with Celiacs or Asians? Surely this is nonsense!

And that was the final point made by the (very articulate) woman at my church (please note the way I have teased out each point and the possible errors in my thinking are my own). That all this sternness over what can or can;t validly be called “bread” and this lack of understanding around how it is for some people (with real food intolerances, or from diverse cultural backgrounds) makes a laughingstock of the church. It gets harder for us to explain why we would want to be associated with it…which is fine if I am only worried about my vanity, my friends get to see me as a weirdo…I can live with it. But if there is actually something life-giving and possibly transformative within our tradition then surely we need to keep it as open and accessible as possible and avoid turning people off over trivialities!

I once again think of the huge and horrible scandal of abused children and how much harm has been done by the church’s REFUSAL to intervene in a serious matter- and then they get all upset over what recipe of wafer is being used. Clearly I am not a bishop or a cardinal but I fail to see the confusion here. Surely the life and well-being of children is a serious issue and the proper recipe for bread is a side-issue? Not the other way around. They make such a fuss over the right gender for priests and the right grain for bread and probably the right grapes for wine and yet the right treatment of human beings is something they are far too slow to speak or act upon. Why is that? And how does it look to the world? And how hurtful to be marginalised in so many ways- as a woman, as a queer person and now even as someone with a food intolerance (and in solidarity with Asian friends for whom “bread” is not what it is for a European/Australian like me).

Googling around the issue to try to double check that there really was such an edict from “Rome” I came across several stories of people working hard for many, many years to try to get around this rule by removing gluten from wheat (yes that is seen as more natural than making bread from something other than wheat). These recipes, which have taken over a decade in some cases to make successfully in a form that the Vatican allows, seem to have been developed by nuns.

So men make these unreasonable rules and women work harder than ever to ensure that the children are fed nevertheless. And who do we see as “ministers” of the sacraments and of God? There is a whole other feminist rant in that (as usual) division of labour but I am sure any reader who has got this far can see it for themselves.

I enjoy my habit of finishing with a prayer.

Loving God who created bodies- black, white, any colour, skin colour rainbow of browns and pinky-browns and tans. You created food- an abundance of food- grains of all kinds for bodies of all kinds, for stomachs of all kinds. You call us to break our “bread”, our everyday food and share it in memory of your body broken- you feed us body and soul to remind us to do the same. To take the grain, to make the bread, to labour and to love. To shape the meal to feed the needs of the body, to carry our celiac neighbour to safety. To bless wine and enjoy the complexity- the richness, the celebration, the friendship,

God you could have stamped us all out the same, as white round wafers are all the same but you chose to give us rainbow spirits in rainbow bodies- each one different, unique, needed to make the image whole. Harlequin God of shifting colours and differences bless us. Be our breads. Be our wines. Be the way we address our differences in love. Be the hand that offers health and acceptance with the bread.

We ask, we seek, we knock. We hunger and so do our brothers and sisters.

For more than crumbs, abundant God. For more than tokens on the margins. For more than a self-righteous ache in an irritated gut.

Embrace and feed us forever.

Burdened: Of flesh and spirit

I was able to share this reflection/preaching at church this week. The readings are here. My wonderful community as usual helped me in myriad ways and I am left feeling extremely grateful to be part of it.

They call it “catholic guilt” that feeling that the whole world is on your shoulders, crushing you and that you are always a frivolous and questionable human being that should be doing more, sinning less, always loving, always giving, always more and more good. To me it sits easily with the second reading’s scorn for all things “flesh”. I know I eat too much, sleep too much, lust too much, waste time and get distracted too much. I can get paralysed in labyrinths of self-loathing.

Historically the weighty, worldly, inferior “flesh” has been equated with women and those of us who are women tend to have taken that on especially strongly, hypercriticising ourselves about everything we do or don’t do, even how we look. Our bodies seem to let us down at times, for a large chunk of our adult life they have a cycle of sensitivity and weariness with tears and bleeding which seems to schedule itself to appear especially at the times when we would have liked to seem most invincible. We have been expected to take up more than half of the burden of cooking and cleaning and child-raising all the tasks which bring us very much into our bodies and force us to deal with the realities of other people’s bodies.

