Walking with the LGBTQ+ community
A local church in Albuquerque learned about my ministry with the LGBTQ+ community through my participation in the Pride Parade. They invited me to reflect on the following questions so that they might share my responses in their Church newsletter. I was touched that they asked, and I found the reflection meaningful.
1. What's been the general tone of responses you get when you attend pride events and festivals?
I have been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest for a little over a year and have discovered that a critical piece of my ministry with the LGBTQ+ community is reconciliation. One thing that has continued to surprise me is the impact that a simple, authentic apology can have on someone who has been profoundly wounded by the institutional Church. I find it surprising because the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community has been and continues to be so vicious and cruel that it is hard to believe a simple apology from an individual priest would be meaningful. Yet, time and again, it is. I think this willingness to receive the apology at all speaks in general to the human desire to be seen, and speaks in a special way to the inspiring resilience and heart of the LGBTQ+ community. This community is truly graced as one of the most loving, understanding, and accepting communities I have had the pleasure to experience, and they extend this openness and generosity to all.
2. Do you think your presence and support makes more of an impact specifically because of your ties to religion?
Yes. When I put on the Roman collar, I am no longer an individual, but a symbol of the entire Roman Catholic Church. In fact, it is the apology paired with the collar that has the real impact. When I visited a university last fall to give a talk, I met a lovely young graduate student who was raised Catholic. When she came out to her family, they did not accept her. This not only deeply wounded her, but it understandably led her away from the faith. After some time together, I looked into her eyes, called her by name, and apologized for all that she had endured. I explained that the Church was wrong on this issue, that God loved her into being exactly as she is, that she is an expression of God. She quietly cried. I was humbled and moved, taken aback by how these simple words offered some healing. Before we parted ways, she said smiling that she intended to attend Mass when home for Christmas. This interaction captures something that the Church does not seem to understand: when it persecutes people for whatever reason, it not only turns those people away from the Church, it can–and often does–turn them away from God. This is the true tragedy, for God’s greatest desire is to have intimate, dynamic, love relationships with each of us. I do all I can as a Roman Catholic priest to help restore this most central relationship.
3. Were there any big learning curves when you started your outreach to the queer community?
While some people desire the apology of the Church, others may want to have space to express their anger. Because in the Roman collar I represent the Church, people sometimes need to use me as a target for the pent-up frustration they feel towards the institution. In other words, it may be freeing, even healing, for someone who has been deeply hurt by the institutional Church to verbally attack or personally insult any particular priest. In these instances, I must submit to the experience and allow it to happen without retaliation, for I am no longer an individual but a stand in for the Church. As a priest it is imperative that in such moments I do not contribute to the emotional and spiritual harm the person has already endured. I enter into this work as a spiritual practice, asking God to help me grow in wisdom and charity.
4. Do you have any particular advice for someone who wants to start reaching out more?
The most important thing for any ministry is to pray–to lay ourselves bare before God over and over with the intent of listening to and receiving what God has to say. Pray in preparation for being with people, and once you experience being with them, bring that experience back to prayer. The point of any priestly ministry is to facilitate an encounter with the living God. It is not us but God who heals, who reconciles, who guides, who liberates. As priests we are simply helping to make people present to what God is always and already trying to give them. The only way we can be God’s partner in this work is through an uncompromising commitment to our own prayer life and to our relationship with God. It must come first, always.
5. Have your experiences and relationships with the queer community changed your experience and relationship with God?
One thing that the life of Jesus reveals to us is that we have an incarnational God—that is, it is God’s nature to incarnate, and so God expresses God’s self in all of material creation. The LGBTQ+ community is an ongoing expression of the living God. They continue to teach me about God’s resiliency, God’s creativity, God’s goodness, God’s joy. Of all the many gifts the community offers us, I would say its core gift is that it gives to all the world the experience of the unconditional acceptance of our loving God. Above all, though, the LGBTQ+ community reveals over and over the power of the paschal mystery: though they are crucified at the hands of injustice, they continue to rise and claim their rightful place at the altar of creation. This is the resurrection at work–the unstoppable power of God’s Spirit incarnating through the community to bring all of creation into alignment with God’s vision of justice and love. Through their participation in the life of God, they continue to bolster me in my own faith, for I see how profoundly God works through them and I am reminded one again of God’s ceaseless commitment to the good of the world.
