The Truth in Our History: Both Genders are called to serve

Jesus founded a movement led by both women and men

A woman is depicted at prayer in an ancient Christian mosaic seen in the Vatican's Pio Cristiano Museum. (Wikimedia Commons/Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)

A woman is depicted at prayer in an ancient Christian mosaic seen in the Vatican’s Pio Cristiano Museum. (Wikimedia Commons/Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)

Sometimes it is really difficult to be both female and Catholic.

On the one hand, I couldn’t be prouder of the creative leadership taken by the University of Notre Dame and Pope Francis in working with oil executives to address climate change. It is amazing that dozens of Catholic institutions, including Caritas Internationalis, have divested from fossil fuels.

On the other hand, I am dismayed by yet another statement from the Vatican — this time from Cardinal-designate Luis Ladaria — prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — about the non-ordination of women to the priesthood.

Explore this NCR special report with recent articles on the topic of immigration and family separation.

I have been tracking Vatican statements on women priests since the 1970s. They are invariably ahistorical and biblically naive. It is embarrassing. Worse, they bear false witness to the Jesus of history and are ultimately destructive to the body of Christ, especially the distaff side.

As a contribution to the ongoing conversation about women’s roles in our church, I present here a few examples from mainstream scholarship about Jesus and the female exercise of authority in early Christianity.

Consider this from Ladaria’s statement: “Christ willed to confer this sacrament on the 12 apostles — all men — who, in turn, communicated it to other men. The church always has seen itself as bound to this decision of the Lord, which excludes that the ministerial priesthood can be conferred validly on women.”

Biblical scholars have long known that Jesus did not intend to found a new church led by 12 men, but to reform his own Judaic tradition. As such, the Twelve were meant to represent the new 12 tribes of Israel. They were not called to offer animal sacrifice at the Jerusalem Temple, as priesthood was understood in Jesus’ day.

That Jesus included women in his itinerant Galilean discipleship is undisputed. Luke 8:1-3 tells us that Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna “and many other women” accompanied him around Galilee. With Mary and Elizabeth, women were present and active in Jesus’ life and ministry from womb to empty tomb. With Mary of Magdala, they were the first to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection-victory over the powers of death.

From the first century, we see a repeating pattern of women exercising ecclesial authority in the growth of early Christianity:

Paul’s letters are the earliest historical documents we have. From him, we learn more about the title “apostle.” Writing between A.D. 40 and 60, Paul uses the word “apostle” inclusively to describe his own mission to the gentiles as well as that of other missionaries. In Romans 16:7, he calls Andronicus and Junia (a married missionary couple) “prominent among the apostles.”

Twenty years later, after the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 80-85), Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles reflect a growing struggle over who may exercise authority in the early church. Luke names three requirements for replacing the apostle Judas:

“Therefore, it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).

Luke’s new criteria stipulate that apostles must be male, part of Jesus’ original discipleship, and eyewitnesses to the Resurrection. They guarantee that the individual title of apostle will die out as the original witnesses die.

Further, prominent leaders such as Paul, Mary of Magdala, James of Jerusalem, Junia and Andronicus no longer qualify as “apostles.” Ironically, third- and fourth-century churchmen will claim the authority of the apostles in imposing new church orders that exclude women from leadership.

Sadly, the practice continues to the present day.

Yet archaeologists and church historians point to gender balance in the exercise of authority in the early communities. For example, “ordination” as a “presbyter” (as priests were called at the time) did not take shape until long after Jesus’ death and resurrection. And there is compelling literary and inscriptional evidence that in the fourth and fifth centuries, women held presbyteral titles. These early presbyters were the precursors of today’s priests, and the evidence suggests that in some early communities both women and men functioned in these roles.

Ladaria’s contention that a male-only priesthood belongs to the “substance of the sacrament” and cannot be changed because Christ instituted the sacrament is another example of the ahistorical nature of current Vatican formulations.

The Christian understanding of sacrament did not become part of church teaching until the Middle Ages. It is the product of later reflection by exclusively male members of the body of Christ. This is not to say that sacraments are not a central part of Catholic teaching, as well as a beautiful way of describing the action of God in our lives. It is to say that this theological construct did not have the benefit of the Spirit-guided insights of the female members of Christ’s body.

It is perhaps for this reason that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, in an Easter interview with the Austrian publication Die Presse, called for a new council to discuss the matter :

One of the key questions is the role of women in the church. In this, religious organizations as a whole are in need of development. … The question of ordination is a question that surely can only be settled by a council. A pope cannot decide this by himself. This is too large a question for it to be settled from the desk of a pope.