Because of this, for me the idea that we need to “rise above” flesh and be all about spirit sounds like a very privileged and misleading claim. People who consider themselves “spiritual” still have bodies after all and someone has to prepare food for them and clean up after them. It seems to me more honest to stop pitting the spirit versus the body and to allow them to nurture each other- thus allowing every person to be both.

Carter Heyward in her book “Saving Jesus from those who are right” looks extensively at how we can find God through respectful, mutual relationships with others (human and otherwise) and within our embodied realities of life and love. I want to return to the second reading with Heyward’s assumption that my bodily, lived reality and relationships are where I encounter God.

We are not ONLY flesh. We are not ONLY limits and needs and mortalities. We are “Spirit”, something greater than an individual person or handed down tradition, greater than the group of “insiders”.

Spirit is radical connection, embodiment toward the whole- it is galaxies and stars and planets, blades of grass and tiny fish, children born into poverty and adults who want to be able to afford an education. Spirit in humans may look like art and literature, dance, hopes, visions and dreams, physical exertion simply for the glory of it and warm prickles of water washing our skin in the morning. It is giving. It is loving. It is reaching outside myself to include someone more in my circle of care. It is also hunger and thirst and need: the persistent call for greater justice.

But we (spiritual beings) are embodied. We need to be kind to our limited selves too. Jesus in the gospel is not inviting us into that constant nit-picking that I started with but offering us a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.

We are called to become who we secretly want to be- more human, more authentic to the image of God we were made in- more compassionate and wise and filled with meaning NOT out of guilt, but out of the joy of living authentically. To do this, we need to let go of the fearfulness that God will ask more from us than we are capable of giving. Instead we may seek to find the desire in ourselves to give generously.

I struggle with this, not because I don’t believe it is there but because enthusiasm gives way to exhaustion and distraction and the effort of juggling too many different things  at once… I have not yet found a truly, deeply AUTHENTIC way to live my vocation.

The hope lies in that we are yoked with Christ and with all who are yoked with Christ. We share the burden and hopefully pull more or less in the same direction- toward the liberation and life of all.

It is not “I” alone who must achieve my vocation we are called into the love of Jesus, our vocation is to be community and within it is rest, refreshment and the ability to share the load.

 

Let’s just sit for a moment with the invitation to an “easy” “light” load and to “rest”. How will our deepest longings and God’s deepest longings begin to actualise without us beating ourselves up all the time? How do we “learn from” this wise Word of God? How could we become?

Beginning of a new phase

My intention when starting this blog was to follow the lectionary readings, and there was a two-fold idea in there. One was that since I am called to preach, but not allowed to do it weekly from a pulpit, I had to find another place to preach each week. I thought the discipline of struggling with the readings week by week would be a good proof to myself of whether or not the call I had was real- if I couldn’t do it then it wouldn’t be real. As for who to preach to, I guess I needed first of all to preach to myself as at times I haven;t received the preaching I have needed (although currently I am in a community where that is not really true anymore) but then there might be others out there too who needed a Catholic framework but a female/feminist perspective. Not that I can speak for or to ALL women, I don’t think that sort of a generalisation can be helpful. Also I do think men need women’s preaching a lot more than they realise.

But just as God was nagging me to preach, albeit I didn’t have a formal role anywhere so I figured if I put it out there God would find people who want to read it (whether they agree or disagree) so I told a few trusted friends but didn’t waste a lot of time promoting my blog. If God finds it useful then God will support it and if not then promotion isn’t helpful. I still feel very strange talking without cynicism about my faith but I do think that God works in the world even if we have frightening amounts of freedom as humans.

Anyway I could go on following the lectionary forever (I haven;t completed the three years I intended yet) or I could try to find the liberative bible readings that DON’T get included in it and bring them back into the centre. This is a worthwhile activity, one that has already been done by wiser heads than me but a conversation and movement I could engage with so I won’t discount it as a possibility in the future. But as far as the lectionary goes I seem to have got into somewhat of a repetitive pattern where the reading is constrictive and kyriearchal. I tell it so. I find the little bits of hope and tell myself I need to be a better activist in the world. Well and good but I have actually done that already and while for the first cycle the process shaped and honed my thinking, at this point I need a fresh way of seeing so that I don’t make a “routine” out of my blog.