a turn of the Spirit
I went to Mass this past Sunday. In fact, I went to Mass the week before for Christmas as well. Since my ordination in October 2021, I have avoided going to Mass in the institutional Church. You might think it is because I am excommunicated, but that is not the reason. It is important to understand that excommunication does not mean I cannot enter Catholic spaces. I can. What I cannot do is participate: I cannot receive sacraments, volunteer, hold a paid position. I am, as my friend Rev. Shanon likes to say, in time-out: banished to the corner so that I can think about what I have done, feel remorse, and recant. For a person who wants only to participate in the Roman Catholic Church, this is not a fun place to be.
Still, the excommunication is not what has prevented me from going to Mass. What kept me away was the conundrum I faced each time I considered attending. If I go in clerics, I become a distraction to those who have gathered to focus on God. If I attend in plain clothes, it is a betrayal of self at the deepest level of my being. *Sigh.* What’s a girl to do? I prayed and prayed for weeks before ordination, and every day since. Each time I brought it to prayer, it was the third way that emerged: stay home. And so, I did.
Until recently. The last few weeks a new movement is surfacing in my prayer: return to Mass. Why now, I wonder? Perhaps it is because I deeply miss gong to Mass. I was a daily communicant for many years before getting on the path to ordination. Yup, I went to Mass every. single. day. The Eucharist sustained me in all aspects of my being. My relationship with the Eucharist is so deep that even in its absence it remains at the center of my life. I want to be near it, even if I am denied communion.
Or maybe it’s because I miss being part of a parish. The love and the prayer. The characters and craziness. The formation and the service. The pure fire for God. A parish is a place electric with the joy and challenge of walking with people who come from different backgrounds, political affiliations, positions on doctrine, yet are all deeply Catholic–tied together by a vibrant faith in God that beats at the heart of community life. I miss this. Though I am denied participation in a parish, I can at least witness it in some way, be near it, be reminded that it is an ongoing reality.
The truth is I do not like being outside the institutional Church. You might think it's because my gifts are largely wasted since I have little opportunity to minister as a priest. Or because I have to spend rivers of time on things male priests do not as I work for reform. Or because I struggle with a lack of resources, like adequate health and dental care. Yes, these things get me down sometimes, but they are to be expected along such a path.
What has troubled me over the months is that I find myself too often in spaces that are anti-establishment. Where loving critique is traded for bitterness, even hatred. Where ritual and theology have drifted so far from the current teaching, they are no longer Roman Catholic. I truly understand such responses to the monstrosities that the Church has committed, and I acknowledge they have an important prophetic function that the Church must receive. But for a person who wants only to participate in the Roman Catholic Church, even with all its failures, this is not a fun place to be. It can cause me to feel depressed at times.
This does not mean I am not overflowing with gratitude. What I am denied in belonging, I am gifted in freedom. Like presiding over the Catholic rite of marriage of two lesbians, or officiating the wedding ceremony of two atheists—two experiences that are simply not possible within the institutional Church. And though I am starving for opportunity, I do get to do some priestly ministry. Ministry like anointing a friend, saying Mass, hearing a confession or two, presiding over adoration. I am acutely aware that this has not been possible for generations of women before me, and for many who walk alongside me right now, women who eagerly wait for the Church to right this terrible wrong. I do get to live out my call, however limited, and I do so with every single one of these women—past and present—in my heart.
