Humble St. Francis of Assisi whose Feast day is today is a Saint for our times. If there could be a Saint named to intercede for the Environment, for Sister Mother Earth, all of earth’s creatures, and for a rebuilt and renewed church, it would be Francis of Assisi. Probably Francis and all gentle saints both named and unnamed by the church are already praying for the preservation of God’s beautiful and boundless creation. Perhaps they are praying for each one of us to “do something” to save our planet and all residing in and on it, for action is needed now more than ever even as it was needed in Francis’ 12th Century world of Umbria and Assisi, and all around it. And, surely, they are praying for the conversion and return to God of a church where sexual abuse, inequity, and the abuse of money is becoming better known than the Gospel.
Francis, or Francesco as his well to do merchant father renamed him for his love of France, was a “highborn” and spoiled young man who won the favor of all he knew for his affable and party loving ways. He actively pursued dreams of being a warrior and nobility, not of being a holy saint.Yet, something happened to change Francesco. When he was 25 he had a dream in which he heard God’s voice telling him “it was all wrong” and asking him “Francis, repair my church”. church”. At first he thought God meant the dilapidated building where his village worshiped. So he did that only to learn that was not what the dream meant. This use of money angered his father and he had to pay it back and then he was disinherited. Francis was surprisingly relieved by this and, listening to his call from God,began a life of prayer and letting go of all material goods to share with the poor and infirm, and all of God’s creatures, whom he cared for with the same strong energy he used in dissipation in his former life. The hallmark of his actions was respect and love for all creatures great and small, for animals and birds, the infirm and beggars as well as the highborn and the pope. Equal love and respect. Wow! What a beautiful yet difficult lesson that is for us. Not all who follow the way of Francis will choose radical poverty as he did, but many can try to “give it all away”. And ,as for the conversion of the soul needed to live in simplicity and holiness as the poor and sick and all creatures are served, it can be a life long process. But to follow the Gospel in loving and showing respect to all, ALL- great and small- with equanimity is simply to live the Gospel as Jesus lived and preached it. It is that simple and that difficult. Most of all it is not an ascetic road, but one that demands actual action and hard work. Francis “got” what Jesus taught and lived: to love all of God’s creation and creatures, one must give one’s very self away. Francis ended his life chronically and terminally ill and blind and worn out from serving the poor, the sick and all of God’s creatures. He did not gain material comfort or ascend to nirvana or higher consciousness. He worked hard at serving his beloved God and all of creation until he died at 45. But for Francis, death was welcomed as freedom and unity with his beloved God and Christ.( For more about Francis one might see:
Francis wrote his famous Canticle of the Sun or Laudes Creaturarum- Canticle of Creatures when he was suffering his last illness and facing death. He says “Be praised, my Lord through….Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, Sister Water, Sister Mother Earth and all of God’s creatures,and finally through Sister Death.” He praised God through all life and through its natural ending- called the first death, but advised that the the “second death”, or life cut off from God after death, can not harm God’s beloved who love and serve God and all of creation and will be united with God in dying here. His is an action and love filled spirituality. He also said” it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we live”. He urged us to “start by doing what is necessary;then do what is possible;and suddenly you are doing the impossible”. I think of Rev. Judy Beaumont who lived a life of service her entire life, serving and blessing others until the last few days of her life when she could do no more. Her life of selfless service and love was a Francis life although she served 35 of her years as a Benedictine Sister, and the last 6 years as a RC woman priest. And her surrendering finally to Sister Death into Life was what Francis was talking about.
And we need to do the “impossible” now, we are reminded that here and now our earth, our planet, is in peril; wars and conflict rage on; human poverty and senseless illness and death is on the increase; water and resources for life are destroyed; and there is cruelty and abuse to both children and animals that is on a scale that is hard to fathom. And,what should be a powerful vehicle for changing this, the church,is in crisis and shame in the realities of sexual abuse on such a wide scale while married men and women are still not able to “officially” be ordained priests to serve God’s precious people. We have a new Francis, our Pope, whose heart is in the right place to have an impact on all of this, but who is hampered by the realities of the Roman Church itself and its archaic structures and politics. But more than this, he is hampered by us. Each one of us needs to become aware of the threats to our planet and to God’s poor and all creatures, and we each need to “do something” about it, to have an impact on exercising the possible to do the impossible-change the directions tings are moving in. No one Francis , however powerful his or her role, can change anything. All of us need to become a Francis and assist.
Here is an example of a man, in fact a Jewish man, who made an important choice to live more like Francis. And I am not sure he would ever conceptualize it this way, but I was so impressed by him. He is my Doctor, Paul Yudelman and he has been a wise , compassionate and able Doctor who has saved my life in his discovery of a stomach cancer- now happily removed and giving no trouble for five years. He also ministered to our Judy Beaumont during her illness and passing with the greatest compassion and skill. His compassion made him different as a Doctor. He has reached retirement age and while I feel sad that he will no longer be my Doctor and we also had many great conversations, I am awed by his decision. He is giving up on making money in Medicine and says “he has enough”. He is moving to Washington State to be part of the Environmental Movement and will give his considerable energy, passion and compassion and wisdom to saving our earth. He challenges us and me in particular to do what I can here, where our water is full of red tide, dead fish and sea life and toxic blue green algae. Erin Brokovitch is now here to help local activists champion this cause. I can act politically with my vote and in other small ways to counter this.