So I had a lot of prayer and reflection time as well as reading some exceptional books (look back on previous blog posts for some of them, currently I am reading “Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory by Chris Weedon) and I have had the opportunity to work (unofficially) with some people at the liturgy itself. I would like to then break the mass up into small sections in its logical order and do some deconstructive and reflective work on the meanings of the words and rituals and what it means and how this functions in the life of a “lay” person, a woman, whatever I am (and hopefully in a way that helps others find their similar or differing perspectives).

This week is just an introduction while I try to locate my very, very worn Sunday Missal which I was given by my parents on the occasion of my “First Holy Communion” an exciting day when I got to play dress-ups in a white dress and veil and finally allowed to go to communion from now on forever and ever (until I was 19 and got raped and thought I was excommunicated for a while). My very battered old missal is a symbol of my relationship with the mass (and sacraments) in terms of having been carefully red (the black writing and the red writing and the variants we never used in our church) and consulted for the reflection my parents encouraged me to make on Sunday readings before we even got to church (a-ha so maybe it is their fault I want to preach). In a sense it was my first lectionary too. It has been an exciting and treasured possession, a constricting and difficult document, an out-dated part of my past but somehow I have held onto it.

It symbolises my long, rich, deep and sometimes troubled relationship with the church- the way I used to choose to go to daily mass as a teenager, my discomfort from the time I was two years old at how passive I was expected to be in the service, the ways I found to do “Something” (such as being a reader or “special minister”) and my envy at brothers who were altar servers. I  really did grow up as a “sacristy rat” as many clergy claim to have done, but I was more rat than most because my place in the sacristy was transgressive and contested, I was more rodent than guest there (being a catholic girl). The euphoria of the sacraments- is it life giving, living water? Or is it just opium of the masses? Being dragged in to pray for vocations to the priesthood and even at the age of eight knowing how ironic it was of them to ask me to pray for this.

“Why didn’t you make me male?” was a prayer that automatically came to mind since it was so strictly held that only men could be ordained, “that would be one more priest”. My prayer was missing the real point but since either God was wrong to make me female or the church was wrong that females couldn’t. Sorry church but I have more faith in God.

So over the next few weeks I will look at the liturgy as we have it. What the priest says and does and what we say and do and how the little girl/teenager/woman that I was experienced it all. And what scripture, theologians and other thinkers tell us when that can inform my thinking. And my struggles to articulate female-friendly liturgy that is faithful to the essence of sacrimentality (but also the reality that God created women/priests, we are not as the church would have us think divine mistakes). I will be very critical. But there is love here- always love.

I keep circling back to the love that exists in the gaps between the patriarchy. The love of activist, assertive women and nurturing, listening men. The love of the children who make noise during the service and the “communion services” where we are not allowed to use words that sound like consecration (but where at times I have experienced a far more consecrating reality). The love of a cat who wanders in and tries to pull down the altar cloth and of the sudden giggle that comes up in a serious moment. The love of the people who take so long to give everyone a “sign of peace” and resist going back to their quiet places. The love of a pot of coffee and plate of biscuits, of elaborately decorated altars with flowers and draped material and candles, of wearing my “Sunday best” or just shorts cause I rode a bike to church. The love of children who go to church just to humour their parents.Love of water, bread, wine, word, flame, breath, hands.

Liturgy remains the work of the people- infused with love.

 

 

 

 

Vineyards, sacred spaces and being touched

I am a week late with this. Wrote most of it and then my friend was at the door tooting her horn and I had to be whisked away to the Cabaret (I am not complaining mind). But there is also job seeking and a poetry reading and political work for the Greens and a conference to prepare for and my own children too. So I will apologise for the lateness of this and apologise in advance that this week’s will be late or non-existant. You would think an unemployed person could find some time eh? Maybe this is what they call “having a life”

Here we go, I have been avoiding the writing this week because I really don’t like these readings. But perhaps it is time to wrestle.

I don’t want to waste a lot of time again pointing out the obvious misogyny, slut shaming and lack of female agency in the readings (such a low point after my joy at the Visitation last week and besides I am sure I said all of that last year! I could spend a moment smiling that at the end of the gospel when the “twelve” are mentioned, two comparatively wordy verses are then spent underlining for us very firmly that some women were equally significant to Jesus’ ministry (“providing for” of course is a loaded term).

