“Untie Him and Let Him Go!”Lenten Reflections of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest
Today we ponder the death and resurrection of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (John 11:1-45). This good news, this passage from the Gospel is rich with many meanings. We marvel at Martha’s faith as she pleas for her brother’s life,even after he is dead and buried. We remember all those who have gone to God before us and with Jesus, we weep. We marvel that even with the power of raising the dead, Jesus weeps at death. Jesus knows how hard it is to die and to lose someone we love from this earth. It consoles me that Jesus knows this and weeps at death, for I do too. And as I look back I remember the deaths of each one gone home to God whom I have loved so much. And I miss them even as I celebrate their eternal life. Oh, thanks be to God! Death is not final after all.
I feel the beauty of the earth today. I feel my connection to it. I love the feel of the sun on my back as I stand by my little lake and feed the ducks and water birds and turtles. The lightness of the air and the brightness of the day intoxicates me. And I have spoken with loved ones today and am so thankful to love and to be loved, to be a person capable of relationship and compassion. Three of my cats sleep near me as I write this. One hangs precariously off of a top perch and one makes me laugh as he pours out of his little bed on my side desk. And one has just risen to greet the day. Oh, I am thankful today.
I reflect on God’s gift of new life. And I reflect on how complete healing and the gift of new life can be. Jesus commanded: “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus came forth from his grave in the side of a cave as Jesus commanded and he was wrapped in grave clothes from head to toe. I think about the grave clothes that cling to us even when we are given a new chance at life through our faith in God in Christ. I think of the faith it takes to do something completely new. I think of the many chances at new life I have been given and how it is so tempting to hang on to the past we know and not step forward into new life. I think of when we left our lives in Connecticut nearly 25 years ago and moved to this strange land that I love so well now. I marvel at all God had in store for us here, God’s service, ministry, priesthood, a whole new world-and how we knew none of this when we moved here.
I think of Jesus’ words to the family and friends of Lazarus: “Untie him and let him go”. How clearly we need others to help unbind us. I can see Mary and Martha assisting with the removal of the burial cloths and Lazarus emerging and feeling the sun on his face, and seeing and feeling his loved ones once again. I can feel the gratitude and the joy and the amazement he must have felt as he was freed of what bound him in death. My guess is that they all cried together. including Jesus, and it was “happy tears” this time.
And now I think on what may bind us in burial clothes when we could become fully alive. It could be fear for fear is a powerful thing that often holds us back from fulfilling our dreams and our destiny. It could be holding on too tight to what we are familiar with. It could be that we need more support and we just can’t do it all ourselves. It could be that it is hard for us to trust when we cannot see all that is ahead. For as many of us that exist there are unique reasons that work to hold us back. It is worth our energy and reflection to identify where we may be going and what is holding us back. Then we can pray to be “let go”. And we can go, we can assume full lives as our God of Love intends for us.
So with Lazarus, let us come forth and let us be unbound from all that is destructive and dis empowering in our lives. Indeed, let us help one another to be unbound!
I am so thankful for our Good Shepherd Community and the way each one works to free the next one to be all he or she can be! Some beloved holy members have gone home to God since these pictures were taken. And yet, the community will always live on in the love of Christ Jesus.
Here is a link to last year’s blog on this wonderful Gospel affirming life:
If this link leads mistakenly to another of my blogs, and I surely don’t know why it does this, just type in- your brother will rise- under SEARCH and you will get to the correct blog.
May God bless you as you continue your journey,
Pastor Judy Lee
Rev. Dr. Judith AB Lee, RCWP
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers
Questions About Roman Catholic Woman Priests? Thirsting For the Living Water
This writer and Priest so appreciates your reading this blog. It is written with love for inspiration and information. There is a deep thirst within us that responds to the Living Water that Christ gives in his teachings, in Himself, and in his time here on earth. I love trying to capture that and share it with you. But for those who may pass this blog by because they do not know what on earth a Roman Catholic Priest who is a woman is, or what the Movement is about, or because they find us unacceptable given the Church’s denial of the “ability” to ordain women, I would like to make some resources available to begin to answer your questions. As a former Master’s level University Professor of 27 years I have confidence that learning can open both minds and hearts. So if you are open to learning, I will recommend some websites and books here. By now there are several books about and by Roman Catholic Women Priests, but I will highlight three here. And I also welcome your thoughts and questions.