If Pope Francis can convene an international meeting of leaders to counter global warming, surely he can convene an international gender-balanced council to address the sexism and misogyny that have plagued our church for millennia.

[St. Joseph Sr. Christine Schenk served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years. She holds master’s degrees in nursing and theology.]


Thomas Reese Says It Better Than I Could!

Irish vote shows need for new pro-life strategy

People from the “Yes” campaign react after the final result was announced in the Irish referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution at Dublin Castle, in Dublin, Ireland, on May 26, 2018. Ireland appeared to move away from its conservative Roman Catholic roots and embrace a more liberal view as voters repealed a constitutional ban on abortion. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

(RNS) — The overwhelming vote in Ireland in favor of allowing access to abortion shows that the pro-life movement needs a new strategy. Trying to preserve anti-abortion laws or trying to reverse the legalization of abortion is simply not working.

In almost every country where abortion has been on the ballot, abortion has won. Rarely have pro-choice laws been reversed. This trend is not going to change. To think otherwise is simply ignoring reality.

The American pro-life movement still holds out hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse Roe v. Wade, but even if that does happen, most Americans will still live in states where abortion is legal. Those who don’t will be able to travel to a state where it is, just as Irish women have long traveled to Britain.

The reality is that most Americans think that abortion should be legal even if they think it is immoral. There is no indication that this thinking will change. In fact, opinion is moving in the opposite direction, thanks to the attitudes of younger generations. The Pew Research Center shows Americans under 50 are more likely than their elders to support abortion in all or most cases. Likewise, in Ireland, younger people voted more strongly to change the law. Time is on the side of the pro-choice movement.

If making abortion illegal is an impossible goal, what should be the pro-life strategy for the foreseeable future?

The answer is simple and obvious: Work to reduce the number of abortions.

When women are asked why they are having an abortion, the main reasons given are that having a baby would interfere with their education, their work or their ability to care for the children they are already raising, or that they simply cannot afford another child at the time.

Pro-life activists must take these reasons into consideration when developing a new strategy.

Pro-life advocates should strongly support programs that give women a real choice — increasing the minimum wage, free or affordable day care for working and student moms, free or affordable health care for mothers and their children, parental leave programs, education and job-training programs, income and food supplements, etc.

In short, the pro-life movement must support any program that lessens the burden on mothers and their children.

No longer should Republicans be allowed to call themselves pro-life if they vote down programs that would help mothers and their children. In the early 1990s, Republicans in the New Jersey Legislature voted not to increase benefits for women on welfare if they have additional children. Thus, a mother with two children would have to take care of three with no increase in support. The consequences were quick and predictable: an increase in the number of abortions among women on welfare.

If abortion is never going to be illegal, pro-lifers must consider voting for candidates, even pro-choice Democrats, who will reduce the number of abortions by supporting programs that help mothers and their children. It is no accident that the number of abortions went down during the two most recent Democratic administrations, according to the CDC. (Clinton: 1,330,414 abortions in 1993 to 857,457 in 2000; Obama: 789,217 in 2009 to 652,639 in 2014).

Pro-life voters must choose between Republican rhetoric and Democratic results.

Churches must also step up. In today’s world, an unwed woman willing to give birth should be treated as a hero, not a whore. She is not the only unmarried woman in her age group who got pregnant, let alone the only person having sex. Yet, she is the one brave enough to choose life. Shame on the Pharisees who try to shame her.

Schools, too, must do more to help these women. Universities today talk much about diversity, but one of the most underrepresented groups on campuses is single mothers. Universities, especially Catholic universities, must design programs and housing to meet their needs. Such programs would benefit not only the mothers and their children but also other students. Perhaps they’d learn that “it takes a dorm to raise a child.”

Besides supporting programs to help mothers and children, the pro-life movement also has to support birth control as a means of avoiding unwanted pregnancies. Planned pregnancies do not get aborted; many unplanned pregnancies do.

Those who consider artificial contraception to be wrong must also recognize that abortion is a greater evil. When forced to choose, one must choose the lesser of two evils.

The contraceptive mandate of the Obama administration will do more to reduce the number of abortions than all of the legislative gimmicks of Republican legislators. If European Catholic institutions can pay money into national health programs that perform abortions, then American Catholic employers can pay for insurance programs that pay for birth control.

And while I would be happy to see Planned Parenthood put out of business, closing clinics that provide health care and birth control to women before replacements are up and running is irresponsible and counterproductive.

The goal of supporting mothers and children and decreasing the number of unplanned pregnancies should receive bipartisan support. While many people doubtless support these programs as ends in themselves, there is no reason the pro-life movement should not support them as means of reducing abortions.