I thought instead of doing what I have done before I might try something I am not good at, and that I recently challenged myself to do and see how these readings reveal or silence the earth itself, to seek an earth-perspective on what is here. My first impression for the senses is of how loooooong the readings are. The listener in a cold and draughty church (as they tend to be this time of the year) will be left passively sitting and shivering all that time. And where is the grace in that?

But Naboth in the first reading has a vineyard. He has some sort of relationship to the place and the traditions and significance around the place so that he cannot sell or swap the vineyard. The capitalist idea of “value” and what is “good” (meaning profitable or productive) is not all there is in Naboth’s life, ideas of place and relationship matter more. Where in Australia have we heard ideals like this? Can we think of people who insist that their connections to place are more than about “lifestyle choices”, jobs or  affordability but have some sort of deeper and more ancient meaning? Can we contrast the white idea of “closing the gap” with a profoundly different way of seeing self and other which does not depend on capitalist-economic productivity and efficiency? I thinki Naboth could weigh in on some of those social debates for sure! The vineyard also is sometimes used as a symbol of female bodiliness, fertility and sexuality. I don’t think that is its main function in this story but it is perhaps worth remembering; in keeping with Elizabeth Johnson pointing out to us us how women’s bodies and the earth have both been exploited, undervalued and silenced.

Then ideas of earth continue to be present in that it is over a meal that Naboth is tricked (and the patriarchal idea of honouring one person over others is part of the trickery). I don’t feel inclined to discuss in detail the misogyny in the characterization of Jezebel and Ahab but God’s wrath to Ahab is symbolised in the image of dogs licking up the blood. Dogs are non-human parts of creation, to me they call to mind the “dogs” that surround the sufferer in Psalm 22 (who is often equated with Christ) and the idea of eating blood calls to mind Eucharist and ideas of unworthiness. I don’t think this story in any way deliberately speaks into later ideas of eucharist, I think it is more that we need to remain aware that the eucharist symbols and ideas and stories came about in a tradition where dogs circling a victim and licking up his blood was a sign of a humiliating and horrible end, a punishment for grave misdeeds (and here also there is a connection the the vineyard). So then when I read like that I don’t get any great amount of sense out of the reading per se, but I can see this awful, violent tradition of colonisation and patriarchy and punitive ways of being, of people being wrenched away from right relationship with the land and each other for the sake of wealth and comfort and of the way family relationships can become unhealthy alliances against “other” all this corruption and evil. I see this polluting and capitalist workd view even so far back, so far before Jesus that then Jesus in fact is some sort of an answer to the same sort of evils and hopelessness that plague our time.

Naboth, the lover of the vineyard is dead. Jezebel has used her position as social climbing “wife” for a bad purpose and Ahab has displeased God.  I don’t find the self-righteous pericope of psalm we are given very enlightening to this context however. We are left in this darkness and move on to the next reading.

Galatians tries to nut out the Christian’s complex relationship to “Law”. Here it probably means church law, maybe also secular law. What does it mean to say we are justified by “faith”? I need to find a poem I wrote a long time ago about faith being a garment that becomes patched and stretched and finally too small and then we can try to use it as a security blanket for a while but ultimately maybe not. But if we are “saved” by thins thing called “faith” what does that thing look like? Seems in the context of the reading that maybe it means a sort of family-likeness with Christ, where we identify with Christ and pursue his interests. But then awareness of our sinfulness is part of realising that not everything we can think, feel, choose and do is necessarily of Christ.

Christ lives in me and so there must be something inherently sacred about me otherwise Christ died for nothing and lives nowhere. Something like that. I think as women in the church we need to retain that precious and almost-forbidden reverence of the “in me” where Christ dwells, not in the way our mothers always told us -where we are old-school temples that polluting things like sex need to be kept out of for as long as possible, but more in a “sacred site” sort of a way that has every right to demand that people come with respect or not at all. I am a sacred site for the mystery of Christ’s continued presence in the world. I am both the site and the steward of the site, I cannot be colonised or owned by any other. A lot of food for further reflection and testing against other places in scripture but we better have a glance at the gospel too.

