The Black Sheep-RC Women Priests: A Homily

We are pleased to present this astute homily with an interesting comparison by Roman Catholic Woman Priest, Rev.Dr. Gloria R. Carpeneto of The Living Waters Catholic Community in  Baltimore, Maryland.

Gloria R. Carpeneto, Homily
4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C
April 17, 2016

Acts 13:14,43-52; Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30; Psalm 100, We are God’s people, the sheep of God’s pasture.

Way back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, Andrea Johnson and I were ordained on the same day – she a priest, and I a deacon. Many people sitting here today were with us in Judson Memorial Church in the Village in New York on July 14, 2007 when that ordination took place.

There are lots of memories that I know we each carry of that day, not the least of which is that it was Bastille Day, July 14. And so it was that for the first time in the United States, Roman Catholic women priests emerged from the waters where our ordinations had taken place since 2002. We crawled up out of the rivers and onto land for our first ordinations on terra firma here in the United States. And, in at least a figurative sense, we promptly stormed the Bastille on that July 14.

If you remember any of your French history, it was in 1789 that the working class citizens of France had had enough of taxation and oppression by what we might call today “the 1%.” They had been emboldened by the American Revolution a few years before, and they were in rebellion. Turns out, they had plenty of guns, but little ammunition. So they stormed the Bastille where the government’s ammunition was stored.

French peasants were trying to liberate ammunition from the control of the aristocracy when they stormed the Bastille. But Roman Catholics who supported the ordination of women in our Church  were trying to liberate the very life of our church from centuries of control by a monolithic hierarchical structure. French peasants in 1789 and Roman Catholic Women Priests on the Danube in 2002 – all either of us really wanted was justice. We wanted our voices to be heard and we wanted our votes to count for something

 

And just as Marie Antoinette,  in her naïve arrogance, may have wanted the peasants to eat cake, centuries of hierarchical clericalism in our Church had left Roman Catholic women – all Roman Catholic women —  with little to eat but obedience, subservience and tasteless canon law.

So there we were in 2007 – storming the Bastille, excommunicating ourselves, and (depending on which canon lawyer you talked to) maybe even dragging everyone in the church that day (and today) down with us. Bishop Patricia Fresen was our ordaining bishop. And in an act of defiance, as Patricia began her homily she placed a black sheep on the altar.

I never got a copy of Patricia’s homily. But I do remember her telling Andrea, Gabriella, Eleanora and myself  that we were all black sheep … that it would be a very long time before the Church welcomed us in again … that we were taking a fateful step outside the fold … and that there would be consequences.

Now all shepherds know that in most flocks, nearly all the sheep will be white. But a  recessive gene will always produce a black sheep or two. The wool of a black sheep is not as valuable as a white sheep’s wool. It’s wiry, and it’s not soft. It can’t be dyed any colors. It’s hard to weave black wool. Black sheep are anomalies. But they will always be there, and they are not without value. They are actually genetically helpful to the fold, and good shepherds always want their flocks to produce a few black sheep.

So unless I’m reading John’s Gospel today incorrectly, Jesus makes no distinction between black sheep and white sheep. He doesn’t say excommunicate the black ones, and  invite the white ones to be on the faculty of Catholic University. He doesn’t say that the white ones can preside at Eucharist, but the black ones can polish the brass. Instead, Jesus says to us today, I am the Good Shepherd. My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. They belong to me — every last one, no exceptions.

 

In the Book of Revelation, it’s Jesus who promises to shelter his sheep forever. It’s Jesus who says that all those sheep who reside with him in eternity will never again be hungry or thirsty. The sun will never beat down on them, because Jesus is their shepherd, who will lead his flock to springs of living water, and wipe every last tear from their eye. We belong to him – every last one of us, no exceptions.

And for those of us who are the black sheep – those outside the system, like Paul and Barnabas, all of us in Judson Memorial on July 14, 2007, and all of us worshiping here as the Living Water Community today – we are assured  that the Spirit of the Living God will always give us courage to storm the Bastille and share the Gospel message of justice, inclusion and equality for all. Like Paul and Barnabas, those black sheep among us may encounter  jealousy, revulsion, betrayal and expulsion from our synagogues. But we know we are absolutely necessary to the life of the flock. Like Paul and Barnabas in the early church (before it turned into the Bastille), we are buoyed by the grace of God, and courageous in speaking out the message we heard proclaimed in our Gospel today. Jew and Gentile, slave and free, old and young, black and white, gay and straight, male and female — we all belong to Jesus – every last one of us, no exceptions.

Our responsorial psalm today was a beautiful one – We are God’s people, the flock of our God. So let’s remember just how good it is to be in that flock.

  • It’s good to be a white sheep; it’s good to love our Church, to appreciate our history and traditions, to be grounded in a sacramental / liturgical  tradition that feeds us all.
  • But it’s also good to be a black sheep; it’s good to call our Church on the carpet when that’s needed, to speak out when there is injustice, to say something when there is hypocrisy.

We are God’s people, the sheep of the flock. And we cry out with joy every day that our God is good and loves all of us – white sheep, black sheep, inside the Bastille or out of it – every last one, absolutely no exceptions.
In the foreground

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