The number of abortions in the United States peaked in 1990 at 1,429,247. Working together, we could reasonably get abortions down to under 100,000 per year — far too many, but an achievable goal and better than where we are today.

There WILL be bread

Step joyfully into Advent…thanks, Fran!

There Will Be Bread

isaiah 25v6Today’s readings are among the most beautiful to me. Just yesterday I thought of the Isaiah reading, and then boom – earlier today, as I sat in the dim lamp light aided by one flickering Advent candle, I opened Give Us This Day and there it was.

The imagery in Isaiah is so powerful:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.

God is not fooling around. The is for ALL peoples, a feast, not some little energy bar type snack that tastes like cardboard, one that is meant only for a certain few who have somehow “earned” it, and includes

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Better Angels

 peter yarrow

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Many ideas and emotions rippled through and washed over the crowd at Saturday night’s Peter Yarrow concert at the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College. In times of political unrest, folk singers find their clearest voice. While most of us expected to hear a good measure of razor-sharp political satire or booming invective, what Yarrow plaintively called out for was peace and respect among the people of our nation who are polarized by political, social and cultural challenges. Seventy nine years of wisdom have both sharpened and softened Yarrow’s perspective, while not changing the depth of emotion that he is able to share with and stir within an audience. He encouraged the audience to sing almost every song, join him on stage and take pictures and videos; he has grown beyond the ego and zealous guarding of intellectual property to which some performers still cling. He truly shared his whole self with the audience. Leaving, on a Jet Plane was a loving tribute to deceased Mary Travers; Right Field honored absent Noel Paul Stookey and Puff, The Magic Dragon exalted the innocence of childhood, the necessity of growing up and the delight in the renewal innocence in every new generation. Perhaps most moving was the Chanukkah song, Light One Candle, that unites all people of Abrahamic faith heritage to Yarrow’s Jewish roots. There are many lights in our world right now that we cannot afford to let go out if we are to remain decent humanitarians who work for the Common Good. He gave some time to the idea of relinquishing our pride and ferocity to the gentler nature of our Better Angels, those that we can become if we build bridges of respect and tolerance, rather than walls of contempt and fear.


I found myself becoming teary and emotional many times during the evening, particularly when he spoke of sitting with other folk singers by the bedside of dying Pete Seeger, singing him home with the songs that awakened the conscience of the world during their youth. Those songs are still valid and vital now, even if some of the issues have changed…and it is still a tear-filled privilege to sing the dying home to the eternal life that we know waits for them. These folk songs have been such a profound and formative part of my life: they raised my consciousness, gave me a voice, taught me peaceful ways to express raging emotions and, ultimately, brought me toward that intimate relationship with God in the community of God’s people that upholds my joyful, yet conflicted, life now. Sixty years later, we are still praying and singing the songs. The genre gave birth to a whole generation of liturgical music, as well, much of which is still relevant and loved today. It may not be around four hundred years from now (which is a good thing for some of junk we used to sing!), but it speaks of a moment, of the faith and dreams of a people, and of the personal experiences of communities of faith in a particular time and place.

Both before and after the concert, he sat tirelessly autographing his books-illustrated versions of songs like Puff, Big Blue Frog and Day is Done-and anything else people thrust at him. I mentally compared that with the convention I had attended earlier in the day, where television actors from shows of the same vintage as Yarrow’s music collected from twenty to one hundred dollars each for autographs; Peter signed and smiled and shook hands, seeming grateful to be appreciated, especially by the young children who came with parents and grandparents.

Like all of us, Peter Yarrow is a real and flawed person with regrettable actions in his past, but in his sincere and humble way, he calls all of us to rise above pettiness, sings songs both simple and deep, and uses his music to bring people together. If we let the words and music enter into our hearts and minds, we might truly give our lives over to the influence of our Better Angels.


Unbridled Passion


We all have fantasies…come on, admit it!raindrop liberty

Most people see me as a realistic, pragmatic, even-tempered, patient person who presents a face of contentment with my life and an abundance of compassion for others. A few close friends and colleagues, however, know the real, volatile, driven passionate person who dwells beneath by mundane exterior. The real “Me” is a dreamer, a romantic, a passionate lover who jumps in with both feet; I still live a somewhat enchanted life, filled with bubbling fantasies and whimsical notions that carry me through the quotidian existence-and have been my salvation throughout my life.

The same vibrant fantasy has filled my sleeping and waking dreams for almost fifty years. With Aaron Copland’s Hoedown ringing out like the music of the spheres, I vault effortlessly onto the back of my fearless Arabian mare, bareback and bridleless, and gallop off gracefully, like Alec Ramsay atop his legendary Black Stallion. My hair is still long and blond, trailing behind me like my horse’s whipping mane and flagging, crimson tail. Usually the horse is my little Raindrop, my first horse, gone too soon due to a tragic accident. We are soulmates, sisters under the skin, slaves to one another, yet equals, driving in that passionate embrace of horse and rider who become one.


When I look out into my yard and see the horses who share my life today, I sigh a bit. I still love them with a fiery passion, but our relationships are more gentle now. with Key and Cami, I have two older girlfriends who accompany me into seniorhood, gently, without a lot of fuss and bother; they’ve been there and done that and we’ve done a lot of it together. Their children, Juby and Shallah, “the kids”, still wonder at everything and seek human companionship with the exuberance that the older girls have left behind; they bump, nuzzle, follow and insist on attention. They are young and the world is theirs.  My other gelding,  Busted Halo, has been bounced around with other owners, but has come home; he is aloof, tentative, unwilling to give his heart…he does not trust as the others do. He will take time, I will have to make time, he deserves time…and love and affection. unlike the other younglings who have never left home, he’s been around and it may not have been so pleasant, but he will come around and be a leading player in a new fantasy…my steady, laid-back trail horse, my steady boy who draws oohs and aahs for his gleaming dappled grey coat and silver plume of a tail.                                              He’s the looker…he just doesn’t know it yet.    speedo windface

These real creatures are my living fantasy; they spark my dreams and warm my heart…they are where my passions streak unbridled and sing a song of freedom.




A Close Moment

What Life Experience Strips Away

We all fear loss…we fear the loss of loved ones, pets, material goods, jobs, security, living arrangements, situations, friendships…and our own personal gifts. Where does it end? Does it end?

From the first chapter of the Book of Genesis (First book of the Bible), the certainty of change is the only thing we can count on to be unchanging. In the last fifteen years, I have weathered many changes and emerged not unscathed, but still intact. I buried my parents and the three aunts who were part of my everyday life for 35+ years in a span of eight years; I have prayed through tearful goodbyes to beloved horses and pets; I have watched my marriage disintegrate and suffered the loss of my dear mother-in-law; I have suffered through constant financial insecurity due to the actions and lack of responsibility of others. Throughout it all, the support of friends, my parish community and unceasing (well, almost) prayer has carried me through and helped me move on.

Most recently, however, the loss of personal gifts and abilities has left me with feelings of longing and even anger. In December, I was fortunate to be able to undergo spinal disc surgery that alleviated a multitude of neurological symptoms that were slowing me down and causing me endless pain; the anterior entry-an incision at the throat-made the surgery safer and greatly reduced the chance of spinal cord damage. The downside (of which I was aware before surgery) is the trauma to the trachea, esophagus, vocal cords and recurrent laryngeal nerve. For about six weeks after surgery-as anyone who spoke with me will attest-my speaking voice was a cross between Mickey Mouse and Michigan J. Frog, so I determined to offer the world a public service and just shut up until I was sufficiently healed… Three months later, I am speaking normally most of the time, but still cannot project my voice very loudly or very far; for the first time in my life, I actually need a microphone to address a group. Well, it gets better every day and I can be patient-besides, it gives me an excuse to bang on the able to get attention.

seegerHow Can I Keep From Singing?

What is really eating at me is the inability to sing!  For forty years, singing has been at the center of my prayer life, one of my self-expressions of joy and an improver of physical and mental health. Even when playing the guitar gradually and almost completely slipped out of my life-as a gift my parish community no longer needed of me- I continued singing at every possible opportunity and especially in church. And I must admit that, even though it can be embarrassing to be singled out at the moment, I enjoyed people’s compliments on my voice and how it enriched their prayer experience. Now I ask myself how much battering my oversized ego can take before it crumbles completely-and is that a good thing or a bad thing? Humility is a good thing and I try to embrace a healthy serving of it every day, but feeling beaten and demoralized is not. I think back to the day before my surgery, as I sang my heart out at mass, knowing I wouldn’t be able to do it for a while,when I actually heard my own voice as if for the first time, thinking “is that really me?” and immediately wondering if that was a fluke and perhaps my swan song. What if my voice never came back?

For the last two months, I’ve been singing my heart out, silently, to be sure. There’s no point trying to sing aloud because not much issues forth except a little pathetic croaking, but my own silence is lost in the beauty of the whole assembly singing with one voice; I hear Everyone coming out of my mouth and my heart. There is no soloist, no orchestra, no choir that trumps the ONE VOICE of God’s people raising their hearts in prayer and song, yes, one voice…and isn’t that what we’ve all been working toward all these years?