The power (and powerlessness/abjection) in this reading actually appalls me. But I left it to one side to attend a cabaret performance (belly-dance, burlesque, magic show a LOT of dancing and assorted types of role-play performance both off and on stage). I helped a girl fix a zip on her costume and she threw her arms around me and theatrically said I was “wonderful” and poured me champagne and even though she was playing the character of a flirtations, loose woman she was actually a real person and more complex and we went back to being strangers in the blink of an eye. And that is the thing with touch, sometimes it just is what it is. Jesus can talk all he likes about the forgiveness of sin and all that but frankly what we have here is a simple case of Jesus enjoying being touched. He is not allowed to simply enjoy it, he needs to debate it and this idea that she is “more sinful” that Simon the repressed non-toucher rears its ugly head and affects how the church treats affectionate (women’s) touch for centuries to come!

But another thing here is that Simon has a responsibility toward Jesus to welcome him in a way that is responsive and affectionate and fulfills the rituals of politeness. Simon is the man, the householder and it is his duty and privilege to ensure these things happen. Just as it is both the duty and privilege of the clergy to ensure that the sacraments are gifted to all of us in a way that is responsive, welcoming, touches our real lives and fulfills the reality behind them. And sometimes they do it, but there are times when there are not enough priests, or they are not diverse enough in outlook to minister to everyone, when the few exhausted priests can’t be everywhere or when the celibate and aging men can’t understand everyone. And at that point the “unlcleanness” of us as women is not the point. We weep, we kiss, we anoint, we share. We come to what we value to touch it.

I don’t like her self-abasement in the story or the tacit approval of her label as unclean and sinful. But going back to the second reading if her “faith” has saved her then what does it mean for her identity not just “With” Christ but as “Christ” which we become through sacraments. How significant then are touch and tears and kisses?

I better get back to the myriad things I need to do today. But I see this woman as saving sacrament from people like Simon. Encounter with Christ touches us, washes us, makes us feel things. Like John the baptist, she is bringing sacrament TO Christ. Washed for ministry by John, washed for the political activism that leads to death by this unnamed woman. Just as when Jesus adds sacrament to a life, it comes with a vocation to ministry. So when this women washes and anoints him, the encounter sends him out in 8:1-3 exercising his ministry, somehow refreshed for what his work in the world is and now we begin to see the women who consistently support him.

She sends HIM out. Think about it!

 

 

 

Shout for joy- daughter, sister, beloved

 

I have nothing against the Sunday readings and if I had more energy would do two blogs this week. But Tuesday was the feast of the Visitation, the one day of the year when the church lectionary passes the Bechdel test (Ruth and Naomi could be argued too I suppose), and the one Feast day of the year that actually talks about God’s work working not just through men, not even just through an individual woman, but at times also through women’s relationships and networks of support. This is such good news it ought to be on a Sunday! The reading from Luke is so rich in prophecy, in affirmations of women’s prophetic, leading, teaching and sacramental role in each other’s lives and in the lives of significant male members (Jesus and John though unborn) as well. So much richness here that writing once a year I could never find it all, and I hope each person finds even more in the readings than I can say. But let’s make a beginning.

The first reading (Zeph 3:!4-18A gives away that what is coming is unusually good news “shout for joy” and that this is specifically for women “daughter of Zion”. Even this begins a bubbling up of joy. Women we are not invisible in this Feast, we are valued by God and the silencing, dismissal of our needs and attacking us as “vain” for wanting for ourselves the basic dignity and consideration that we extend to others has been dismissed by God. God is onside with us. We “have no further misfortune to fear” and God sings joyfully because of us. This is a profoundly healing thought, the idea of being so beloved by God that we are not only vindicated but the cause of joyful singing. Here we reclaim our birthright since the opening of Genesis to be part of God’s creation, made in God’s image and assessed as “good”.

