|Posted by jeffdoucette on November 13, 2016 at 12:25 AM|
There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church…well actually seven for men and six for women as ordination is not open to women. Let that sink in for a moment!
(I have quoted this often)
Oh it was an incredible moment for me…being part of the ordination of a women priest in the Roman Catholic Church. Her name is Pat and she is a retired school teacher who felt called to be a priest. So first let me say that there are some who do not like that I write about Women’s ordination feeling where I am no longer a priest I really do not have the right. Some feel I am being disrespectful or berating the church. But just the opposite. I am asking for dialogue. My argument for dialogue is that the Catholic Church has said it’s deepest desire is for union of all Christian churches to become one. But on her terms. So with that I ask “What do we do with women ministers from other denominations?” among other questions. And so it is with love that I have this dialogue with the church I grew up in and that formed me and shaped me and ordained me.
I will get to Pat’s ordination in a moment but let me set the stage for why this was so important to be present. You see as a former member of the Catholic male clergy for 14 years as a deacon and priest I always advocated for the inclusion and ordination of women priests. There is nothing in the bible that forbids women in the church. Lots have tried to explain that Jesus never chose women as his disciples as proof. But again this does not speak against women’s ordination but rather the patriarchal aspect of the time of Jesus. And we truly do not have the full story of Jesus yet the early Christian communities spoke of how women acted in these capacities as house churches. There would have been no language of ordination such as today. But the church has held on to Canon law #1024 which states that “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly”. Yet many denominations who at one time held the same position changed to embrace women as ordained ministers and have never looked back thanking God for their gifts to church congregations.
And so it was in this spirit that I eagerly asked if I could attend Pat’s ordination into the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement in Toronto last Sunday. I have attended two masses presided by Cathy and Roberta who are also women priests. I have also with a wide smile been able to be present when Bishop Marie Bouclin who is the first Canadian woman bishop has presided (including this ordination).
I want to say that all of these four women are wonderful, humble, loving justice seeking priests. They have no disrespect for the church, but rather a strong calling to be priests and have followed God’s calling. I might add they go through the same theological training as men for priesthood. Their desire is to be inclusive and to minister to all of God’s people. They believe they are part of the church’s apostolic succession as a result of what is called the “Event on the Danube”. Rome does not consider their ordinations to be valid but the women disagree in respectful dissent.
And so on this beautiful sunny November day I made my way along with our church music director who had agreed to play music for them. My heart was full and my spirit excited to be here. I had been asked by the women priests if I would participate and I gladly said yes. I stood at the back of the Roncesville United church where they hold their Eucharist on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month. I greeted people as they came in chatting with them. And then from the side in came Pat with a grin so wide it was hard to imagine how she could get in the door. She came over and gave me a big hug. I had sent her a note introducing myself to her as I would be the one placing the chausable over her head after the laying on of hands. As her family came in they said “You must be Jeff…Pat forwarded us your wonderful letter to her.”
It finally came time to begin and as I processed in with Roberta and Cathy and Linda…we were followed by Deacon Pat and Bishop Marie. And how wonderful to hear the choice of music was “Here I am Lord”. It was my choice as an opening song for my own priestly ordination in 1994. I thought why would Pat not hear God’s voice calling in the night as we sang the familiar refrain. Why would the church think God would only call men in the night?
And as we began to hear the Scripture read I began to smile once more. Pat had chosen the gospel reading of the Samaritan woman at the well. It was also my choice of gospel when I was ordained a priest in 1994. I love the invite to living water, to drink deeply with Jesus who would sit by the well with those on the margins and call them to be witnesses to this living water. And he was sitting with a woman!!!!! Bishop Marie was bang on with her homily as she lamented the words of Pope Francis saying that the question of women priests was closed. He quoted Pope John Paul II as closing the door on the subject. I smiled thinking…well when the doors of the Sistine chapel tried to close, the Holy Spirit stuck her foot in the door and managed to dance in and Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as pope. He has chosen the name Francis and has been doing his best to bring new life and a new spirit to the church. I find hope that recently he has agreed to proceed with a discussion about the possibility of women deacons. Maybe if that goes through…the church will see “What were we so worried about?” and realize that the women priest movement was like the early Christian communities moving forward in faith and embracing the Spirit as the disciples at Pentecost.