In today’s Lenten reading we learn that Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). In his Lenten reflection for today Pope Francis notes that:
“By accepting the Law of God in our heart, one understands that, when one does not love one’s neighbor, to some extent one kills oneself and others,because hatred, rivalry and division kill the fraternal charity that is the basis of interpersonal relationships… And Jesus is aware that it is not easy to live the Commandments in such an all-encompassing way. That is why he offers us the help of his love…”(( CNEWA Lenten Reflections, p.32, From the Angelus, 16 February 2020).
Roman Catholic Woman Priests would like to help fulfill the promise of Church as Jesus intended it to be: inclusive and loving of all, without exception. We would like to claim the “fraternal charity” and the kind of love that affirms the dignity and worth of all human beings, including women who may also be called by God to a variety of jobs to realize the kingdom/kin-dom of God on earth, including calls to the Priesthood. As Jill Peterfeso notes in her book Womanpriest: Tradition and Transgression in the Contemporary Roman Catholic Church ( Fordham University Press, 2020:p.8):
“Womanpriests do what they do because they hold separate and seemingly opposing beliefs. While they believe that Roman Catholic traditions are too precious to lose, they also believe that Catholic women deserve the opportunity to serve the church through the ministerial priesthood. By getting ordained illegally and disobeying Vatican teachings, womenpriests are declaring that sacraments are important, priesthood is important, and the Roman Catholic Faith is important….Quite simply, the RCWP Movement believes that positive change for Roman Catholicism demands the inclusion of women in priestly office”.
To put it more simply and to the point I quote Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP, “We are not leaving the church we are leading the church”- to necessary reform that affirms the dignity of all people, women, divorced people, the LGBTQT community, and every single human being in her or his difference or relationship to man-made church law. All are included, all are welcome-no exceptions. Or as Pope Francis says, despite his, perhaps reluctantly, “closing the door” on women, “when one does not love one’s neighbor, to some extent one kills oneself and others…” Jesus consistently and beautifully always put people above the finer points of the law. He healed on the sabbath, and picked corn on the sabbath when hungry. And so we seek to follow Jesus in affirming all human beings, and all of Creation, even if we must, therefore, break some of the man-made laws of the Church (particularly about which gender only can be ordained) to affirm the Law of Love that God commands. With Christ’s help we seek, like him, to fulfill the law of LOVE.
Below is the cover of the book cited by Jill Peterfeso that is well worth your reading if you’d like to know more about Roman Catholic Women Priests. On the cover is Rev. Gabriella Velardi Ward of New York who was ordained along with Gloria Carpeneto of Maryland and myself on July 20,2008.
Another book I love and recommend is the discussion of the Movement and the first compilation of the stories of some of the earliest priests:
Women Find A Way: The Movement and Stories of Roman Catholic Womenpriests ( Edited by Elsie Hainz McGrath, Bridget Mary Meehan and Ida Raming, VBW Publishing, 2008).
In this book we are invited to “Meet Roman Catholic womenpriests who are shaping a more inclusive,Christ-centered,Spirit-empowered Church of equals in the twenty-first century. All are welcome at the sacred Eucharistic table. Meet women bishops ordained in full apostolic succession who continue to carry on the work of ordaining others in the Roman Catholic Church. Meet women who are seerving the People of God in many ways including house churches and parish communities,hospital and hospice chaplaincy,anointing of the sick and elderly,and ministering with the homeless. Roman Catholic Womenpriests are leading the Catholic Church into a new age in which the identity of priest reflects the experiences of women….”
In my last blog I referred you to the powerful chapter by Bishop Patricia Fresen in this book: “A New Understanding of Priestly Ministry: Looking At A Church in Crisis.” It also has a leading chapter by the first ordained women priests: the Danube Seven. My call to the priesthood within my lifelong call to serve the poor, the different, and the “outcasts’ is included in the book and all of the twenty-three chapters tell stories you will not want to miss.
And, finally I want to heartily recommend the book written by one of our strongest supporters, our Priest Brother, Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic Priest for forty years: Male Supremacy In the Catholic Church: An Insider’s View ( 2020, released January 2023 : ISBN 9798436033976). This is a critically important book that could have only been written by a male Priest. We are so thankful for his support and all that he has risked and lost to support us.
Fr. Roy said: “….An all-loving God created everyone of equal worth and dignity. There are no exceptions! This memoir, written by a Catholic priest for forty years, addresses the injustice of male supremacy, sexism and the spiritual abuse of women in the Roman Catholic Church….In 2012, he was expelled from the priesthood because of his public support for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church”. May God bless our courageous brother, Roy Bourgeois! Do consider getting this book, I think you will find it challenging and perhaps cherish it as I do.
