My friends, each week as the Spirit and I prepare a message, I look to the Scriptures to see what is there for us to ponder. I continue to think it is important to reflect on the readings that the Church Universal uses in order to tie us, as it were, to the rest of believers. Sometimes, I think we wonder at what we find there, but we then have the opportunity to unite the themes and “mine,” so to speak, or dig into, what is given, either accepting the message, or trying to clarify that what we, “are to get” –is it this and not that, or what?
We sometimes see, in letters from Paul, which we know, weren’t all penned by him, and probably reflect more the cultural underpinnings of the times, such disparaging texts as with regard to women, “being silent, etc. and we question whether he wrote these as we know that Paul was often very complimentary of women that he ministered with and of how they assisted him.
So, looking at the readings today from Exodus, Romans, and John, along with Psalm 95, I have highlighted the following for us:
- A question that I would assume we all ask, especially in times of trouble comes from Exodus, the 1st reading today. We find our ancestors in the faith struggling in the desert and lamenting, “Is God in the midst of us or not?” As I write this, I think of a dear friend who is walking through a new diagnosis and perhaps pondering this very question.
- Paul, who in my mind, as I indicated above, doesn’t always get it right, does in fact have a pearl for us today in his letter to the Romans: “Hope in Jesus, the Christ will not leave us disappointed.” These words he wrote to the community in Rome as he assured them that as they struggled to “become all that God has intended,” they would not have to do it alone—God, [Jesus] would be with them.
He was asking this community and us to believe that Jesus’ Spirit lives and breathes and moves through us. This perhaps is another good question to ponder this Lent—do we believe this statement? I shared with my friend who is learning to live with the new diagnosis that as, a wise person once said, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.” If we can wrap our “hearts” around this truth, we might experience what Paul is talking about today.
- Then, we have from John’s gospel today, a wonderful invitation from Jesus to the woman that he meets at the well, and, by all “cultural” mores, should have ignored. “If only you recognized God’s gift and who it is who is asking you for a drink…” Jesus speaks of himself as “living water” in this reading, which confirms for the woman in question, as well as us, that we must always “go deeper,” “mining” the wealth that the weekly Scriptures hold.
- Psalm 95 seems to encourage this “deeper look” –“if today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” Sometimes we need a tangible reminder of this and for that reason, I have supplied us with stones to carry in our pockets this week. (:
We know from so many other places in the New Testament that Jesus expects us to go deeper, to see him in those we encounter each and every day. Our lives as his followers, are truly not about reading stories each week about, “a good and holy man,” with no carry-over into our own lives—“If you only recognized who it is who is asking you for a drink, for some food, for a bed, for respect, and so on…” Friends, it only matters that Jesus gave himself as gift so many, many years ago, if we can then see him today in the imploring of the needy in our midst. “Open your eyes and see, [he says], the fields are ready for the harvest!”
Again, studying and reading about Jesus in the Scriptures only makes sense if we carry over that message to the present and act. With regard to the prayer of Psalm 95 today that we “harden not our hearts,” the alternative is that we would respond from, “hearts of flesh.” This is perhaps the only thing that can once again make our Church Universal something that is truly vibrant in our world.
It is “hearts of flesh,” not of “stone” that recently passed House bill 28 in Minnesota which reinstated the right to vote to citizens on parole. It would have been a “heart of flesh,” not “stone” that would have moved our current bishop in the Winona/Rochester diocese to “even” respond to our board’s letter and subsequent request that he join us for a meal to discuss the reality of our All Are One Catholic parish on his very doorstep.
Our brother Jesus became, “one with us” to show us the best ways to live out the wonderful gift that each of our lives is. His hope, I am most sure, was that as we looked around our world, following his example, seeing any suffering—the homeless, the down-trodden, the abused, we should see the deeper presence, there, of him. Truly, that can only be done with a “heart of flesh.”
This month of March has been designated as one to remember women—all the women who have been important, meaningful, helpful and often, unsung in our lives. We all have these special women in our lives, who have made a difference for us, and March is a very good time to tell them so.
I would personally like to give a shout-out to the Rochester, Minnesota Franciscan Sisters and Cojourners for sponsoring an evening to hear the stories of two Catholic women who followed their God-given calls to ordination as priests, one in the Methodist church and the other within the Roman Catholic Women Priests—me. They also go on to say that the stories of the two women are “our” stories.
If we really believe that the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth, then we as Jesus’ followers must be open to how that same Spirit is working, in so many different people and places to bring about the kin-dom.
In conclusion, I would challenge each of us during this month of March, dedicated to remembering and celebrating our women and girls, to “mine”—dig into the whole issue of “sexism,” alive and well in our world. If you are a woman and don’t think there is a problem—this challenge is for you. If you are a man and don’t realize that by the very nature of the way you happened to have been born, you have a “step up” in society and Church, above every woman, then the challenge to you is two-fold!
I believe the truth of this uneven playing field was explained so well after the selection process for the Democratic Candidate for president in 2020 by Elizabeth Warren. She was asked if “sexism” played a role in this contest, and she basically said that a woman would be put down regardless of her take on this issue. If she stated that women were and are held to a higher standard than are men as they strive for these positions, (sexism), she would be called a “whiner.” If she went the other way and denied that “sexism” was afoot, then all her female supporters would say, “What planet are you living on?!”
Friends, sexism is alive and well when candidates are considered, less on their abilities to lead and more on their presumed, “fragileness” of character. You may recall at the Democratic Convention in 2016, celebrating Hillary Clinton as the 1st woman candidate of any major party where male reporters commented, not on the rightness of her candidacy and her lifetime qualities and remarkable talents to do the job, but ON WHAT SHE WAS WEARING!!! This type of thing would never have been mentioned if the candidate was a man. And unfortunately, these attitudes run deep, so that often times we aren’t even aware of them.
One of the most wonderful gifts that I ever received for ministry came from a Southern Baptist minister who was my supervisor during my residency in Clinical Pastoral Education to become a chaplain. I had been struggling with the fact that women should be allowed to become priests in our Church and this same supervisor said to me one day, “Kathy, you don’t need permission from anyone to do what God is calling you to do!” This was in 1994 and it took me a while to follow, but his words were the affirmation I needed to act when the time became right.
This example of women “trained” to “need permission” from men to follow God’s call is called, and is, sexism, and it is alive and well in churches when women’s gifts for ministerial roles are discounted and they are denied access because of how they happen to have been born.
Interesting isn’t it that the same types of “taboos” that Jesus dealt with in his time, still run amok today? This is the kind of thing that Jesus calls us, in our lives, as his followers, to address. When something in your heart and soul says, “This is wrong, we must speak out, whether for women, men, the poor, the sick–whomever!