I think too of those who serve the poor and homeless here as it seems an endless battle when there are no local or state taxes to assist with housing and finances. I think of the many churches, groups and individuals who share with the poor and help them attain what they need with dignity. I think of Tonya Van Scoy and her family and friends who continue their Saturday night feeding ministry in the park. They, like our Good Shepherd Ministry, have had to slow down some recently due to illness and many changes in their lives. But we have been doing what we could for eleven years. And we could do this because so many good Christ followers have helped us. I think of the faithfulness of Hank and Claire Tessandori and Judy Alves and Jim Pellstring and Rev. Judith McKloskey and Rvda Marina Sanchez and Pearl and Dr. Joe Cudjoe to our ministry and of many others. In our ministry Ellen and Jack McNally still make food for our community gatherings as does Kathy Roddy who knows what it is like to struggle, but more importantly to serve. And also many continue to give us material support that we share with the poorest although we have dissolved our tax exempt status. This is a pure act of love. And when we can no longer do this others replace us. I think of Joe and Cece Irvin and Boot straps Ministry. Fr. Joe is a married priest and we worked together in the Park from 2007-2010. Then we moved separate ways as our ministries evolved. Their Ministry is active now in North Fort Myers. And there are many others who serve, Grace Methodist Church downtown, and several small ministries like Pastor Mandy’s. And I think too of some of our formerly homeless and still poor folks like Brenda Cummings and Harry Gary who give their assistance and support to keep these street ministries alive for the poorest among us. And I think of Mercedes with HEAL who works tirelessly to help abandoned and abused pets to get a new lease on life and a home. I think of my friend Danielle Nisivoccia who cares for the feral cats near her home in Pennsylvania. She feeds them tasty mackerel and wet and dry food and builds them igloos and uses a renovated Green House for shelter for them in the hard winters. Another neighbor, Elaine, who is caring for her terminally ill mother also cares for many of the area’s feral cats. Danielle is also reaching time to retire from this hard work but can not envision selling that property because 2-3 old and weak cats still need her compassionate intervention. And with the help of Dr. Terry Sutton and her lovely Staff I still care for 19 cats here and several outside as does at least one other of her clients. It is hard work but her help makes the difference in so many ways.
And I think of our Roman Catholic women priests who give up the support of the church communities they loved to serve as priests and who serve the poorest and also animals. In this I think of Pastor Gabriela Velardi-Ward who has an Inclusive Catholic church in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and who also feeds and cares for feral cats in her home in Staten Island, and, an architect,she works full time as well. I think of Rev. Marni who cares for the poor and for countless cats and dogs in Arizona where she builds homes for their shelter and comfort even as she struggles with health issues. And I remember our Franciscan Third Order Priest, Adele Decker Jones for her wisdom and love,and Rev. Tish Rawles for her love of God’s little creatures and applaud Rev. Elena Garcia who has spent a life caring for the poor. And there are many more women( and a few men) who do so in our over 260 validly but illicitly ordained priests and deacons world-wide.
And I think of countless ministers to the poor, both clergy and laity and Religious Sisters and Brothers who, like Francis give their whole lives to the poor both in the USA and abroad. All of this makes me feel that it is possible to join St. Francis of Assisi in his dream of “repairing the church” and loving and serving all of God’s creatures and Creation, our planet,-in doing the impossible. May each one of us try a little harder with God’s help.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee,Pastor
Good Shepherd Ministries, Fort Myers, Florida
On Saturday afternoon 9/15/18 twenty members of the Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers joyfully gathered to worship and also to celebrate our September and October Birthdays. They came by car and foot,bus and bike to Pastor Marina Sanchez’s home located in a central Fort Myers area. They ranged in age from 5-87 and everywhere in between, black, white, Hispanic, female and male, poor and well off, gay and straight, sick and well, heart broken and yet full of love, they came. After the passing of our beloved co-Pastor Judy Beaumont out of her suffering to wholeness and life forever with God, Pastor Judy Lee is slowly offering regular worship to the community once again. She continues to serve the Community on a daily basis but our worship will now possibly be every two months. We are especially thankful to Co-Pastor Marina Sanchez for offering her home for our gathering and for serving with us.
Celebrating Birthdays today were Brenda Jean Cummings, (and this was her birthdate!),Kathy Roddy (who also prepared today’s meal) and Quayschaun Crews and Jolinda Terrell. Quay was unable to stay for the whole celebration after bringing his Grandma Jolinda Harmon, and Jolinda Terrell and all of the Harmon grandchildren were unable to come as they had already planned their First Annual Kickball Game in the park in honor of their dear mother Linda Maybin who in the midst of life’s many struggles always gathered the whole family for a good kickball game. Linda had her “first birthday in heaven” after making her transition home to God last year on 9/14, a day after her 41st birthday. We lit a candle for our faithful member Linda today as well.
