Homily – Mary of Magdala Celebration

Dear Friends,

The Church calendar for this Sunday uses the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  All Are One Roman Catholic church chose this Sunday to celebrate the Apostle to the Apostles, Mary of Magdala whose feast generally falls on July 22nd.  We usually combine this day with a mass on the farm and an outdoor picnic and this was the Sunday that worked for everyone, so today then, we not only remembered Mary of Magdala, but all women and uplifted their status as gifted, qualified and equal in God’s sight to their brothers. 

We were happy to celebrate in a gathering of 42 great folks, great cooks and we enjoyed wonderful conversation. A special public thank you goes out to Sr. Ann and Joan Redig and to their assistant, Mary Ludwigson for the great work in the kitchen, all the prep and service during meal time. It was much appreciated!

 In addition, we celebrated within this liturgy the baptisms of Liam and Sunny Darst and welcome them into our Church in this wonderful way! We will support them in their attempts to be their best selves following the example of our brother, Jesus.

My homily follows:

My friends, each year, this celebration calls every one of us to the truth about our God, namely that this God of ours is all-loving—therefore, all-inclusive; about Mary of Magdala, faith-filled follower of the Christ, Jesus, our brother and friend, who was priest and prophet, and to the uplifting of all women to their rightful place in our loving God’s kin-dom.

And the importance of us doing this each year is not so that women can enjoy the power held by men in our Church, or to replace them, as the men who don’t want women ordained accuse, but about recognizing that our God does call women to service, not as “mouthpieces for men,” but to serve alongside them, equally.  If it were just about the power, there would be no purpose in us gathering for such a day!

I just finished reading Melinda Gates’ wonderful book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World and I would highly recommend it to you!  Melinda makes all the world connections, stating as other women have before her, but she does it in a very clear and crisp way, that when women are treated as second-class, less-good, less equipped for service, for jobs, for whatever the issue may be, and when that is supported by the culture, there is no way that women can succeed and if they do, it is always with much second-guessing of themselves and of their “rightness” to be in a position that they innately feel called to.

Gates, herself a Catholic, born, raised and educated, takes issue and rightly so, with the hierarchy and their stance against the ordination of women and I quote, “It would be impossible to quantify the damage that has been done to the image of women in the minds of the faithful as they’ve attended religious services over the centuries and been taught that women are, “unqualified” to serve God on equal terms.”

She continues, “…without question, the disrespect for women embodied in male-dominant religion is a factor in laws and customs that keep women down.  This should not be surprising because bias against women is perhaps humanity’s oldest prejudice, and not only are religions our oldest institutions, but they change more slowly and grudgingly than all others…” End quote.  And we should not be surprised that change within our Church is such a “slow” process when it is up to the same men benefitting by the system they have created, to change it! They will only come, kicking and screaming to this much needed change within our Church.  Very sad! Another reason for us not to wait for them!

Gates takes it a step further, “My own church’s ban on modern contraceptives is just a small effect of a larger issue: its ban on women priests. There is no chance that a church that included women priests—and bishops and cardinals and popes—would ever issue the current rule banning contraceptives.  Empathy would forbid it.”

The connection into the wider community of this disrespect for women and their rightful place in our churches and society was demonstrated well in a news item just a few days ago. It seems that in Nashville women have a tough time breaking into the music business, not because they have no talent, but because they aren’t men. The young woman spotlighted in the piece said that she was told by a promoter that if she was a man, he would take her record—that they already had ONE woman performer on their label! But friends, there is hope—it seems that there is an enlightened man there that is hosting shows now highlighting female performers to give them some visibility!

Through the words of President Jimmy Carter, in his equally great book of a few years back, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, Gates further makes the connection to abuse of women in the Church and the abuse of women in the society and world at large.  President Carter says, “This system [of discrimination] is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male, religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms.  Many men disagree but remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status.  This false premise provides a justification for sexual discrimination in almost every realm of secular and religious life.”  End quote. Or, we could basically say, if you hear it in church, it’s good in society as well!” And friends, on a personal note, I must say, it is the men who know that this is wrong and say nothing that I have the hardest time with!

We see how when one gender—and here, think, men, are in charge and they write the rules, lay down the dogmas, the face of God becomes male (Father, Son), those who serve at the altar are male, the unique voices, experiences and feminine ways of expressing who God is, are simply not there and a big piece of theology and liturgy goes missing.  Even Father Richard Rohr, Franciscan writer and teacher, known to many, whom I believe is doing some very good work, makes a disclaimer in one of his books that while he believes that God is not a man, he is more comfortable to use the regular words of Father and Son and the male pronouns for God. And to me Richard, that is simply not good enough! If you believe it, you gotta show it!