A year into full-time ministry, though, I realize that these gifts are not enough to sustain me. I need the presence of the institutional Church in my life: it is who I am. And God has prepared me to re-engage. Last year, I entered multiple Roman Catholic institutions to argue for women’s ordination. I braved a room of Jesuit priests to attend the wake of a friend. I went to Mass once at a local parish in Albuquerque just to see how it felt. These experiences have formed me to better handle the stress that comes with simply attending Mass: with not knowing how I will be treated when I enter the building; with receiving the confusion or discomfort of the priest who offers a blessing instead of communion; with enduring the long walk back to my pew as everyone straight up stares at me. This kind of thing is hard on me. But what these last two weeks have revealed is that while the experience does not get easier exactly, it does become more familiar, and that familiarity better equips me to navigate institutional spaces.
And this is good news. Because when it comes to the work of opening people’s hearts and minds to the truth that women are called to priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, one of the most compelling images that Catholics can see is the female Roman Catholic priest standing before the male priest being denied communion over and over again. This is what the movement in my prayer is really about. While I may receive some sort of nourishment by going to Mass, the call to return is at its heart the desire of the Holy Spirit to teach.
So, with great love and respect, I comply.
Father Anne Calls Pope Francis to Have Audience With Women Called to Priesthood Following Release of BBC Documentary
ALBUQUERQUE, NM, UNITED STATES, December 1, 2022 /EINPresswire.com/ -- Father Anne, a noted advocate for women’s ordination, calls Pope Francis to meet with women called to priesthood, following the release of the BBC documentary The Women Fighting to be Priests on December 3. While Pope Francis recently reiterated the doctrine of a male-only priesthood in an interview with America Magazine, Father Anne observes that he has not yet held an audience with women called to priesthood. “If Pope Francis is to honor the integrity of the Synod on Synodality that he himself has launched, then he must set the example and be willing to hear and pray with the stories of women called to be priests,” says Father Anne. “This is what it means to be a listening Church that allows the Holy Spirit to teach.”
When asked why women’s ordination matters, Father Anne explains, “The Roman Catholic Church is one of the most powerful institutions in the world. It is the largest nongovernmental provider of education and healthcare, it is one of the largest landowners, and it has permanent status as an observer state in the United Nations. Whether you are Catholic or not, you are affected by the exclusion of women from priesthood. It is in the interest of the entire world that the Roman Catholic Church model equality with women.”
Father Anne challenges Church doctrine by boldly claiming the symbolic power of the traditional male priesthood. She wears the Roman collar, practices celibacy, uses the Roman Missal for her Masses, and has chosen the title Father. The sole difference between Father Anne and any male priest is that she has a female body. “I unmask the untruth that the male form alone is proper to ordination,” she says.
To raise awareness about this issue, Father Anne recently completed a short tour of colleges, including Villanova University, Loyola Marymount University, and College of Wooster. She hopes to tour extensively next year under #FatherAnneInTheVan.
Father Anne believes the pathway for transformation is present. “In addition to millions of lay people, there are thousands of vowed religious and ordained who believe that women should be ordained as priests, yet they remain silent,” explains Father Anne. “If they come forward with public statements during the synodal process, this would undeniably force the world’s bishops to confront with the troubling lack of integrity that underpins a male-only priesthood.”
KC Mancebo | Clamorhouse
I discovered Hank seven weeks ago at the City of Albuquerque shelter. Frankly, it was strange how it happened: I received an email from a sender I had never seen before--or since—promoting dogs for adoption in the area. Hank was not on the list, but I thought to myself, “Well, there’s no harm in just taking a look!” I jumped on the city website, sorted by age, and saw Hank. The instant my eyes landed on him I knew I would take him home. I could see in his eyes that he was both incredibly old and incredibly sick. Hank was one of those dogs that you could tell simply by looking at that he’d had an extremely hard life. I dropped everything and went to get him.
Hank was challenging to care for. He was drinking 3 or 4 gallons of water a day due to severe Cushing’s disease. Drinking such volumes of water meant, of course, that he had to urinate often--every 60 to 90 minutes it turned out. Every time I left the house, I came home to an accident, not because he wasn’t housebroken but because his bladder simply could not hold the massive amounts of liquid he ingested.