Bless you as you listen to the voice of God within and seek to learn,
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, RCWP
Good Shepherd Ministries, Fort Myers, Florida
A Prophet Without Honor: Reflections of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest
Instead of giving up comforts or conveniences for Lent, what would happen if you decided to take a stand for something important, even essential, that you believe. What is the penalty for leading a life of standing up for what you believe? What is the penalty of prophetic obedience and prophetic disobedience?
Our Gospel reading for today leads us to Jesus’ own experience of rejection in the town where he grew up and worked as a carpenter. In response to his powerful speaking and many miraculous healings the people say in disbelief ” Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22) and in another place, “Is this not the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3). And in response to this clear rejection “Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth, ‘Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place’ “( Luke 4:24). And, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor”(Mark 6: 4). Mark’s Gospel continues: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith”. ( Mark 6: 5-6).
James Martin,SJ in his wonderful book Jesus: A Pilgrimage ( Harper One, 2014) discusses Jesus’ experience in his hometown of Nazareth at length. He says ” They cannot get over the fact that someone from their hometown is saying and doing these things. They move quickly from amazement to anger. Jealousy may have played a role as well.” Reflecting on Mark 6 where Jesus includes his relatives and his own house in the list of faithless “rejectors”, Martin says: ” Imagine the combination of sadness and pity he must have felt uttering those words before his closest friends and family (Martin: p.122).
And so we are reminded that Jesus faced major rejection of his message and, ultimately, of himself as he lived out his call to preach, to reach those even outside of his Jewish community, to include those hated and on the margins like the lepers, the tax collectors, and the Samaritan woman at the well, to heal, to bring to life, and to redefine and underline what was important in the law and in the faith-LOVE. Fully human and fully God, he was rejected not only for what he said and did but ultimately for Who He was. It is no wonder that he looked at Jerusalem and wept. And he said “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” ( Matthew 23:37). This suggests Jesus’ heart was broken long before the Cross, and we know that in time he expected that he would be handed over to the authorities and killed, and that he would rise again in three days. His disciples barely understood this, and at the end, denied him and left him, except for the women. And yet ultimately they too gave their lives for Him. And we, as we seek to follow Him, following the call of the Holy Spirit within us, are also faced with decisions that require courage and wisdom, perhaps even more courage than conventional wisdom.
One such major decision and action of conscience for almost 300 women who have been validly ordained in the Roman Catholic Church since 2002 is the decision to become ordained contra legem. (Against the canon law of the RC Church). The Church’s penalty for this is ex-communication. That is, to be denied the sacraments of the church. Since ordained priests who are women can consecrate with the people of God, they are not ultimately denied Holy Communion-either the Eucharist or the communion that is holy with the people of God. But they are excluded from receiving this in the traditional Church. So many of us miss our parishes and may be rejected in them. Those who were part of religious communities or working directly within the Church have also been removed from membership and from participation. For some, that is a loss of all their lives have been until that point as well as economic and social security. For all of us, we have lost a part of our lives that we have loved and that, ironically, called us to serve . And yet when we consider the rejection of Jesus our situations pale by comparison and we can understand a little more of what Jesus went through as he was rejected.
As I contemplate the “penalties” for being a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and for some of our supporters I am strongly reminded that we are simply following in Jesus’ footsteps. This day in our Lenten readings we see Jesus’ response to the doubt and rejection of his ministry and of himself. Jesus has just read the Isaiah 61:1-2 passage in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. He tells them that “The spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of the sight of the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). He adds “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. And the people in his hometown respond, in today’s vernacular, “”Who does he think he is?” As well, the Roman Church seems to say to its ordained women “Who do they think they are?” Simply we are people called by God to serve in the priesthood and we accept the call, no matter what happens because of this acceptance.
Below there are two pictures. The first is of Bishop Patricia Fresen of South Africa ordaining Diane Willman in 2021. The second is the cover of a book written by Fr. Roy Bourgeois in 2022 (ISBN 9798436033976). Both of these priests are examples of those willing to lose everything in order to follow conscience and in order to take a stand for that which is essential in their understanding of the Gospel. Both lost their religious communities and their status in the church for supporting the ordination of women to the priesthood. Both are extraordinary examples of courage under fire-the fire of the Church against those who question and break their man-made unjust laws for the greater good.
