I need to pray about how to engage with the Bishops. I vacillate between anger and rage at the fact that I am kept out of the priesthood simply because I am a woman. At the same time, I have steeled my resolve: we will get this teaching changed in my lifetime. And somehow I know in my bones that these two things are interconnected. Holy anger rooted in prayer will pave the pathway to justice. And so I am compelled at the deepest level of my being to channel all my fury into one target: the Bishops.
But Fr. Anne, you may protest, this does not sound like Christian love. I get how one could say this. But, at the same time, I think it depends on how you understand love. If you notice, love—real love—is not always compassionate. Take today’s gospel, for example. The Pharisees and scribes criticize Jesus’ disciples for violating practices of ritual purity, and Jesus responds by giving them a very public dressing-down about the ways they manipulate tradition for their own self-interest. Consistently, throughout the scriptures, Jesus has very little patience for those in power who abuse their authority—and the tradition—in service of their personal agenda. He speaks truth to power, and, well, it isn’t pretty. It is, in fact, what ultimately leads to his execution by the State.
So, what about the Bishops? After we prayed the Liturgy of the Word this morning via Zoom, I had a very interesting conversation with the congregation about this very question. Someone offered a poem as a touchpoint for my prayer:
They drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took them in!
-- Edwin Markham
The Bishops have drawn a circle so tight that they are now trapped. Yet, after almost five decades of trying to dialogue with the hierarchy, of providing the historical evidence, the theological thinking, the pastoral ministry—of attempting to draw a circle that includes them—we have gotten nowhere. As a result, it is more than understandable that some may feel that the onus is now on the Bishops to widen the circle. But what crystalized for me in this conversation is that I feel very differently. I am not waiting any longer for them: it is up to us to tear down the circle, if not for me and for you, then for all the young girls across the globe who are learning through our Church that they are somehow less than fully human. Then, like a bright light, someone said, “And once the circle is torn down, then all the men who are trapped inside become liberated, too.” This, my friends, is real love.
When I take a closer look at Jesus, I notice that he never critiques who a person is, only what a person does. This is perhaps the key to being a prophet. Even when angry, disappointed, or frustrated, Jesus always desires liberation for the very people he criticizes. Jesus never fails to love. May we follow this path of love as we work in earnest for that sweet, sweet liberation for you, for me... and for our Bishops, too.