I tried everything I could think of to address the situation. I bought extra absorbent diapers. I doubled those diapers. I stuck heavy flow menstrual pads inside those diapers. I put down newspaper. Nothing worked to contain the vast pools of urine passing through Hank’s little body. After several weeks I even put in a doggie door, but Hank wouldn’t use it—it was simply too difficult with his stiff, arthritic body.
As heavy as the caretaking was during the day, I could manage it. I could let him out every hour when I was working from home. I could clean the floors and wash him down each time I returned from being away. And, if necessary, I could call on my neighbors to let him out several times if I had to be away for a few hours to do ministry. It was hard, but doable. Barely.
But, the nights, oh, the nights. They were pure misery—for both of us. He was up all night long. Every. Single. Hour. With guidance from my vet, I tried the combination of two medications to tranquilize him through the night. The maximum dose should have knocked him out cold, but it failed. His thirst was so powerful, it roused him every two hours, and once he was up drinking, he would naturally want to urinate. So, two or three times a night I had to get up to let him out. I am embarrassed to say that out of desperation I even tried once or twice to withhold his water, but he paced incessantly. I could not handle making him suffer any more than he already was, so I gave up on that idea straight away.
After several weeks, I was beyond desperate for sleep. I tried putting him outside to sleep in my little enclosed backyard in the 70-degree Albuquerque weather, but he did not like it. He was an outdoor dog before he was surrendered, and he wanted desperately to be inside. He also did not like being separated from us. He felt dejected and I felt guilty. I would sit with him until he fell asleep, but, after a couple of weeks, neither of us could go on. So, I kept him inside at night and we did the best we could.
As heavy as the caretaking was, Hank and I grew extremely close extremely fast. He was a sweetheart, through and through. The struggles he had faced in his life had not changed his nature one bit. All he wanted to do was feel connected. He followed me around everywhere when he was awake. He snuggled with me every chance he could get. He cherished going on our walks together. We fell hard for each other, and he adored being at Old Dog Heaven.
At the same time, things were declining. I was deteriorating from lack of sleep combined with a demanding work schedule. And eventually Hank just laid next to his water bowl for hours at a time. He would nap there, and when he awoke, he would simply put his mouth into the bowl—trusting that I had filled it—and drink. At the end, he would not even stand up to drink.
It was time.
The night before I brought Hank in, I was beside myself. Why hadn’t the family who surrendered him taken responsibility and accompanied him to his death? On the form they checked that they had him “over five years.” Was it because New Mexico is so poor, and they could not afford it? Was it that they did not realize how sick he was and thought the city would give him the treatment he needed to get well? Was it because they just could not bring themselves to do it?
I paced. I knew in my heart that Hank was not quite ready to go, but I simply could not go on. It was awful to confront my own limitations. I was racked with guilt. On top of it, Hank was going to be the fifth dog I had to euthanize in the last 2 years as part of the Old Dog Heaven ministry. From a place of pure anguish that night, I prayed—or, better yet, summoned—Border, Bug, Leo, and Jilly. I said to them, “You must come to meet Hank when he crosses over to God. I need you to welcome him.” I felt them receive my prayer. Then, returning to my preoccupation with Hank, I promptly forgot about my petition.
The morning of the appointment, I cooked Hank a big breakfast of greasy hamburger and white rice. Yum! We followed it up with a two-hour snuggle-fest where I held him tightly in my arms, his head resting on my chest as he snoozed. Then, I took him to our favorite park one final time, so he could breathe the fresh air, feel the rain on his face, and enjoy the grass. I did everything I could to give him the best morning possible.
Tears streamed down my face as we walked into the vet’s office. I brought his own bed for him. We took our time making Hank comfortable. Even as time crawled, the horrifying moment finally arrived. As the vet injected the medication, I closed my eyes and pressed my face to Hank’s face, crying as I apologized over and over. Then, as Hank died, I had a vision. Suddenly, I was in Hank’s body looking out through Hank’s eyes along with Hank. I was in a meadow with lush green grass with oak and maple trees swaying in the cool breeze. It looked like a perfect Massachusetts day. “Where am I?” I felt Hank think. I looked up. Over the hill I saw four dogs rushing enthusiastically toward me. I recognized them immediately: it was Border, Bug, Leo, and Jilly. I stood still, curious and captivated. Finally, they greeted me happily and invited me to run with them. As the four dogs took off, I bounded after them with joy. As Hank began to follow them, his body pulled away from me and I was left standing in the spot where Hank first arrived. I was now myself looking out on the scene. I watched as the five of them ran off happily together through the meadow. Hank looked back smiling and said, “I will see you when you get here! Thank you for connecting us! I love you!!” I waved frantically as I watched them disappear over the hillside.