Our lessons for the day were for the 23rd Sunday in Ordianry time: Isaiah 50:5-9a read by our Deacon Hank Tessandori-In this reading Christ’s patient suffering and non-violent responses are foretold; Psalm 116 led by our elder Harry Lee Peter Gary- Response: I walk before you, Adonai, in the land of the living-our response to God who gives us life and protects the little ones is love; The Epistle-James 2-14-18 read by Maya Rismay- Faith without works is dead- work for justice, love beyond what is easy, serve one another. The Gospel Mark 8:27-35-“You are the Christ…” Deny yourself and take up your cross”-accept Christ’s suffering and if need be, your own. Peter misses the mark and insists on no suffering for Jesus. The Gospel was read in English by Pastor Judy Lee and in Spanish by Pastor Marina Sanchez who also summarized the readings and Pastor Judy’s homily in Spanish.
Our readings in Isaiah, James and Mark reflect on how we are to live our faith. With the suffering servant of Isaiah we are to respond to violence with non-violence-to give our backs to those who beat us(yet without having the message beaten out of us)-this speaks to our legacy of non-violent resistance in pursuit of peace and justice. Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and all here and everywhere who followed them, the Plowshares Movement including our Judy Beaumont in Plowshares Nein, showed us how to do this. And clearly those who use non-violent resistance and civil disobedience may also suffer before their ultimate victory. And there are places in the world today , like Syria, where Christians die for being Christians. And those of us who do not suffer bodily harm for following Christ still may suffer rebuke and retribution for living our call to serve- like our women RC priests, and those imprisoned for civil disobedience, and those of the LGBTQ community who suffer at the hands of some of organized religion just for being who we are and claiming Christ.
It is a disservice to God’s people who know better to be like Peter was in the Gospel, trying to convince Christ not to suffer, saying in effect, “you are God’s own , you will not suffer and die”. Peter tried to convince Christ of this out of love. He was not a bad guy just off the mark. Who wants a loved one to suffer? Instead we say, “no , it will not happen”. Yet often it does. In our church community we have lost many loved ones in the past two years. Several of us have suffered with cancer and other painful illnesses had to undergo chemo , radiation and other forms of treatment that also brought suffering. Fortunately this worked for some of us who sit with us today, but not for all. So, disciple Peter, when Jesus tells you “satanas”, (‘you missed the mark’ in Aramaic) or, in our English “you were bad minded”- suffering does exist and does touch us, sometimes even for good as in the death and resurrection of Christ. So friends, let us not deny suffering or think that it will miss God’s beloved children. It doesn’t,those sitting here and reading this know this too well, but when we do what James is asking us to do-live our faith, do works of mercy and love, and what Jesus tells us, “take up that cross”, let us do it with all the love we can muster for one another. Let us bear one another’s crosses. There are so many examples in this one community of the ways we do serve one another and all of God’s sometimes broken children. Ellen and Jack and Kathy ,Pearl and Judy A., Hank and Claire, provide food and wheels, guidance and love for the poorest among us. Grandma Harmon, even as she goes through chemo, cares for all of her grandchildren and family without complaint. Debbie and Mary and our younger members Maya and Joelle, prime examples, take time to visit and to care for their elders, including me. Pastor Marina cares for very sick people every day. What a serving community we are, and we are blessed to be together today. Pain and suffering can not be avoided, but God is there with us, and through us,and through it all and we are there for one another, making someone else’s cross a little bit lighter. That is the kind of faith we have. So let us not deny or minimize suffering, especially suffering for the kin-dom of God here and now and to come-let us instead live our faith and lean on God and lean on and love one another. And before we conclude let’s sing some verses of Lean on Me by Bill Withers. Maya plays the song on her i-phone and everyone sings along. I conclude with “we have a new sacred song’, continue to carry one another’s cross, and all respond a resounding AMEN!
Members pray for the sick,( laying hands on those who request prayer for illness),for the departed, for the world and the church in moving and specific terms. We sing “It’s me standin’ in the need of prayer” and we claim the ground as Holy Ground, including touching our own hearts and our neighbors’s hand as holy ground. As we celebrate the Holy Eucharist and share in Holy Communion, Pearl and Hank lead us in “Peace is flowing like a river..Love is flowing like a river…”. One of our newer guests, Jean, shared that this is the first time she received Holy Communion in more years than she can count. We are thankful. We sing “I’m so glad Jesus lifted me-when troubles got me bound, Jesus lifted me…”. And Deacon Hank sends us forth to serve. We conclude with “I have decided to follow Jesus” perhaps grasping together a bit more of what this means having come together as a community today.
Afterward we have our meal and Brenda cuts the first piece of the big birthday cake, bringing a piece to Kathy. Brenda, enjoys our after-party sharing “this is the first birthday party I ever had”. We applaud and begin reluctantly to part.
Our next Sunday worship and community gathering will be on November 17th.
