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.