So… was this real or just my imagination? One thing I can say for sure was that I definitely did not conjure this vision. Instead, I watched enthralled as it unfolded before me. Still, maybe it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Maybe it was my childlike heart trying to assure me that everything would be okay. Maybe it really happened.
After Hank’s death, I washed his body down, like I do all my dogs. I then anointed him tenderly with a blend of beeswax balm and essential oils. As the aromatic scent filled the room, I prayed in thanksgiving for the life of this creature who I loved so dearly.
I will always remember my Hank. I look forward to the day that I, too, will be greeted with joy by all the ones who came before.
Marching with pride
On Saturday June 11 I had the opportunity to march in the Albuquerque Pride Parade. I was lucky enough--thanks to the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran (where I hold my Masses)—to jump onboard with the St. Timothy’s Lutheran, a welcoming and inclusive community. We gathered on Friday night to share pizza and decorate the float, only to turn right around early the next morning to get in line and wait.
I knew it was going to be hot. Blazing. Triple digits. On tarmac. In clerics. But I did not let that deter me: this was too important to miss. I put much prayer into my sign. I wanted to harness the symbolic power of my priesthood in hopes of bringing even a touch of healing to this community that has been--and continues to be--much maligned by the Church. The front of the sign said, “I apologize on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.” The back proclaimed, “God rejoices in you.”
After hours of hydrating and socializing with the fabulous St. Tim’s community, the parade finally began to move. Suddenly, I was nervous. I realized I didn’t know how people were going to react. Truthfully, I never know how people are going to react to me—a female priest ordained in violation of Church doctrine. This uncertainty is something I am growing used to expecting. But the feeling I was experiencing at this moment was different: I was—as a priest—intentionally owning the wrongdoing of the Catholic Church’s treatment of the LGBTQ community. I was taking responsibility for the institution and the pain it has caused so many individuals, families, children. I was a little scared. I took a deep breath: whatever happened, I would welcome it, for this was a critical ministry.
People of all ages, backgrounds, genders lined the street. The spirit was pure joy: people were delighting in one another, in the parade, in the sunny summer day. As eyes fell upon my sign, I received all kinds of reactions. Many offered lively cheers. Some positively guffawed, while others were tickled with laughter. A few had genuine tears in their eyes. Many, especially girls and women, took photos. One teenage girl sprang from the crowd to give me a bear hug. I whispered in her ear, “It’s not true. It’s not true. God loves you.” An adorable young lesbian couple yelled out, “We want to get married!” I shouted, “Call me!” A few exclaimed, “About time!” In those moments when I knew had the crowd, I would lock eyes with them and turn the sign over to point to the second message, “God rejoices in you.” They shouted in return, “Yes!”, or touched their hearts and smiled, or exclaimed, “God rejoices in everybody! Everybody!”
Every response moved me. But the response that touched me most deeply—the response that was most common from the start of the parade to its conclusion—was the heartfelt “Thank you!” It was shouted over and over and over again by people of all genders. This community that has been so intensely marginalized and hurt was abundantly gracious, generous, resilient.
My experience at the Pride Parade reminded me of what I already knew deep in my bones: most people simply want to be accepted and cherished exactly as they are. When they are hurt, they just want that hurt to be acknowledged, and they want a commitment that things will change for the better—for their children, for their communities, for their people. It is quite simple: admit you are wrong, apologize, and learn.