I think we all recognize that language is power and expression, and if there are no words in our theology of God that name God as Someone that women can recognize, then no wonder women turn from a God that can only be expressed in male terms! And I won’t even go into the issue of my pet peeve in society, the term, “you guys” that, in my mind is disrespectful of the wonderful creatures sitting before many speakers—women—addressed by this term and assumed by the speaker that they feel included. If we are worthy of a place in this society, we are worthy of a name too! We need to be more creative and inclusive!

Let’s look to our Scriptures today for a sense of how women are succinctly left out when churches are run by men alone.  In the very first line of the letter to the Romans, Paul states, “our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the Church.”  Now if Paul says she was a “deacon,” she was a deacon! Why does Pope Francis need more proof than that?!  The precedent has been set, but when one doesn’t want to see, they become “blind” to the truth.

We might also question why Paul needs to go to the lengths he does in introducing Phoebe and basically defending her “worthiness” for this position, except, that in this culture, women had no status.  It would seem that our Church fathers today would wish to continue this discriminatory practice.

In the Litany of Women for the Church, from Sister Joan Chittister; we are asked to remember all the holy women in the past and those in the present who have served and are serving, in the footsteps of our brother Jesus as missionaries, evangelists, prophets and priests.  Such a list would not have been constructed by hierarchical men in our Church, nor are these women foremost in their minds as evidenced by their discriminatory practices.

It almost seems, and Melinda Gates alludes to this, that men in power are reluctant to uplift the good that women do because they are threatened by having them appear superior.

We can look to our gospel today to see the truth of this.  We used John’s account of the resurrection story for the way it depicts women’s unique way of ministering to another—of the ways Mary was truly priest, prophet and evangelist.   You will recall that when this account is used on Easter morning, the official text uses only the first nine verses of Chapter 20 where here today, I read basically the next nine verses following what we hear in the official liturgical reading.  In the official reading, with the arrival of Peter and John to the tomb, the text says, “they saw and believed.” You will recall that Mary had already been to the tomb earlier and saw that Jesus’ body was not there and said as much to the apostles.  Next we read that, “As yet they didn’t understand …that Jesus was to rise from the dead.”  Then, we hear that they returned home!  Now, why would you end the reading there when the next nine verses are so much about why we proclaim, “Alleluia” for six weeks after Easter?!

In these next nine verses, Mary does see Jesus because she was not in a hurry to leave, just as she had not been in a hurry to leave Calvary on that fateful Friday before. And we know that who she saw was not the same Jesus that she had known—she didn’t recognize him the Scripture tells us and we must go the next step and ask why that was! The Scripture continues, she only knew him when he said her name, “Mary,” as only Jesus would say it.  And we can be sure from these Scriptures that when Mary left the tomb the second time, her news for the apostles was “Alleluia” material! Why would we not want that whole and profound story ever Easter morning, except as some have suggested, to control the story—to not give too much “uplift” to a woman!

Melinda Gates ends her book by bringing her thought and ours to a whole new level and we might say, this is why it is important to celebrate this feast, and on a Sunday as we would officially, if it were one of the other male apostle’s feast day, falling on a Sunday.  Melinda says that “equality,” the main theme of this homily and her book, is not the summit.

Equality, she says, “is only a milestone.”  The summit is not “equality,” it is “connection!” And the purpose of “connecting” is that we would better understand each other—that other’s trials might become, “ours,” that their joys would become “ours,” and vice versa.  Through the Gates’ Foundation, Melinda and Bill’s work of philanthropy around the world has taught them to be good listeners of other’s stories and by trial and error, they have done just that and have come away with a greater understanding of what people truly need in a given situation. They many times started out trying to fix a particular issue, coming out of their own stories as to what was needed, only to find out that wasn’t what was needed because they hadn’t focused on the needs of those they were trying to help.

Celebration and the uplifting of Mary of Magdala is a day for all of us, women and men.  As the Gates realized, assisting women with education and helping them to get material needs for their families, assisting them in spacing their children, not only helped the women and their children to be healthier and happier, but made the lives of the men better too, as we all can imagine.

The same is true friends for our Church—participation by all, men and women is all about truly revealing the face of our God who loves each of us beyond measure and when this happens, we all become more whole, more inclusive because we have become open to all—we are richer—we become more human, more holy, more God-like and as Melinda says well—we begin to know what it truly is, to love. And I believe this is what our God intended for all of us!  Amen? Amen!