Friends, it would seem that in the reading today from Acts; we have one of the first tests of “law over love,” and actually, quite a narrow view of what Jesus had in mind for his fledgling community of followers. A close read of the Scriptures will show us that our brother, Jesus, always checked his responses against what was the most loving thing to do and ignored any law that was absent of love. No wonder he got into trouble!
Proceeding to the second reading from Revelation, we see a vision of a new heaven and a new earth that speaks distinctly to this broader “law”—love first! I had to marvel on the imagery of “wall” and “temple,” “sun” and “moon” and the expansiveness of these images—walls with doors, 12 of them and names on the doors!—a true sense of welcome!
Compare that to the wall that the U.S. president wants to construct—an edifice to keep people out. Perhaps if there was more of the “light of the Spirit,” which truly is the life of all of us in God’s creation, this proposed “wall” could become a “door” of welcome.
This past couple of weeks; there has been much written on the question of opening the diaconate to women within our official Catholic church. First there was Pope Francis’ conclusion, after listening to his commission looking at the issue for the past three years, that it can’t be done because the research is “indefinite,” when in all truth, there is more than ample proof that women served in this role, the same as men did, in the earlier days of the Church.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans mentions “Deacon Phoebe” as well as catacomb images of women serving as “table ministers.” In St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, a lineup of women ministers is depicted, some with the title of “presbytera,” meaning “priest,” and another with the title of “Episcopa,” meaning, “bishop.”
In a recent response to Francis’ conclusion that women cannot serve as deacons now, Jaimie Mason, National Catholic Reporter (NCR) columnist penned an article entitled, “Why Does Francis’ Passion for Justice and Unity Stop Short of Women?” I would like to share several of her key ideas here as I think she has said well the truth of our institutional church at present.
As she points out, this latest episode is yet another example of the Catholic church’s perpetuating and justifying notions of gender inequality that are the root of women’s suffering globally.” Wow, that is quite a mouthful!
Let’s be clear on what she is saying here. Because the Church hierarchy is treating women as non-equals to themselves and all other men, not worthy or acceptable for table or any other sort of priestly ministry; they do, in effect give the rest of the world (globally) permission, whether in Church of State, to do the same!
In reality, this looks like, no real positions of power or influence to change policy, no real consideration of their true needs, and we see that played out in all the current discussion around abortion, unequal pay for equal work and we could go on.
Jaimie Mason continues, “It is incomprehensible that Pope Francis and the hierarchy continue to blame God for [their] long history of sinful misogyny into the 21st Century. Francis’ boundless energy and dedication to peace and justice stands in stark contrast to the dithering way he is handling the question of women deacons in his own Church,” she says.
“His passionate cause for unity among churches and with people of other faiths, it seems, stops short of the women of his own church who are asking simply for more inclusive ways to serve.
Another writer for the NCR, Joshua McElwee, recently said, “Sadly, patriarchs still seem to dominate Francis’ religious imagination—it is interesting to note that in the same news conference on women deacons, the pope also reflected on the richness of his meeting with the Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch.”
Francis seems in every other instance where “women” are not the issue, to be open-minded. In a response to people who don’t agree with his stance on women deacons, Mason has given us his response, “If you don’t like it, you are welcome to leave the Church!” Think of this, reflecting on our brother Jesus, responding to the fact that all, (women, the poor, the sick) weren’t welcome at the temple. Jesus took the meal and the worship to the hillsides where everyone was welcome!
This apparently close-minded view of Francis, Mason says, comes from a papacy “not known” for “splitting theological hairs” except where women are concerned. In 2013, she continues, he acknowledged that many people see the Church as a “relic of the past” and a “prisoner of its own rigid formulas.” Additionally, in 2015 the pope told the bishops at the Synod on the Family, “the Church should not be a stuffy “museum of memories; but have the courage to change if that was what God wants.” Indeed Francis!
And last year, the final document of the Synod on Youth called the inclusion of women in the Church’s decision-making structures a “duty of justice” that requires a “courageous cultural conversion.”
Instead, Francis has communicated like so many popes before him that women’s legacy of leadership requires further questioning and their participation in ministry alongside men could be a dangerous step and therefore must be indefinitely stalled. Jaimie Mason says, [it is] “becoming clearer and clearer that the pope is afraid of women in his church having even the modicum of sacramental participation that the diaconate would give them.”
She concludes, “in his six years of papacy Francis has been celebrated for his constant calls for courage, encounter, dialogue and risk-taking. How long, Mason asks before he offers the same regarding women?”
I began this homily speaking about love versus law—this is a notion that we must all keep in mind when grappling with these tough issues—is love being served and if not, our action is not of God. Jesus in John’s gospel selection for today lets us know how we can be sure that we are making the best choice—we should have and know “peace” in our hearts. Granted, this will not be an easy peace, but beneath the possible ridicule that doing the loving thing might bring, peace will be there—that sense that we have done the right thing. Amen? Amen!