As we prepared to invoke God’s Spirit for the laying on of hands we sang the ancient song called the Litany of the Saints. I always love this piece because it invokes the story of the Christian Church. In invokes the stories of people of faith who were stepped up in faith in the midst of fear and persecution and followed God and their heart. The names of ancient men and women being sung and we in response singing pray for us. For me the Litany of the Saints is an invitation to dance in faith, the joining of faith stories ancient and present to invoke God’s Spirit once more this day. I smiled as I heard the ancient names but also modern names like John 23rd who called for the throwing open of the windows to allow the Spirit to blow in and renew the church. I heard the name of Oscar Romero who stood eye to eye with the church and government and stood in solidarity with the poor. And when I heard them name the story of Henri Nouwen in the Litany of the Saints I broke down in tears. Henri was not only a Dutch priest and theologian but he was a member of L’Arche Daybreak who spent his final days writing and providing daily care to people with developmental disabilities. Henri was a man of great love and great Spirit and his spiritual writings have touched my story and the stories of many others. And I was doing so well until this point…lol!
And then Bishop Marie invited us into the time of laying on of hands. This was not only extended to the clergy as happens when a male is ordained priest. No…Marie invited all of us to come forward to lay hands and ask God’s Spirit t come upon Pat. It took me back to my own ordination as priest. I had invited the local clergy from the United church and Anglican Church. The United church minister was Marion Davies, a women minister. And as I knelt before the bishop and priests came forward to lay hands…a set of hands came upon my head and Marion’s gentle voice said “God’s Spirit be with you Jeff”. I smiled and thought “Oh I am going to hear about this!” And I did! The Bishop mentioned it to me and I responded with a smile “Andre, I had my eyes closed in prayer!” Some of the priests teased asking if I was now a priest or an ordained United church minister. How the irony of my story these years later as a United Church minister. It was wonderful to lay hands on Pat and I whispered “God’s Spirit be with you Pat!”.
And then I was asked to vest the newly ordained priest with her chausable and stole. And it took me back to the feeling of this time when I was ordained and my close friends Jeannette and John got to do the same thing to me. And the vestments fit Pat so well and not from the sense of tailored…but fit her calling as a priest. God had clothed her in this new part of her journey of faith.
And when it came time for Communion to see her there with her sister priests and Bishop Marie…well it was like the early church in front of my eyes. A small gathering of people on the threshold of something new and holy and sacred and right. The Eucharistic prayer was inclusive and spirit filled and involved that meal so long ago between Jesus and his disciples. And this was not a defiant act…but women who were following their heart, their call and truly believing in this gathering. And so did we who gathered there and broke bread and shared the cup. We sang One Bread, One Body…Gentile or Jew…woman or man and we were the early disciples once more.
I know Rome for whatever their reasons struggle with opening the door to women as priests. I cannot understand it for I once walked those steps as a priest. I do not know if it is a fear of losing power, or when a private men’s club begins to let in women and there is a sense of a loss. I cannot understand it, my heart does not understand it and my brain does not understand it.
What I know from when I was a priest is that many churches had no priest. And priests often had many parishes. I myself ministered to four when I left and the constant running, fatigue of body and Spirit could be crushing. I only had love and an offer of living water like Jesus to the Samaritan Woman. But one could only do so much. I had often gathered with women ministers and saw how they brought life to their churches. I look back at our own United Church and how at one point we struggled with ordaining women. Now? We can’t imagine church in any other way. To deny women to be ordained is like trying to breathe with one lung. To deny women to be ordained is to deny God to be defined in any other way than male. To deny Pat to be ordained is like invoking God’s Spirit into our midst and then trying to tell it what to do. And good luck with that!!!!!!
And all I can say is that this day…the day Pat was ordained a priest…was good and sacred and holy and of God. And I thank Bishop Marie and Pat and Cathy and Roberta and Linda for allowing this man to crash the celebration and dance the dance of God’s love.
May Spirit guide us and walk with us and whisper…”Do not be afraid…I am with you!” and may we embrace this Spirit which gives courage to speak our hearts. And may Pat be blessed and a blessing as she begins her ministry.
Oh…and stay tuned because our United Church of Dunbarton-Fairport in Pickering has agreed to provide space for the creation of a new woman priest led community. And let the church say AMEN!