Sunday, July 28, 2013

Prophetic change from within

For some people, the fact that the Catholic Church moves at glacier pace -- when it comes to change -- is a source of pride. In their minds, the rest of Christianity of late has been changing with the wind, following whatever is most trendy rather than what has held true since Jesus started it all two thousand years ago.

What they aren't realizing is that Jesus actually instituted very little in the way of structure for his followers. He was about change -- about transforming the stuck-in-a-rut, top heavy religious structures of his day. He was less concerned with the letter of the law and more concerned with showing people how to live their love of God by being open, non-judgmental, inclusive, inviting and welcoming. He was about unity, not division; about connecting rather than setting apart.

So more and more, when I hear people go on about structure and authority and rules and propriety in the context of Church life, and especially "us" vs. "them," I'm afraid I get the heebie-jeebies. Yes, there needs to be enough structure that we actually get around to gathering the people, telling the stories, singing the songs, and breaking the bread together at least once a week, but does it really need to be more complicated than that? And why not think of all those who believe in God as "we"?

I am finding, these days, that when I attend Mass in my local parish, it is hard to say all the theological gobbledygook that I am expected to recite at different times. It is difficult to watch as a male priest stands at the altar all alone, the rest of the community held back from approaching the table by the invisible wall of rules about Eucharist made by the old men at the top of a patriarchal pyramid. It is heartbreaking to know that women who feel called to the priesthood are excommunicated if they act on their call, and that divorced people, people of other denominations and faiths, and those of certain sexual orientations are also not able to share in the community's meal of thanksgiving because they aren't judged to be "one of us," (read: in the right "state of grace"). But what is worst of all is that the Catholic Church clings to all of this non-inclusiveness as if Jesus would insist upon it too.

Jesus. Remember him? The guy who relaxed with tax collectors and sinners. Who eschewed invisible walls of rules and instead offered living water to a less-than-perfect Samaritan woman at the village well. Who loved everyone, and discouraged judgmental attitudes. Who invited us all to come home with him and meet his Abba. I'm thinking he would have called God Imma, too, except that he might have been crucified too soon by the patriarchal people of his day.

Even with my struggles with the Church's glacial pace, two steps forward and three back, I can't sever my Catholic roots, but I also can't shake the feeling that if Jesus started a church today, its liturgies wouldn't look much like the ones to which I'm most accustomed. Jesus would probably gather people in small groups, maybe at a kitchen table. No one would bother wearing clerical clothing to set themselves apart because it's just not necessary. Scripture would be proclaimed, the world and the community's needs would be shared and prayed for, the Spirit would be invoked by the presider, God would be thanked without reference to one gender over another, and everyone would offer each other the blessed bread and wine.

Fortunately for me, I've found a community much like this. It's not perfect by any means, but I can easily imagine Jesus feeling at home enough to slide into a chair and pray along. The format is simple, the prayers follow the usual liturgical format (but without the pompous clutter of the most recent translation of the Roman Missal), the presider can be either an ordained female or male, and no one is turned away. And we are all Catholic (though if the Vatican knew about us, it would probably beg to differ on the point of our Catholicism because we disagree with that one rule about priests being only men and that other rule about participants in the meal having to be in a particular "state of grace.") Unfortunately, I don't get to join this community nearly as often as I would like.

The thing is, there are more and more inclusive Catholic communities -- like the one I have found --gathering all the time around Roman Catholic Women Priests (the group also includes men priests). Seven women were ordained or made deacons in the U. S. in June; more ordinations will take place in September. These women could have chosen to leave the Catholic Church and start new churches or to exercise their vocations in other Christian denominations, but they are Catholic, and they believe that it is time for the Catholic Church to change. So they're being prophetic, and giving the institutional Church a little nudge by being ordained and by celebrating inclusive liturgies wherever people ask (the first women were ordained in 2002 by male bishops in good standing with Rome, so the women haven't disowned the Church as much as the Church has disowned them by excommunication). And more and more, faithful and educated Catholics ARE asking. Whether the institutional church likes it or not, change is coming, and it is coming through committed and prophetic people who are not leaving the church, but who are creating a new model from just within its margins (though Rome refuses to acknowledge most of those particular margins).

There's an interesting documentary floating around these days, called Pink Smoke Over the Vatican. It tells the story of the Roman Catholic Women Priests, and makes a clear case for the ordination of women and inclusive Catholic communities. It makes it obvious that they are not radical feminists with an anti-male agenda, but ordinary women who are quietly living their vocations as women did in early Christianity. According to a fair bit of archaeological and historical research, the early Christian Church was far more inclusive in its first 200 years than the present Catholic Church is now. It seems at times that its glacier pace has actually moved it backward, but to me it feels like the fire of the Holy Spirit is starting to move it forward once again. If you ever have the opportunity to view Pink Smoke, I'd recommend it.

For now, I dream of the day when there are so many inclusive Catholic communities everywhere that all the Pope can do is open his arms and say, "I am sorry it took so long to recognize the gifts of women's vocations to the priesthood, and the validity of inclusive communities. We are all one." In the meantime, I will continue to worship at my parish church sometimes, and at Emmaus Inclusive Catholic Community whenever I can. I love Mass there, and I want to support and encourage a new springtime for women and men in the Catholic Church -- without actually leaving it. I much prefer change from within.

If you would like more information, or to join our inclusive Catholic community for Eucharist in the Edmonton area, check out the community's website by clicking here.

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