I was harassed by someone on my own mailing list this week. After months of following me, I guess she just now realized that not only did I have a call to priesthood, but that I was going to be ordained. She blew a gasket, and felt she must—for my own good—try to stop me.
In the first email, she sent a link to a blog post of a canon lawyer who explains why the ordination of women is not valid. The next morning—before I had a chance to respond—she sent me another email with a link to an article about a woman excommunicated for receiving holy orders. This time she proceeded to lecture me on the particulars of excommunication (as if I didn't know), and then implored me to “cease and desist” with my sin of ordination.
Being a good Jesuit, I put the best interpretation on her messages. I explained to her that I understood that she felt genuine concern for me and I appreciated that. I went on to say, however, that we were in very different places on the issue. I encouraged her to educate herself, and to consider confronting her own internalized sexism. Then, I asked that she refrain from emailing me anymore about it.
Naturally, she ignored my request and sent another more forceful—almost nasty—email quoting the classic arguments (*yawn*) of John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. The Church has no authority to ordain women, she exclaimed! Didn't I know that as a woman I cannot act in persona Christi! She demanded that I stop my “fake ordination” before I jeopardize my soul and the souls of those I serve.
Dear God. Again, I responded only that she educate herself on the issue and nothing more. And, guess what? Yup, she emailed me AGAIN! This time a full-on snarky message daring me to refute her, and sarcastically telling me to check with Pope Francis to see if anything has changed on the position of women’s ordination since JPII’s pontificate.
I could go on and on about this email exchange, but instead I will spare you and say only two things. First, her behavior so clearly reveals the sinfulness of the Church. This woman, an otherwise intelligent human being, actually believes deep down in her heart that an all-powerful Creator simply cannot work through women's defective bodies and, therefore, women must be subjugated to a male authority. Not only is this heartbreaking to witness, it is a moral outrage that a Church with a mission of salvation for all people maims its disciples in this way.
And second? The thing that exasperates me most about this exchange is the same thing that sent me skyrocketing to the moon after reading Paul Baumann’s appalling article in Commonweal: people have the gall to speak to me or about me as if I am a child—as if I am anything other than a thinking, praying, discerning individual who is capable of making mature decisions rooted in a vibrant relationship with God. Somehow, simply by virtue of being female, I am to be dismissed as incapable. It is, in a word, *infuriating.*
The thing is, the woman who harassed me this week acted just like Joshua in today’s first reading. Deeply threatened by the prophetic work of the Spirit, her impulse was to try to stamp it out—to obliterate it. While it's easy to point the finger at her, every single one of us is guilty of behaving like this sometimes. After all, it is natural to want to cling to what we think we know. However, this just isn't the Christian way. Instead, our path as Christians is to be docile enough that we are continually changed by the wisdom of the Spirit.
May we all have the humility to be so transformed.
How God fortifies us along the Way
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I went to Mass for the first time in weeks. Lately on Sunday mornings I have been presiding over an online Liturgy of the Word, so I hadn’t been in a while. I love going to Mass at this particular Church. They take great care with the liturgy, and the homilies are always excellent. It’s also a positively beautiful space, every inch designed with prayerful intention. I feel fed here, and I am grateful every time I step foot in the building.
But today, I struggled. You may recall some months ago that in anticipation of holy orders I began acting as if I were already excommunicated. The Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement as a whole rejects excommunication because it sprouts from an unjust law of exclusion. I get this, and I support it. Yet, I don’t practice this personally. Instead, I publicly accept the punishment, partially out of respect for the institutional Church, and partially because I think it’s important that the Body of Christ witness how women pursuing priesthood are treated. When it is time for communion, rather than take it with everyone else or remain at my seat, I approach the altar with arms crossed to signify my exclusion. I want everyone in the place to see the symbolic image of the male authority rejecting the female priest following her call.
I have done this a few times now, and it’s hard. But today, I got choked up. Maybe it’s because my impending ordination is so close. Maybe it's because right at the moment I was about to approach the priest, the music rang out—something like, “In your goodness, we are offered a seat at the table.” With this claim to radical inclusivity resounding in my ears, I stepped up to the priest with my arms crossed in front of my chest, the only one in the place unable to receive communion. I walked back to my seat shaking, hot tears rolling down my cheeks.
Sitting in silence I let the emotion wash over me. I recalled Judy, a woman who shared recently that she has been called to priesthood her entire life. She is elderly now and it is almost certain that she will not get the chance to serve as a Roman Catholic priest. I grit my teeth with resolve: little girls will not have to endure this exclusion when they grow up.
A few minutes later, Mass concluded and the recessional song began. It just so happened to be the very song I chose for the recessional of my first Mass, which will be held five weeks from today. My face broke into a smile. That deep down kind of smile, when you know the Lord has done something just for you. God never fails to remind me that whatever challenges I face on this journey, God will be right there with me.
Even amongst the hardship, I have much to celebrate. For, as today’s psalmist proclaims with joy, the Lord indeed upholds my life.
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I cried a lot this week. For one thing, I had to make the decision between streaming my ordination for friends and family, and having a dear friend vest me during the ceremony. This person works for a Catholic school in a high profile job and if they are seen at my ordination, they could—and probably would—be fired. I talked it over with them and knew almost immediately what I would do. Still, I wanted to pray about it. After we ended our Zoom call, I silenced myself and asked the Lord for guidance. Within a few moments, God's answer bubbled up from deep in my chest: “I want them to vest you.” "Okay," I said. I sat with God a few more minutes, allowing God to console me. Then, I texted my friend to let them know my decision: both God and I simply cannot imagine having anyone else perform this ritual.
Another thing that troubled me this week is that I still don’t have music for my first Mass. Because I am outside the institution, no musicians that play for the Catholic Church will touch me. One of the music ministers in another denomination had agreed to work with me, but then she experienced a tragic loss in her family (please keep her in your prayers—she needs them). I then got another name through the Church where my first Mass will be held, and I reached out to her. It will be wonderful if she can help me (and I hope she can!), but I realized that I had to just let go of any attachments to things being a certain way. If I don’t have music for my first Mass, then I don’t have music: this is what excommunication looks like.
Also, I went back to working full-time this week. I was *very* blessed, privileged really, to take four weeks of leave from my place of employment to focus on ordination weekend. Formation. Sacramental preparation. Preaching. Liturgical design. Writing. Meetings with Clergy. Event planning. Promotions and marketing. Prayer. Reflection. Sleep...glorious sleep. For four weeks, I got a taste of what it is like to be a full-time priest—to have a man's experience, frankly—and it was difficult to give it up.
Of course, none of these things are earth-shattering by any means, especially in context of the immense hardship we witness in our world each day. Still, in order to prevent them from taking a toll, I have to be honest and acknowledge that they hurt me. This path is lonely and hard and often sad, and some days I have to hang my head and grieve all the ways I am punished, both large and small, simply because I am a woman.
At the same time, I am undeterred. God fortifies me for this road, and like Isaiah in today’s scripture, I willingly accept my punishment on behalf of women and girls everywhere. Someday, we will have justice, for that is what God has promised us. Therefore, no matter what anyone says or does to me, I stand tall with God at my side: "I have set my face like flint, and I shall not be put to shame.”
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This week I received my very first chasuble. If you are not familiar with the Roman Catholic ordination rite, right after I am ordained I am vested for the very first time as a priest. Two close friends in the Lord will lovingly dress me in my stole and chasuble, and then present me to the congregation. It is a most touching ritual, one I will experience only once and remember for the rest of my days.
When the package from the manufacturer arrived, I placed it on my bed and cautiously opened it. I have never owned something so beautiful. The royal fabric shimmered up at me. I removed the chasuble with care, shook it out, held it up, and stared at it. After a few moments, I gently pulled it over my head and turned to survey myself in the mirror. The woman staring back at me was a priest. I looked deep into her eyes....and smiled.
How many of us have felt stopped from becoming who we truly are? Maybe we have internalized family expectations. Maybe we have accepted bogus cultural prescriptions. Maybe we have been crushed by institutional prejudice. Still, something very deep within us fights to express itself, to rise to the surface, to be seen and accepted and celebrated.
I have waited so long for this moment and I feel alive. But, I also got a reality check. Not too long ago I bumped into a priest friend and, after some conversation about my ordination, he said with care, “I know you are excited, and you should be. It’s a joyous time. But, beware: you are painting a target on your head and, at some point, the weight of that stole around your neck will become very heavy.” I know that he was speaking from experience. I also know that what he was saying is true.
Still, this doesn't stop me. After all, nowhere in scripture or tradition are we promised that the road to holy self-expression is easy. It isn't. It requires prayer and patience and fidelity and sacrifice and courage. But, if we want to become who we are, we must first give ourselves the permission to become. Once we do, God's Holy Spirit will rise up within us, take our soul by the hand, and guide us to that person we are meant to be.