Now I am just one priest who made one *tiny* gesture of apology. Imagine—imagine!—the torrent of grace that would descend upon the earth if the Roman Catholic Church truly took responsibility for the hurt it has caused the LGBTQ community. The entire world would be uplifted by this reconciliation, and I venture to say it would give all anti-LGBTQ movements, governments, and organizations pause—perhaps enough for them to re-evaluate their current understanding of human sexuality.
After all that New Mexico sun I ended up with a ferocious migraine that knocked me out for the next 16 hours. I decided to enter into the experience as penance. In comparison to the insults, harassment, violence, and even death that the LGBTQ community has endured at the hands of Christianity, the very least I could do was suffer a little migraine. And so I did, giving it up to God as prayer for a world where all God’s people are celebrated as the sacred expressions of God’s Spirit that they are.
The Gift of Apology
I think about Church reform so often that I need to be reminded of the significance of my healing ministry. I admit that during my formation I foolishly did not realize how important—and prevalent—this work would be in my work as a priest. I was far more focused on preparing to say Mass, providing sacraments, working for justice—basically, the ministerial work I had observed over the years in my male counterparts (well, except for the concentration on ordination justice!). But after a mere 7 months of priesthood, I am starting to realize just how much people need healing from—and amends for—the hurt they have experienced at the hands of the institutional Church. I need the grace to keep this insight at the forefront of my heart and mind when I am in my priestly role.
Recently a woman came to Contemplative Mass for the first time. I cannot remember how she found out about me—perhaps it was through the New Yorker article that was published last June. After Mass, she followed me into the sacristy to help me clean up a bit. While I was putting things away, she shared that she was sexually abused by a priest. She told me about the callous response she received from the priest when she demanded an apology, and about the similar treatment from his religious order. In short, they refused to apologize. You may think that by now I have become anaesthetized to such stories, but this is not the case: each and every time I am still aghast. Aghast! In fact, I hope I always remain scandalized when I hear such things. I never want to be so desensitized that I can no longer feel another person’s pain.
After she finished telling me about her experience, she said, “Now that you are an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church, would you like to apologize to me?” Earlier at Mass, I homilized about what are termed the Indian boarding schools, the atrocities that occurred there, and the role of the Church in these crimes. I implored the bishops and those of us that remain that we are the ones now called to make amends for the evils that others have done, and that this is difficult and arduous and humbling this is, it is also a gift straight from the heart of God.
I couldn’t fully tell if she was being sincere or teasing. Either way, within the question was earnest desire and I took it quite seriously. There in the tiny sacristy, under the yellow light, I knelt on the hard linoleum floor, I took her hands into my hands, and I gazed into her eyes. After a long moment of becoming present to her, I started to cry. From the deepest part of myself, I apologized. I told her that on behalf of the entire Church I was so deeply sorry for all that she had and continues to experience, that it never should have happened, that I pray that she would finally be totally free from the harm the Church has done to her body and spirit. Tears silently spilled down her cheeks. I squeezed her hands.
The institutional Church may excommunicate me and claim my sacramental work is invalid—that I am invalid—but saying something as if it is true does not actually make it true. The Body of Christ relates to me as a Roman Catholic priest, and God works powerfully through my commitment to serve. Doctrine and punishment cannot prevent the power of the Holy Spirit from touching us--she will always wind her way around any blockade to do the work of God.
It is up to us to cooperate.
Journey of a lifetime
Last week I scored an invite to a “Clergywomen’s Breakfast” sponsored by the New Mexico Council of Churches. There is a pastor here in ABQ who looks out for me, constantly connecting me with the goings-on around town. Because I am excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church, I find it difficult to learn about what is happening in the Church world, Roman Catholic and beyond. She always thinks of me, and I am especially grateful for her.
I was honored and excited to go the breakfast. Often I feel alone. Since I am presently focusing on Church reform, I do not have the bandwidth to start and build a faith community from scratch. I frequently catch myself pining for my former Jesuit parish communities--the intense connection of journeying together with a group people in love with God. I do not have that here, and like so many others in the Catholic Church, I do not know when or if I will have it again. I was looking forward to being in a room full of people who adore God so much they devote their lives to God’s work.