With love and blessings,
Pastor Judy Lee
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Today’s Gospel reading (John 6: 60-69) is a good one to ponder as we experience two recent major events in the life of the Church- the horrific events revealed in the Pennsylvania Report on Priest Sexual Abuse (8/16/18) involving at least 300 priests and over a thousand abused children and youth;and witnessing the hundreds of thousands gathered for the Ninth World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis culminating in Holy Mass at Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland today- 8/26/18. In a period of ten days our hearts must respond to horror and yet rise to see the hunger of people everywhere for God, for Christ and, yes, for Church. And, perhaps the hope of the church is to squarely and courageously face and address the horrors, called the open wound in need of immediate healing by Pope Francis, and to witness,understand, and respond to the hunger, the longing for God’s Love and Community that surpasses even the sins and weaknesses of the church and that can be fed only with the love of Christ-love that goes beyond any institutionalization of church to the heart of God and the hearts of those who long for God and the hearts of the people of God, for the people are church, not the walls nor the man-made hierarchy. May this moment of crisis and disequilibrium make the church ripe for risking changes at the very core that fulfill the love of Christ for the whole world.
The Gospel today begins with the words: “….This saying is hard, who can accept it?” (Or “This sort of teaching is very hard!”-two different Catholic Bible translations-NAB and Christian Community Bible-Pastoral Edition). The teaching referred to is Jesus saying that he is the bread of life come down from God and that he is offering his very self to eat and drink- for our sustenance. Let us both take this at face value (our later understanding of the Eucharist), and also suppose he is speaking metaphorically- for in the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke “Bread of life” or “living water” would mean “my teachings are eternal truth” -truth giving life forever-if you live them. George Lamsa Aramaic scholar in Idioms in the Bible Explained… pp. 60,79, points out that understanding the Aramaic phraseology helps us to understand what the people in Jesus’ time would have heard. For example there is a phrase about eating and drinking flesh and blood that means “work very hard”. For example, “We have eaten the flesh and drunk the blood of our fathers while building this house” means “we have worked very hard to build this house”. Jesus challenges us to work very hard at living the truths he has taught us. To be Christian is ultimately not simply to say the “magic” words “I believe in Christ” or to take Holy Communion but to LIVE the essence of love, forgiveness, right relation to God and to all others, inclusion and compassion especially for the poor and outcasts of this world. That is, to work hard for justice and peace is to eat and drink the teachings of Christ-that is to work hard to live them.
Yes, it is hard to take in the bread of life and become the body of Christ. It is hard to have our lives become truly Christ-like. We may forgive one another for falling short though forgiveness is one of the hardest things we ever do- but we hold our priests and clergy to a higher standard-one closer to fully living Jesus. Hence when it is once again revealed to us that over 300 priests in one just one State, Pennsylvania(and there are 49 more states and the rest of the world to multiply this by)-could not live these truths but instead violated them and betrayed innocent children, youth and adults with rape, molestation and sexual abuse, using their power to subjugate and gratify themselves, we are horrified and many have expressed “that is why I left the church” or “that’s it- now I will leave the church”. It is hard to separate the followers of Christ who are supposed to lead us from the Christ we follow. And I am saddened not only by the sins of the church and the clergy but for those who are driven away by this-and then have little else to hang on to for life. This makes me angry at my fellow priests and at the mysogynist doctrines and canons that spawn them. Yet, I, along with the other Roman Catholic women-over 250 world wide- who have been ordained as priests will condemn the acts of sexual and power abuse and yet pray for our brother priests and for the church. We know that for the majority of good priests this news of wide scale abuse is painful to accept, to tolerate and to bear. Yet it is clearly also true. We are deeply imperfect, our church is imperfect and yet we seek to follow and remain with Jesus and to be there for God’s hungry and thirsty people. And, like our brother priests, and despite the lack of acceptance for us, we have not left the church but, at whatever costs, seek to renew it with our lives.
When Jesus asks”Do you also want to leave?” Or “Will you also go away?” with hearts wrenching we reply “No, but we will work very hard to renew the Church in Christ’s image of love and compassion for all who hurt and have been hurt, even by the institutional church, with the help of God. For me, it helps to keep in mind and and heart my own beloved parishioners and to witness the hundreds of thousands who show up to have Mass with Pope Francis even after experiencing and knowing full well the evils perpetuated by the Church in Ireland and by the Church in Pennsylvania and the imperfect clergy and institution world wide-the examples of abuse are far too many to name here. And, yet, with their disillusion and with eyes wide open they come, they come to seek the living Christ. And probably among them are those wronged by priests. And probably among them are couples who are same sex heading families who are not seen as families in the eyes of the “official” church doctrine, and among them are those who seek Christ beyond the imperfections of doctrine and priests that have hurt them. May we work hard to be the body of the living Christ to all who seek and want to draw closer to God’s love. May we be the instruments of peace and love blessing all families without reserve of any kind. May we become the love of Christ.