But if God is singing for joy, then we know that more good news is in store so we move on to the next reading. Once again the canticle (ie like a psalm but not in psalms) from Isaiah prophesies good things “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament we see the drawing of water as “women’s work” and the well as a place of meeting and socialising for women (well maybe we don’t see the latter in the text so much and are indebted to historians for reconstructing the world around the text for us). So that nexus of women’s social life and relationships, the well becomes symbolically a place of “salvation” a sacramental place, a place where the truth of God is joyfully encountered. Among us is the Holy one of Israel. The ancient promises of God are fulfilled in the mysterious depths of women’s flesh, the womb.

This is NOT to return to a view of womanhood as solely being fulfilled in motherhood. Clarissa Pinkola Estes has written about “wild mothers”, the way older women sometimes support, mentor and teach younger women, the way younger women find their own role models and need more than one. Even this is only a fraction of the whole truth. The patriarchal promise that can only be fulfilled in the male body of Jesus may come into the world through the female body of Mary, but if that is all that matters then why the Visitation? Why does Jesus also need the “Auntie” or “Wild mother” Elizabeth in his life? Why does John leap for joy at the voice of Mary? The voice is about more than flesh, it is about opinion and agency. The canticle goes on to bid us to sing praise to God for “his” glorious achievement. Well that seems only fair, in the context of the first reading where God was singing on account of us. The glorious achievement here seems to be a nurturing and reciprocal relationship with us who are lovingly created and affirmed. This will be shown in the gospel to have world-changing, radical possibilities – unseating the unjustly powerful and bringing in a new reign of God.

The other first reading (which I am going to treat as a second reading as I think the Visitation ought to be a Sunday) gives instructions on the “good life”. Even though usually I am feeling a bit like saying “give me a break” when I have these long and complicated responsibilities placed on me, by allowing the other readings and the feast-day to contextualise it, it takes on a non-oppressive meaning. In fact the God who has celebrated and affirmed my existance and our relationship in the first reading and psalm has every right to ask for this respectful reciprocation of that gift. The instructions in this reading are really a call to be authentic, to honour who we are as God’s beloved and as sacramental, priestly people. We are called to be sincere, loving, committed, critical, resilient, courageously forgiving and compassionate. We are called to be “more than” those who oppress us, not to cooperate with oppression but also not to retaliate with bitterness and hatred. We are called to be humble in ourselves too, not to put ourselves down but to see our good like our imperfections within a context of God’s love and God’s call and the shared dignity and humanity of others also.

This reading, within a context of good news for “daughters” and the gospel that is coming is for me a powerful call to remain in the imperfect church and to trust in God’s ability and desire to find me there and sustain me. The grace of God in actual fact cannot be stopped or blocked by patriarchy but we must continue to bless even those who have not blessed us. We are called to a holy partnership with God where we pour out love to the world. I turn to the gospel to see what possibilities for transformation this call may hold.

In the gospel, Mary is not wise in her own estimation, that is she is not complete outside of her ability to reach out to others. Her good news needs to be reflected by Elizabeth’s good news. She has a need to support and be supported, to be in a community where each can rejoice in the other being blessed. Each has a relationship with a husband that in some Christian circles would be assumed to be the most appropriate arena of rejoicing. But each is part of a larger network of support, each needs also the ministry of women in her sacramental life (and don’t we all?). Mary, pregnant though she is goes on a journey that would possibly be dangerous and certainly be difficult. There is something in Elizabeth’s company that calls to her, something precious in the relationship or some need she sees in Elizabeth and responds to.

The great prophet John hears the voice of Mary, who is about to offer one of the great prophecies of liberation and hope. John recognises in this voice the same call that is already whispering into his baby heart the potential for a committed spirit-filled life. He leaps for joy! Elizabeth recognises this leap and knows what it means. Mary’s preaching will shake the church and the world. Elizabeth says that Mary is “blessed” for hearing and heeding the call of God. She recognises Mary’s priesthood. Elizabeth and John become church to accept Mary’s priesthood as Mary both literally and sacramentally carries Christ into their lives. Mary preaches her joy and hope in a God who reverses oppression and liberates. There are strong forces in a world where Mary’s people have been colonised by the brutal Roman army, she lives in a patriarchal society with limited opportunities. But her hope is in God’s power to be greater than the powers of the world.