There were maybe 30 women present from various traditions: Presbyterian, Methodist, Mennonite, Disciples of Christ, Judaism, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, and probably several others. Of course, I was the only Roman Catholic priest present since clergy in my tradition are only male. We had a lovely casual breakfast, then circled up for sharing. The facilitator was fabulous, posing simple questions that provoked inner searching and generosity of heart. It was an impressive group of women.
At first I felt inspired. It was a pleasure to listen to them reflect. Then, as the hour continued on, my energy began to drain out of my body into a pool beneath my chair. Some of the women talked about looking forward to sabbaticals; others shared about the challenges they face as pastors trying to rekindle community life in the wake of COVID; still others talked about retirement after decades of service.
Depression descended into my heart-space. My body became so heavy I would have loved to slide down my chair onto the floor to sleep for a week. I didn’t recognize what was going on until I got in my car to drive home: every woman in that room was fully supported by her institution. The more I listened, the more I fell into a pit of despair.
Over the rest of the day, I pondered. Why couldn’t I forget my own situation and simply focus on celebrating and learning from these remarkable women, their work, their lives? Am I a weak sinner? Yup. Do I lack maturity? Probably. Am I a wounded child? For sure.
Then an insight crystalized in my prayer in a way it hadn’t previously. One of the greatest and most dangerous temptations I face on a daily basis in my work as a priest-reformer in the Roman Catholic Church is to compare myself to others. Women clergy in this or that tradition. Male clergy in my own. I must admit too many times I stare out the window and think about just how different my life would be if I were a man.
Inevitably, though, after I take these little psychic trips of exploration, I always return back home to myself--grateful for who I am and my unique path. In the end, there is only one person I want to be, and only one place I want to be in. Father Anne. On the journey of a lifetime for God.
Praying for a good death
I was recently on a podcast called You're On Mute with Aisha. Aisha is a friend of mine, a person who truly desires the best for all people. She is humble and fun and honest. We talked about many things, including the idea of a good death. As part of the podcast, we wrote letters to one another. Below is my letter to her.
I often visualize my own death. In my imagination, it is a good death. I am laying on my death bed, aware that I have reached the end. I am readying to make the final surrender, the biggest transition we must make in our lives—the letting go of our bodies so that we can pass into the next life.
I live my whole life to feel a certain way in this moment. Totally empty, having poured my whole self out for the world, having done everything I could to become the person God invited me to be. I feel satisfied for the gift that has been my life, I give thanks, and I let go.
Then I think about the moment I leave my body and enter the process of joining God. I finally encounter God in God’s total fullness, without any veil. Meeting God, I will say, “I did it, Lord, I did everything that you have asked of me.” And God will smile and say with tenderness, “Thank you.”
I live my whole life for those two moments. The inevitability of my death shapes my life: it shapes my path, my decisions, my heart and mind and soul. It helps me become the person I desire to be for myself, for others and for God. I want to die well, empty, yet totally full at the same time. Full of gratitude and love and joy.
What is a good death look like for you? Every day we witness people being robbed of a good death. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Men experiencing homelessness being shot in their sleep. Indigenous women and girls who are disappeared. Those dying in refugee camps. In the cruel and heartless wars in Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Yemen. Animals dying in laboratories, in factory farms, at the hands of poachers, as if they are objects that mean nothing.
God sees all. Every single creature deserves to die with dignity. May we all do our part to create the world that makes this possible.
Risking Hope in the Synod
We are in a new historical moment. In many countries the majority of Roman Catholics believe women should be ordained to the priesthood. This includes many priests, religious, deacons and bishops who privately believe that women should be ordained as priests, though they remain silent. We have a Jesuit Pope who is truly docile to the Holy Spirit. And many religious traditions and the secular world clearly demonstrate the larger awakening of God's people to gender equality.