Here are some links to articles on the horrific clergy abuse and relevant strong responses including those by Pope Francis, the Bishops of Roman Catholic Women Priests world-wide and the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests and others.
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Modern-Catholics-Church-Sex-Abuse-Report-Pope-Francis-491295871. by Alicia Victoria Lochtin.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/08/17/roman-catholic-church-sex-abuse-scandals-struggle/1024427002/ by Kate McElwee WOC
Let us pray that the church will be so challenged by recent truths to restructure to include married priests, women, openly gay clergy and all who God created in God’s image to reflect God’s love to all people. Let us pray that all who serve- clergy and “lay people” alike may grow closer to the heart and love of Christ and that all those harmed by clergy and church will find complete healing and love in the heart of Christ.
In sorrow and in love,
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community Fort Myers, Florida
Kathleen O’Connell Sauline was refused Holy Communion on July 8,2018 in St.Luke RC Church in Boardman, Ohio, a church where she raised her children. On July 1, she was ordained a deacon in ARCWP a part of the international Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement. NCR National Correspondent Heidi Schlumpf wrote her story on July 26, 2018 in NCR Online.
Blessings to Kathleen as she courageously and faithfully lives out her life of service in her transitional diaconate.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Good Shepherd Ministry
Fort Myers, Florida
I have had some wonderful responses to my sharing that my anniversary for ten years as a RC Priest is this Friday, July 20,2018. Many are affirmations, public and private, some are reflective thoughts about me and our ministry and some are questions, stated or implied. I am so thankful for all responses and am drawn to share a little more on a more personal note. I also will still say “our ministry” for my partner in life and the love of God’s people, Rev. Judy Beaumont who developed Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community and Ministry with me completed almost six years as a priest and a whole life as a servant-leader of Love before she returned home to God on January first of this year.
What does it feel like to be a woman and a Roman Catholic Priest? Well,that is a good question but I can answer it only for this one woman-there are over 250 of us in the world now. It may seem to some to be a contradiction in terms as there are those who say that one can NOT be a woman and a RC Priest. They cite Jesus’ physicality and the names we have been given of his first twelve Apostles (none of whom were actually ordained at the Last Supper since Ordination appeared much much later in church history). They conveniently forget who was at the cross and the grave, all of the women named in Luke 4 and elsewhere in the epistles and that Mary of Magdala was sent to tell the Apostles the most important news and the essence of the Gospel: Jesus Lives! And though some may call his mother, Mary, Miriam, his first disciple they still say a woman can not be ordained. This also seems to imply that men are better suited to the priesthood than women and that there are significant differences in men and women as they approach, serve and understand God. I really do not know about that but we might say with the French, if so, Vive La Difference! That is, how wonderful it is to appreciate all the many ways we can serve God and share this with one another in love. Ah, the mention of love- and God is LOVE, brings me to the heart of the matter.
In response to Ten Years A Woman RC Priest I received this lovely poem from Patricia Byrne, a woman of great compassion and faith with advanced degrees in theology who became a part of our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community and presently also serves the poor with the St. Martin De Porres Ministry in Fort Myers. She adapted it from Hafiz the 14th Century Persian Sufi Master rendered by Daniel Ladinsky in (I Heard God Laughing Penguin Books, 2006, p. 36.) I include her adaptations but excerpt the poem:
How Does It Feel to Be a Heart?
Once a young woman asked me,
“How does it feel to be a woman.?”
I am not so sure”…..
I view gender
As a beautiful animal
that people often take for a walk….”
A better question for Pastor Judy
Would have been,
“How does it feel to be a heart?’
For all I know is Love,
And I find my heart Infinite
I am indebted to Patricia for such a poem and such a view of me and our Good Shepherd Ministry. She is right that we seek to live Love, but may not know how often I fall short. Despite falling short,God loves through each one of us, and through those of us audacious and humble enough to accept Holy Orders. Through us God loves the broken, and the proud, the high and the low, and especially those who are cast out by society and even by the church. And this is how I feel about loving the people God has given to us to shepherd and to love. that IS the commission: Love one another.
First, love is not easy to come by and we all need it. Without it we starve and barely take hold. With it all things are possible. Love can also break your heart as much as it can enliven it. Second, loving those who feel unloved or have actually not been loved is not easy. There are often behaviors that reject and at times attack before love takes hold. In Come By Here: Church with the Poor (2007, (Publishamerica-America Star Books) I describe the struggle I had with God about reaching out to the homeless and poorest again. I knew what I was getting into for this was a return mission not a new one for me. The new part would come in 2008 when I would do this as an ordained Priest but this would not necessarily make it any easier to reach those most hurt by society. Both Pastor Judy B. and I would always describe our “homeless ministry” as the greatest joy in our lives. And it was. Shepherding someone from the woods or the streets into housing was the most rewarding and totally joyful event experienced.
This is Pat who, thanks be to God, was able to leave the dangerous woods behind and establish a beautiful home for herself and her cat. She is with Pastor Marina Sanchez in the second picture, part of a team that helped Pat move into Senior Housing.