Mary aligns herself with a utopian view of radical justice and voices her commitment to God’s power to bring this about. She grounds this vision in faith history. Then she stays with Elizabeth for three months. The relationship of sacrament is about more than words. She is there for practical support and shared affection. Faith and ministry are not about a ritual once a week but are about companioning and loving our fellow humans on the journey.

My heart like unborn baby John leaps for joy at the good news of the Visitation. I want to shout it aloud and sing it, this dignity and hope in the reality of God’s call to me as daughter and sister. My response needs to be loving and faithful to the dream of transformative justice. My spiritual hunger is filled with this good thing. I can look to the unofficial priests, when the official church leaves my pastoral needs unmet. No wonder these readings mentioned singing and joy so many times!

Agreeing with apostles and bishops (for once)

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.

What resurrection?

So we have had a week of the “Easter” season and we are all transformed. Our hope is refreshed and we see everything anew. All the angst, all our sinfulness and lack of way forward is transformed and we work with renewed favour to build the just and wise reign of God!

That would be a nice scenario wouldn’t it? In actually fact the heartbreak caused by the double threat of my own inadequacy and an uncaring and unjust world, the struggle not to thrive but merely to survive with some semblance of dignity continues (and I say this realising I am more privileged and have it easier than many). After Easter I have to go back to work, open mail that adds to my pressures and deal with the explosion of an already leaky tap. I am TIRED of the real world and I would like a space to be happy and refresh hope.

“Jesus is risen” so they say. Resurrection is not real unless I experience it. Relationship is a purely theoretical thing, useful for nothing until I touch it. What does it mean to merely “believe”? Truths that have no transformative power might as well be fairytales. With Thomas I find it hard to summon up the effort to “believe” in anything, to hope anything to endure what must be endured (1Corinthians 13:1-13…. has nothing to do with this week’s readings but I really think it ought to and it would be a darn sight more relevant than the first and second reading we have been given).

Then of course there is the question of double standard. If we are going to posit Thomas’ lack of faith as a deficit (he should have trusted in the word of the other apostles who were chosen by Christ for revelation) then surely we should ask equal questions about the “Twelve’s” initial scepticism in the face of a bunch of over-emotional, perhaps hysterical women flying from the tomb on the excitement of a risen Jesus. If Christ gets to decide who is allowed to receive the touch of personal revelation then surely they(we) were chosen first. So if we have a mandate to believe everyone God chooses (and think about how irrational and impossible such a claim actually is) then they ought to have believed the women to begin with! But somehow the 12 are rehabilitated with their flawed thinking (doubt) not even mentioned by the risen Jesus.

Either Jesus here is complicit on the boy’s club mentality of the ancient and modern church (but then why appear to the women at all) or maybe the way this reading is often used breaks down. Thomas is not being reproved for lack of faith. The idea that people are “still more blessed” for blindly believing the word of others (others as flawed as the twelve constantly showed themselves to be) is a strange one, so I am not sure why Jesus is quoted as saying something like that and how reliable we can consider it theologically. There’s my doubt again, right there. I doubt very much that in this story Thomas is in the wrong. Blind faith is dangerous and often lacking in love. Thomas’ inability to believe the impossible (the continuation of the mission of Christ, the presence of the one he loved) is grounded in a deep love. Love is never a theory, it is always an experience. Even when you believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. Even when you break from your inability to believe, hope, endure.

But as for mere spiritual “gifts” they will come to the end. As for organised religion, ordained priesthood, structures and hierarchies of human origin we see them fail and crumble and short-sightedly we often shore them up instead of trusting in what is eternal. We accept the ordained “twelve” who expect us to take their word as “truth”. But when we cannot do this, when they are untrustworthy or inaccessible and we flounder in faith, I pray that Jesus will turn to us and say “touch, know, believe” without the mediation of the “someone elses” who do not speak our language.

Then as church we can maybe stop squabbling over “you believe this and I believe that” and we can stop calling people naive for what they believe or godless for what they can;t or won’t believe. We gather in a room to share friendship, support, be together despite differences (big theological differences maybe like Thomas). We gather in the name of the Risen one whatever we believe or don’t believe about it all. And the grace is that we are touched, accepted, called.

Doubt no longer but believe? I don’t know about that. But I will seek and long for and be touched by. The resurrection comes to those who love.