Patricia Fresen, a South African Dominican nun and Professor of Theology at the National Seminary in Pretoria studied theology in Rome for seven years and also earned her Doctorate in Theology in 1996 through the University of South Africa. From 1999-2003 she was on the Faculty of Theology at the Catholic University in Johannesburg. While studying in Rome in the 1980’s and teaching in Johannesburg in the late 1990’s she experienced her own call to the priesthood. Learning of the ordination of seven women on the Danube in 2002, she was ordained in Barcelona in 2003. In 2005 she was ordained Bishop. As a result of her ordination she had to leave her beloved Dominican community and everything in her life behind and live in Germany for several years. She became the International Program Coordinator for Preparation for the Priesthood for RCWP. She was the primary bishop for the ordination of women in the United States of America and we are so grateful for her guidance. While she is finally home in South Africa now, her life of courage, ministry and service remains an inspiration for all of us. She is working on her biography but her chapter in Women Find A Way, ( VBW Publishing, 2008) A New Understanding of Priestly Ministry (pp.28-35) captures the essence of her response to her call to the priesthood and her views on priesthood. I urge the reader to read this. The following comparison of racism in South Africa and misogyny in the Roman Church is thought provoking. She says:
“I was born and bred in South Africa…I grew up in the racially segregated society of South Africa, where people were forcibly separated by law. However, things were changing in South Africa and there was a growing awareness of how wrong apartheid was. It was the Black people themselves who began to take matters in their own hands. We all know that this is usually the way in human society. It is not the oppressors, the ones with all the power and privilege, who come forward to put things right; it is the oppressed, who become aware of their oppression and aware that they need to band together and stand up for their rights, often at great cost. They are the ones who overturn the systems of oppression and bring society one step closer to justice and the recognition of human dignity and human rights.
I never dreamed that my experience of the breaking-down of racism in South Africa would, in part, lead me to where I am today: and ordained Roman Catholic bishop whose journey to ordination has led me to stand up against unjust church laws…”
Of the growing participation in the Movement she adds: “What is at work here is the sensus fidelium, the inner sense of the faithful, that this is the right way to go and that the Spirit is leading them in this direction. The people are ready. The time is now.
Could we be in the midst of an evolutionary leap in the life of the Church-a leap which is part of the reconstruction of the Church, the Church of tomorrow, the Church that we believe is closer to the community Jesus had in mind?”
Below is the cover of the book written by Father Roy Bourgeois. As the cover suggests, the book tells it like it is. Many times in his life Fr. Roy took courageous moral stands that brought penalties of arrest and jail and prison time. This stand, the active support of women’s ordination set him apart from his brother priests and from Canon Law. Many male priests have supported us privately, but Fr. Roy stood with us publicly , marching with us, preaching in support of us, and risking everything for what he saw as right. He said:
” As a Roman Catholic priest, I found meaning, joy and support in my ministry. One day, however, I did the unspeakable: I called for the ordination of women. This angered not only many of my fellow priests but also then Pope Benedict XVI. I received a letter from the Vatican stating that I was “causing grave scandal” in the church and that I must recant my public support for the ordination of women. For me, this was not possible. Believing that women and men are created of equal worth and dignity and that both are called by an all-loving God to serve as priests, my conscience would not allow me to recant. Therefore in 2012, after serving as a Catholic priest for forty years, I was expelled from the priesthood and my religious community of longtime friends (p. vi).”
He adds: “Polls show that the majority of Catholics in the United states support having women priests in their churches. They believe, as I do, that the problem is not with God, but with an all-male clerical culture that views women as lesser beings than men. It saddens me that the majority of Catholic priests I know and have worked with for forty years see women as a threat to their power.
Being expelled from the priesthood for trying to reform the Catholic Church was very painful. I had never before experienced such rejection. But I have no regrets about what I did. This experience gave me a glimpse of what millions of people go through every day on a much deeper level because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation…(p.ix)”
The following is part of his letter to the Vatican after being warned to recant in 2008,
” Where there is injustice, silence is the voice of consent. Therefore I call upon all Catholics, fellow priests, bishops, Pope Benedict, and all Church leaders at the Vatican to speak out clearly and boldly about this grave injustice being done to women in our Church.”
I urge you to get Roy’s book and to read it thoughtfully. Indeed he is right- silence is the voice of consent. Whether it is support for the priesthood of women, or the realization that all lives will matter only when Black lives matter, or other issues of justice, it is necessary to speak and act for justice. As Fr. Roy concludes:
“I don’t know what can be more important than working for equality in society and in our faith communities. In this struggle, we can all do something” (p.102).
Thank you, Bishop Patricia Fresen, and Fr. Roy Bourgeois for showing us what it means to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. Thank you for your courage all Roman Catholic Women Priests, Thank you, Jesus, for giving it all away for us, thank you for teaching us what love in action looks like.
All honor and love to all prophets who gave it all away for justice,
Bless you as you find your voice and act in small and large things,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee,
Good Shepherd Ministries of Fort Myers, Florida