But this work was also the most time consuming, all consuming and most difficult thing in our lives. For me,it was really hard to break up fights of alcoholics especially in our Church in the Park and more rarely in our church building as well, and to tolerate the hatred one group of poor folks sometimes directed toward the other, whether this was expressed in terms of feelings of superiority toward others that were racial, gender, heterosexual or culturally based. With the grace of God we became a rainbow community. Many noted that it was the first church in Fort Myers(an area that had segregated schools officially until 1969 and in actuality for many years after that and in some areas in the present as well) where there was a good proportion of blacks and whites together as well as people of different cultures and economic backgrounds and gays as well as straight people who worshiped and served together. While we received a good deal of love in return from the vast majority of those we reached out to love, there were those who not only despised each other but who could not accept us as women, and loved also to spread rumors about lesbian behavior they never got the chance to witness. How could they-?- we were too busy loving them. There were times we felt like Jesus trying to get in the boat to get away a bit only to find the people still there on the other side. The demand would seem unending.
When we had Joshua House, our transitional living residence for those leaving homelessness we were delighted at seeing the progress people could make with a decent place to live and support. Yet, there was occasion to have to eject people actively involved with drugs and/or off needed psychotropic meds and all this could bring to the otherwise peaceful house. It was wonderful to see so many people take a new hold on life and maintain their housing. Yet every time one person went off their meds or back on drugs the whole community was hurt by it. Standing by each one through the hard times was a challenge to deal with. And at the same time the key to establishing a loving community was seeing the face of Christ in each one. Not only in the sad and the lonely, the sick and the meek but in the rough and the angry and the hurt and damaged and even the privileged. This was our challenge and with God’s grace it was our reward to see Christ everywhere among us. And so we truly learned to love one another and how beautiful that is.
Another very difficult aspect of loving our people is facing illness and death with them. When one serves an elderly congregation this is difficult but expected but our median ages would be in the forties considering the many children and young people we served as well as those of all ages and states of health. As noted in a recent blog we had over ten deaths in the last two years and in the ten years of my priesthood that would easily double or even triple. In fact, it may seem harsh but it is necessary, when working with some of our people who have suffered a variety of addictions, that I will say gently but strongly: “You need to stop that or stay straight with the help of God, prayer, AA,NA, Doctors, support groups, etc. because I do not want to bury you.” Now, as I look back I sadly see that was not an overstatement. While with a few, death was a relief from suffering,they died younger than it would seem need be. This brought a sense of deep pain and wishes that we could have done more to help while they were alive. Helping families with the loss of a loved one is helping with a mass of complicated feelings. Sometimes family members had not heard from the loved one in many years and we were links to that person. Sometimes families were overwhelmed with grief and regrets. Sometimes a time of grief opened a window -a time to find a loving God. What a complex challenge to be priest and pastor in someone’s life at times of profound grief and loss. All of this speaks to the need for priestly preparation in counselling and understanding how to be there both pastorally and Sacramentally with people. The comforting words of the Scriptures and of the Church ritual on eternal life and resurrection are often all they have to hang on to, that is, in addition to the person of the priest/pastor and other members of the congregation. Being but one part of the Body of Christ with a special set of roles in a network of help and love is being a part of the true church. What a beautiful experience!
The pictures above and the last picture in the set before is of our community members celebrating with the newly ordained Priest Maria Elena Sierra Sanchez of Cali, Colombia. One of the most wonderful things our community did was to participate in the ordinations of women priests. Our children often led the Liturgical Procession in Sarasota with Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan presiding. They were joyful leaders with drums, dance and song. Reverenda Maria Elena Sierra Sanchez was ordained by Bishop Andrea Johnson in our own Fort Myers church in February of 2017. When we sang our hymn “We’re standing on Holy Ground” we were so happy to share our humble church for this holy event. Our people formed a bond with several priests especially those from Colombia where part of my ministry within RCWP since 2009 (and with ARCWP from 2010-2014)was to mentor and be the “Program Coordinator” for priests from Colombia discerning their calls to priesthood. While I have been honored to mentor five Colombian Priests (four of whom visited Good shepherd Church) I have a special love for all of the Colombian priests. Pastor Judy Beaumont and I were welcomed to their beautiful land four times. I have learned so much from them especially from those lives led in the deep understanding of liberation theology. This was a special joy in our ministry and helped our Good Shepherd Community to be even more international.
The pictures below are part of our ministry to the sick and the grieving.
So, learning to be God’s heart in the form of a priest and pastor is at once the most wonderful and the most difficult thing I will ever do. Perhaps it was the work with the children and youth that brought me the greatest joy. These are young people who had almost no religious teaching, church attendance or “God concepts”. To see them grow to know and love Christ and one another,even across the racial and class lines they already grew up with was both moving and amazing. Yes, there were moments when this did not happen, when a Haitian boy was ridiculed or the black kids would stay together with the white and mixed on the other side of a game, but a beginning was there that was not there before. And we helped to open the world of nature and diversity to the children and young people. How thankful we are for this.