Now take this steamy cauldron that has been brewing for many decades and create an opening for people to share their prayer with the bishops and Pope. This is exactly what Pope Francis has done in opening the Synod on Synodality, a worldwide listening process that invites the many, many, MANY people--lay, clergy, religious, and those outside the Church--to make their prayer heard on this issue. It is a crack in the armor that has long surrounded the issue of women’s ordination.
Yet, time and again I hear hopelessness about the synod: nothing significant has happened in the past with synods, so why should it happen now? On the one hand, I get this. When we are disappointed so many times, we learn not to hope: it costs too much. On the other hand, such deep pessimism and resignation do not come from the Holy Spirit, and--in fact--they block the ability for the Spirit to flow freely through us and into the world. Each one of us has a share of the Holy Spirit, and we need to allow the Spirit to communicate through us and out into the world. But if we are mired in pessimism and resignation, then Francis and the bishops cannot really see how the Spirit is moving.
You might say, “But what about those bishops who are blocking an honest synod process by closing down dialogue on this and other issues?” I would indeed acknowledge that, yes, some are up to shenanigans. But, I would also ask, "Do you really believe that the Spirit cannot overcome any of the tricks they are pulling?" The Holy Spirit is *far* more powerful than anything they can dish up. When we feel despair like this, it is because we locate our center in humanity rather than God. The Holy Spirit has been slowly cultivating gender equality in the Roman Catholic Church for a very long time and the Spirit is now poised to make the final push. She absolutely can enter through this crack, however small, and blow the issue wide open.
In order for this to happen, we have to believe in Her. Really believe. And believing means that we have to let go of our past hurts and disappointments and risk hope that the power of the resurrection is right now laboring persistently to bring Church teachings into gospel alignment. All we have to do is to remember the many times throughout history that our God of liberation has prevailed in spite of all of our mistakes, shenanigans, and fears. God does prevail because God loves us.
We are challenged to truly be an Easter people. Let us believe wholeheartedly in God's power to prevail.
Blessed by a Bishop
On Ash Wednesday I worshipped at the Episcopal Cathedral. Since I am not welcome in my own tradition, I took the opportunity to revisit the place of my ordination. I hadn’t been back since that day in October, and I was wondering how it would feel to return.
The space was every bit as beautiful as I remembered, and the service was superb. The full choir was vested and sang with reverence. The Dean wore a cope and gave a thought-provoking homily as she radiated with joy. The Bishop, with crozier in hand, presided.
As beautiful as it was, I felt profoundly sad through the service. It was so very similar to the Roman Catholic tradition—the vestments, the order of the service, the music. Yet, it was like being at a best friend’s house when more than anything I just wanted to be at home. I did my best to be present with the people, to give myself over to the prayer, to allow God to minister to me in my sorrow.
When it came time, I filed up to receive my ashes. I happened to end up on the Bishop’s side of the sanctuary. The Cathedral has a communion rail, so I silently took my place on my knees alongside the others. When the Bishop approached, I could tell he recognized me. I was wearing my clerics.
His eyes crinkled from the smile beneath his mask. His expression put me at ease. I hadn’t fully realized until then that I was a bit nervous. In the days leading up to my ordination I received significant media attention to the chagrin of the institutional Roman Catholic Church. I was concerned that the pressure this created had permanently damaged my relationship with the Cathedral community. His smile said otherwise. Walking back to my pew I wondered if we would meet before the night was over.
As the final hymn began, the choir—followed by the clergy—recessed prayerfully down the center aisle, only to travel back up the side aisles and ring the nave of the Church in song. Exquisite. Once the music concluded, a final prayer was offered and the choir, then the assembly, began to disperse.
I stood at the outer edge of my pew for a few final moments of prayer. Then, at the very instant I turned to leave, the Bishop walked up. In one elegant move, he took off his mitre, fell to his knees, bowed his head, and said, “Bless me, Father.”
My jaw fell open. I was stunned into a complete and total silence. I looked down at his head and saw his little red cap. Is this happening? After several moments, I somehow regained a bit of composure. I placed my hand gently on his head, I closed my eyes, and after a very long pause, I prayed a blessing over the Bishop.
And God smiled.