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.