In my last discussion of these ten years I shared how much we loved sharing the Sacraments with our people- the many baptisms, First Holy Communions, confirmations, holy anointings, and witnessing marriages were such special moments revealing God’s love in the community. And with each Reconciliation celebrated with individuals or with the community as a whole I felt both the power of sin as very real and destructive in lives, causing much pain and the power of God’s love to take away this pain and its sources. These days confession is sometimes seen as not necessary, but I have learned in all ways possible that it is good for the soul, and for the community. What a beautiful Sacrament.
But it was at each Mass that we shared the Body and Blood of Christ at an open Table where all were invited that truly characterized the love of God in Christ in this ministry. Judy B’s wonderful knowledge of liturgy combined with my preaching and her presiding at Eucharist and the assistance of Hank Tessandori as our Deacon and Mr. Harry Gary as our lay leader with Efe Cudjoe first, then Natasha Terrell as Lectors and all the people participating in the consecration and blessing brought life and love and the fullness of Christ to the Mass each week. The hot meal afterward lovingly prepared by many hands was but an extension of that Table. It is this Body, this life and love that continues to enliven this woman priest. How does it feel? It feels like love.
And in summation Isaiah 26:12 speaks to us:
“O God, you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.”
Thanks be to our loving God who has called both women and men to be Priests and enlivens the priesthood of all believers.
Love and blessings,
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee
The The Gospel readings for this Sunday, and indeed the Roman Catholic Sunday readings for the whole month of July this year, are about God’s call. I will reflect on my call to the priesthood here for ten years have quickly come and gone since I was ordained on July 20,2008. For me that particular call is another part of my lifelong call to serve God and and be in solidarity with the poor and outcast of society. I am deeply thankful for this opportunity to serve. I write in gratitude.
This Sunday we read from Mark 6:7-13 that Jesus gave the disciples authority and sent them out two by two, mindful of their need for companionship on the journey. They preach repentance (turning your life around when it is off God’s track) and they anoint and heal. Luke 8:1-3 also shows and names many women who clearly followed Jesus along with “the twelve”. God calls all of us according to our gifts and talents and presses us into service in many ways for the kin-dom/ reign of God, the reign of justice and peace, to appear on this earth.
Throughout history God has called women to servant leadership in the Church and to the priesthood,the diaconate and the Episcopate. (See for example Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination). Historical evidence of this is crystal clear but so often written out of the history books by the male hierarchy in the Church who indeed continue to take it upon themselves to decide whom God can call to the priesthood-only men according to Canon Law. So, validly ordained RC women priests are illicit and even “excommunicated” (on the same page as pedophiles and rapists though many of the latter were not given this sentence). We reject this so called “excommunication” for while some of us have received warning letters from bishops none of us has received such ” official papers” and we strongly hold that nothing can separate us from our baptisms and from the love of and communion with Christ and Christ’s people. We are not a priesthood coming in the future, we are here, we exist, through the courage and wisdom of the Roman Catholic Womenpriest Movement started on the Danube in Germany in 2002 when a validly ordained Bishop in a line of full Apostolic Succession ordained well prepared women to the priesthood “for the sake of the Church”. This Bishop ordained our earliest Bishops and is known to our bishops and his name will be revealed only upon his death-hence he remains in good standing with the Vatican.
(For this history/herstory and stories of several priests, including me please see Women Find A Way edited by Elsie Hainz McGrath, Bridget Mary Meehan and Ida Raming,VBW Publishing, 2008).
On Sunday July 20th, 2008 I and two other women, Gloria Ray Carpeneto of Maryland and Gabriella Velardi Ward of New York responded to God’s call to the priesthood. We were validly ordained to the Roman Catholic Priesthood in Boston, Massachussetts with Bishop Dana Reynolds presiding assisted by Bishop Ida Raming of Germany while Mary Ann Schoettly of New Jersey (now passed on to her eternal life with our loving God) was ordained to the transitional RC Diaconate, later to become a Priest. All of us have developed churches individually and with other women priests and we have done our best with God’s help and grace to serve as Priests. We were among the first 49 women ordained in the Movement that has over 250 ordained priests world-wide today,and we are happily growing.
As I Look Back on Ten Years
From the beginning I felt the enormity of the charge of becoming a Priest and that only by God’s grace and support could I ever do it. I am often reminded of the words and sentiments of Amos in this Sundays reading:”I was no prophet,nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and dresser of sycamores” Amos 7:12-15). One can translate shepherd and tree tender in my case to a social worker and professor of Social Work and writer-most certainly not a priest or prophet.) I can identify with the prophets as all women who accept the call to priesthood when the Church says it is not possible are prophetic. Like Ezekiel in last Sunday’s reading(Ezekiel 2:2-5) “As the Lord spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet…Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord God! And whether they heed or resist-for they are a rebellious house-they shall know that a prophet has been among them”. Indeed, to take the step of Ordination I had to be “set on my feet” because it is more weakness than boldness that I felt in beginning this journey. Yet I was , and am, reminded of the words of Paul from last Sunday’s Epistle: 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10. Paul is complaining of the weakness of his flesh and spirit and hears: My grace is sufficient for you,for power is made perfect in weakness….therefore I am content with weaknesses,insults,hardships,persecutions,and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” There is hardly a better description of the obstacles facing women who are ordained Roman Catholic Priests and it is in our weakness that God’s power is revealed. Thanks be to God!
