Calling All Prophets: A Roman Catholic Woman Priest’s Homily for 26th Sun in OT-9/27/15
We have been moved to tears and cheers many times this week as we followed Pope Francis in his visits to Cuba and the USA. We join the millions experiencing the humble presence and strong challenging words of a prophet. We experienced his love for all and his use of symbolism to preach the Gospel without words. His luncheon visit to two hundred homeless and low-income people who gathered at St. Patrick’s in the City and Catholic Charities in Washington D.C. instead of enjoying a fancy State dinner is who he is. He also emphasized that there is no justification in the world for the lack of housing; that it is unconscionable that homelessness endures. Indeed he has also welcomed the homeless people surrounding the Vatican in for dinner and a visit, and made sure that sandwiches are served to them daily. In the same way there are now refugees from Syria living in the two churches in the Vatican. He shows us what to do as prophets in our times, and the Spirit will fill us with what to say and do as we too are open to becoming prophets of love and justice. And that invitation is to ALL of us-we are all to be priests and prophets by virtue of our baptism, and ALL are to live for justice. Pope Francis said in a Washington homily: we are all priests (1 Peter 2:9) and prophets. We are to walk the talk. We are to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable as we are witnessing in Pope Francis’ missionary journeys-that is what a prophet does.
And yet, our Scriptures for Sunday illuminate how religious groups can become so ingrown that they seek to limit the voice of prophecy that rises around them. They can create doctrines and/ or indulge in behaviors that create inside and outside groups. This seems to be human behavior- to draw lines and leave some people out. But for God there is no inside or outside-there is only Love and Justice- not inside or outside but God’s own side. For Christians this is exemplified in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ and prophets like Pope Francis and Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day whom Pope Francis cited in his address to Congress.
The text from the Hebrew Scriptures, Numbers 11:25-29 shows a young Joshua asking Moses to stop Eldad and Medad, two leaders chosen to be prophets who were not present at the appropriate ceremony to bless prophets. Yet God’s Spirit rested on them and they began to prophesy. But the wise Moses says “If only all people were prophets…” In other words, “thank God and ask God for everyone to be Spirit filled Prophets- welcome them!” God cannot be contained in the small box of in- group leadership, God’s Spirit falls where it will.
We are so moved by the numbers of people waiting to even glimpse the Pope on his journey, rich and poor, people of every station and every sort. They are looking for something, something loving, something holy, something just, something of God. They were not disappointed in this caring, just and holy man. But he also spoke truth to power in the Congress and with the leaders of the USA and in Cuba. This is prophetic in the spirit of Christ. The Epistle of James (5:1-6) is crystal clear in that same spirit, that God does not like or accept the rich, those who have a great deal, exploiting those who do not have-he says that “ the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached God’s ears” (Jas 5:4). Here in Florida we stand with the migrant workers who have successfully boycotted and protested McDonald’s and many big chains and owners and growers who have denied pennies to the poor, pennies that can add up to a living wage. Similarly the issue of raising the minimum wage to a living wage is one that the Gospel clearly takes a stand on. It is beautiful to see Pope Francis champion and identify with the workers-but he can do no less in the Spirit of the Gospel.
In the Gospel (Mark 9:38-43; 45; 47-48) Jesus faces the same question that Moses faced. The disciples, like Joshua, want to forbid someone not in their group, “not one of us” from healing in Jesus name. Jesus disagrees with them: “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in my name can soon speak evil of me. For whoever is not against us is for us”.
Jesus is inclusive and welcoming while the disciples are arrogant and excluding. If we could for a moment, reset this scene in today’s world we can see Jesus accepting disciples, men and women, young and old of all cultures, races and languages, of many denominations and persuasions who reach out to “the least of these” our brothers and sisters and who do miracles in his name. Jesus’ total ministry was inclusive, he included strangers and non-Jews, like the woman at the well and the Centurion whose daughter he healed, extolling their virtues in the case of the good Samaritan, for example; he literally touched the lepers of his time and allowed women to touch him, he had women and men in his following and women ran to tell his story, and showed him great love washing his feet with oil and tears and following him to the grave. Jesus first appeared to Mary of Magdala after his resurrection and commissioned her to “go and tell” thereby making her the Apostle to the apostles. How then can we imagine that Jesus would allow the disciples to prevent women, for example, from serving the sick and the poor in his name or relegate them to positions of authority in the church with limited spiritual powers? To forbid women from responding to the call and infusion of God’s Holy Spirit to open the Sacraments to ALL of God’s people, especially the poor and the outcast. To say Holy Orders are only for the “in group” of men not the “out group” of women. Someone wrote me a comment on my blog in response to an article on the ordination of women and said “Peter has the keys, Peter says no to women’s ordination, case closed.”
This is my answer in the words of the Gospel of the day-John, the beloved disciple said “we stopped him because he was not one of us” and Jesus said: “Do not stop him….” The descendants of Peter are, like the early disciples being exclusive, trying to stop women from serving as priests, from serving as disciples who can receive Holy Orders. Jesus is saying “Do not stop her” for that is who Jesus IS. Like Moses before him, Jesus wants the Spirit of God, and of prophesy to fall on EVERYONE. Moses and Jesus knew: the Spirit of God falls where it will. So those who form clubs that leave others out in Jesus name have misunderstood that Christ has sent the Holy Spirit among us and it rests where it will even as it did in the times of Moses and Jesus.
RCWP-Midwest Bishop Nancy Meyer Greeting Good Shepherd Youth
Mike Walsher of CBS TV News here in Fort Myers, WINK News, interviewed Pastor Judy Beaumont and I on Wednesday September 23, 2015. He asked us what we thought of Pope Francis? We answered unreservedly that we love him, and we love his commitment to the poor and outcast. It is the mission of our ministry, our lives and our priesthoods to serve God’s poor and outcast. We have Dorothy Day’s picture and Martin Luther King’s portrait hanging in our church and in our hearts and alive in our actions. We, too, have been ordained in the line of Peter, ultimately through bishops in full communion with the Church. But, the rules of the in group, of the all- male hierarchy ( Canon Law 1024), have excluded us and made our ordinations illicit. CBS ,WINK TV News did a great job on our story including many pictures of church members in interaction with us. They did show baptisms of youth and adults, and serving the Eucharist to all, but, there were no pictures to show of the last rites we offered to people dying homeless in the woods or nursing homes, or of anointing the very ill poor and disfigured or precious moments of reconciliation or a marriage on the beach of a formerly homeless couple. They had few pictures to show the importance of offering the full Sacraments of the Church to those usually excluded. That is why we just don’t serve as laywomen or religious Sisters. The Sacraments need to be opened to all people and with ministries like Dorothy Day and MLK JR. we are where the people are and that is where we bring the Sacraments.
While we reject the rejection ( called excommunication) of the Church in-group, we do at times feel like Eldad and Medad, and like the one who healed in Jesus’ name whom the disciples tried to stop. But we have both Moses and Christ saying to their respective “in group” leaders-“Do not stop them”. We know that if Pope Francis could talk with our church members, our hungry, homeless and formerly homeless, the physically and mentally ill and mentally challenged, and our lowest income residents of a rich city, he would know that they had priests who serve Christ and spread love and justice liberally among them. As we watched Pope Francis on his Journey we saw him throw aside his prepared notes and speak spontaneously from his heart to those who moved his spirit by what they showed or told him. We know that above all he listens and he values the encuentro, the encounter, with people. We shared with Mike Walsher, the CBS Reporter, that our one prayer was that Pope Francis would have the opportunity to have a real encounter with women who want or have Holy Orders or their parishioners so that the spirit could speak to him through them. Mike asked about those of our sister priests who would protest at sites the Pope would visit in Washington. We said that non-violent protest was one way to bring attention to women’s ordination. But it was our hope that human contact with religious Sisters, laywomen and men, male priests and ordained women and their congregations who support women’s ordination would inform and inspire Pope Francis and the Church to open the doors. Open the doors that have been so arbitrarily closed to women, and to the openly gay and the married. If there can be fruitful encuentros, encounters, the doors will be open. It does not matter if it is within our lifetimes or not, it will come. We pray for these encounters and then to hear Jesus echoed: “Do not stop them”.
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, RCWP-USA-East ,Co-Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community Speak Out For Justice ! Justice For the Poor and Marginalized,Justice For all, Justice for Women Starting in the Church-Ordain Women!