Well, to whom am I sent? To the poor and those on the margins, that is where I have long been called and working-but also to the whole Church, those solidly within the traditions and those barely on the margins as well as to those who define it, and I believe it is the latter in its Magisterium that can be described as “hard of face and obstinate of heart”. Not the poor and outcast- though any individual can sometimes be hard of heart. I am called more to the broken of heart, and I have been there, indeed I am now there with the January 2018 death of my life and ministry companion, Pastor Judy Beaumont (ordained 1/21/12). And yet ten years ago,no,many more years ago than that, and now I am “called by the Spirit of God, and anointed to ‘preach good news to the poor… (to bind up the broken-hearted…)to release the oppressed…” Luke 4: 16-20 and Isaiah 61:1-2). And, since I am now also called to do this as a Priest, I am called to speak truth to power, even the power of the Church.
In 1981 I was teaching Social Work at NYU School of Social Work. I loved teaching and was seen by the students to be good at it. Yet, as I walked across Washington Square Park every day on my way to the School I was struck by and drawn to the diverse people who seemed to be actually living in the Park. Since my youth I was aware of the call to serve Christ and this was made easy because people were able to be open to me. One of my Pastors and youth leaders in my inner city Brooklyn church, Rev. Mel G. Williams, was a social worker and a Pastor. I learned so much from him and in a way he helped me to recognize my first call and showed me how to minister, as did my devoutly caring Grandmother and many others. So when people in the Park reached out to me in my daily walks I realized that it was God’s Spirit drawing us together.
I was increasingly troubled. One night after planning my classes, I opened my Bible and read and prayed all night. Through Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 God’s spirit spoke to me. By the morning I had a proposal for my colleagues at NYU regarding how we could work with the area’s homeless who were right in front of our School. Despite the help of friends I didn’t change the school’s focus right away but I did enter two women’s Shelters with top level City Approval and begin my work. Some of the policy changes I recommended took place years after I left New York but more important were the several women that I helped in groups and individually. And, they taught me that social work help was not enough- they asked me to pray with them. And so, on my own time, my Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 ministry began. It continued when I moved to Connecticut in 1984 to join the UConn SSW Faculty and in 1988 met my ministry and life partner Judy Beaumont. She was then a Sister of St. Benedict and lived a life of prophetic peace and justice witness. She directed My Sisters’ Place, a shelter for women and children and later we developed residences and programs for men and women with mental illness in Hartford. She truly taught me how to serve and brought me back into the life of the Church as well. Now, with the companionship of each other we could enact the Gospel with the poor. When we moved to Fort Myers Florida in 1998 we found ways to continue this work. How blessed we were to have love and companionship as we served together and separately, her in the church and me in the community then also in the church, our own parish and a Mission parish.
By 2007 I retired (again) with early retirement, from Social Work education and practice here and was looking for a way to pursue more full time ministry and perhaps Seminary training. I felt a strong call to become a Pastor like those who moved and guided me so- Pastors David and Mel and Al and Angelo. Yet,that seemed a mere contradiction in the RC Church- the road for a woman in accepting this call was not at all clear. It was then that we were invited to a house Mass led by a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, Rev. Dr. Bridget Mary Meehan, Ordained in 2006. My eyes and consciousness were opened and the path led to my preparation and the Ordination in 2008. By then Judy and I had developed Church in the Park with the homeless and poor (in February of 2007) and Good Shepherd Ministries a continuation of a housing ministry we began in 2003. By 2009 we bought a house in the middle of Fort Myers and dedicated it as a Church (Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community) where well- to- do and poor and all types of people -all races and cultures, gay and straight and all who felt left out of churches for many reasons could come together to serve and worship, and a transitional residence for people leaving homelessness. Fifty-five men, women and children passed through there to permanent housing and over a 100 were helped to affordable housing as Judy Beaumont and I worked together to serve the poor and homeless. We both found that the Sacramental services we could offer as Priests were life changing and life saving. We did over 30 baptisms and had over 25 Confirmed in faith. We prayed for and anointed countless sick and dying and found that the homeless and formerly homeless and the poor of this area are often sick and die young. So we also buried the dead. This ministry continued full force until her fourth cancer in 2016 made us slow down and offer less. I continue now with our ministry, but not anywhere as fully as we both could do. Yet the grace and call of God bids me go on and gives me the strength to do it.
I am totally humbled by and still awed every minute by being called to priesthood. Now, perhaps in dealing with profound loss and getting older I am not as strong as I grew to be. Yet, Paul’s words ring true: “…When I am weak, then I am strong”. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. I can understand that now. And so as I continue past ten years in my priesthood, I ask you to join me in prayer for the next steps.
With love and thanksgiving,
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP