Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ave Sophia

Holy Wisdom, gentle is your mercy
holding us in light unseen--
 the scent of purple woven
through this ineffable tapestry--
Ruah, wind of mortal and divine,
what imprint lies behind?

Trees dance with you,
seeming almost human; gingerly
 we place our palms to bark, listen
 for a heartbeat quickening--
the meeting of sap and blood
in mutual veins

You laugh in twilight clouds-become-roses,
the in between worlds where
the Fay play in peripheral vision,
and we hold our breath, still the spirit,
lapse into gilded reverie and 
almost remember...

It is painful. It is longing.
It is exquisite, bittersweet bliss. 
And then I open my eyes, and you are a 
dream whose bridal train
vanishes, a whisper at the end
of the aisle--

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Women and the Priesthood


The above link is a very nice article by a woman on why the priesthood is not ever going to be a Catholic vocation for women. I don't know enough about the historicity of the Church's position to make any arguments here. I can only point out the biblical fact that Jesus only chose male apostles among his 12 who were ordained at the Last Supper to perform the sacrament of the holy Eucharist. I won't debate theology with anyone, or travel the road of ambiguous historical evidence. I'm simply not qualified. But the wedding symbolism the article above evokes gives a deeper meaning to the whole question, a panoramic view that gets at the entire purpose of Jesus' life on this earth. He is the Bridegroom, and his Church is the Bride, and the mutuality of the masculine and feminine sexes of humanity is foundational and poetic. It's who we are. Men and women are equal but different images of divinity.

I can't say that I like the chastising tone of the early Church Fathers in regard to women, but their opinions are rather beside the point if one looks at the biblical evidence and contemplates Jesus' intentions in his earthly mission. Then we don't have to get defensive around language that seems hostile toward women. 

It has been impossible in my seeking and journey toward the Catholic Church not to notice these debates, which seem more political than anything, about topics such as women's ordination, homosexuality, abortion, etc., and the accusations that the position the Church takes on these hot button issues is somehow perversely antiquated and hateful. Yet from what I understand, the Church is held by Catholics to be the keeper and protector of the deposit of faith, and her  teachings are guided by the Holy Spirit. We can rest assured that we have the Truth in the Church. This is the only Christian Church that can legitimately make the claim of apostolic authority! How can we be Catholic and not honor the teachings of the Church? One might as well be Protestant or nondenominational and find a church that reflects one's views and go on with life outside the Catholic faith.

What I have read of the opinions of some originally led me to believe that women's ordination is a topic open for debate and that the Church could be persuaded to change it's position. But Pope John Paul II made it clear that this simply isn't possible. Here is his Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

This seems to argue that the teaching of the Church on this matter is definitive without formally declaring it as dogma. I imagine that is where the window appears still to be cracked open for interpretation. Nevertheless, it seems sensible to simply honor the Church's declaration on the matter and pray for peace if you are struggling with it. I always come back to St. Augustine's wise words in regard to faith coming first, and then understanding.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dealing with Negativity toward the Church

I joined a Facebook group this week that looked interesting and left it after no more than two days. By its name it seemed to be a Christian group (having the word Christian as part of it) that honors the sacred feminine. While I did expect to see some pagan tendencies, what I did not anticipate was the strident anti-Catholic attitude of certain members (which in some cases came across as an attack on my spiritual journey).  I understood that some were motivated out of concern that I would make a grand mistake by joining the Catholic Church, but it was rude nonetheless. It didn't take long to realize that in general, this is by and large really not a Christian group.

What were the complaints? The word patriarchy overwhelmingly came up, as well as misogyny. Specifically, references were made to the sex scandals in the Church and the "hostile" refusal of women to the vocation of the priesthood. Now, I too have complained about the patriarchal history of both religion and the world and have bemoaned the plight of women and the destruction of our earth. Luckily, though, I do not have too many negative memories of church itself. There was one sermon in one church that left me feeling like I had been punched repeatedly in the gut and head, and I never returned. But the issue had nothing to do with women.

What I have lamented in my own church upbringing in Protestant denominations was the absence of Mary and the sacred feminine. But I have no resentment in this regard. The path that finally led me home was evidently the one I was meant to tread. I went to a church as an adult with a female minister, and I had no problem with that. In fact, she was wonderful! But I do not feel strongly that women need to be allowed to be Catholic priests, and if the Church has solid theological and historical reasons for this prohibition, I trust the Church's authority. And I think that is the key. The problem many people, from all Christian denominations, have with the Catholic Church is her claim to authority. Authority is not the same thing as abuse of power. I feel liberated, in fact, that the Church does possess and act with authority, that there is a place where Truth can be found, and where the cacophony of clamoring voices is hushed. I can confidently rest in the protective authority of the Church.

That is not to say that I have blindly believed every doctrine or dogma without question. But when I have doubts or confusion, I just keep praying and studying and have faith that understanding will follow in God's time and in His way. I go to the source. The Church teaches that God is neither male nor female but is pure spirit and possesses the perfect attributes of both Father and Mother. The Church herself is called Mother, and so is Mary, who is the foremost disciple of the Church. Traditionally, it is through Mary and the Church that the feminine, maternal aspect of God is revealed. And as I have repeatedly discussed, while the exclusive use of the name "Father" is problematic, it is not meant to exclude the motherhood of God. In a similar way, my blog, Organic Mothering, does not exclude fathering. Also, the Holy Spirit, while called Lord, is clearly depicted in bridal-maternal language, and in fact in both Sacred Scripture and Catholic practice is often referred to as Wisdom, who is personified in female terms. The sacred feminine may be hidden to a great extent, but she is quite certainly present. The very Divine Presence of God is Shekinah, another clearly feminine name.

It's true that there have been misogynist statements made by early Church fathers, and surely today as well, but that is not the official position of the Church at all. Many Church fathers also made egalitarian comments in favor of upholding the dignity of women, especially within marriage.

And as far as the Church's teachings on abortion, I am in full agreement. Legalized abortion has not "liberated" women; it has put women and all of society in chains instead. I'm still considering the subject of birth control, but I have no doubt that in many cases at least, it has been the cause of health problems and has negatively impacted morality. At any rate, none of the Church's proclamations on these women's issues would lead me to believe that the Church hates women, which is exactly what misogyny means.

I have not been Catholic in the past and have not had negative experiences in the Church, and I don't judge those who express their pain as the result of Catholicism. But that suffering does not come from God. The Church herself is not evil, but some of her members are. Holding onto resentment is poisonous to the soul. Some of those harmed in the past seem to give constant, new fuel to their anger. They don't seem to be willing to forgive and be healed. They want to stay angry and bitter. They evidently get some payoff from continuing to grieve and suffer, to refuse to unite their suffering with Jesus on the cross and then to come down from the cross and rise from the dead with Him. They have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water. I have compassion for those in this circumstance, but I can't dance around the fire with them and condone the way they keep throwing in more logs and fanning the flames. Emotions are contagious. Build up your immunity by staying securely under Mary's mantle!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My Catholic Great-Grandmother's Sacrifice

This past June the 8th, my 8-year-old daughter was baptized at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. My grandparents, who are Methodist, were present for the occasion. I knew from my mother that my grandma had been "sprinkled" as a baby, so I had a vague notion that she had been Catholic. But some Protestant denominations also baptize infants, and I never really knew the story. When I was growing up my family, including my grandparents, belonged to the Church of Christ. This was the church of my grandpa's youth. My grandparents left that church after long time membership and joined the First Methodist, which was the church that my grandma had belonged to in her youth. But it turns out there's more to this history.

Either before or after my daughter's baptism I had the opportunity to share my Rosary miracle with my grandma (see June 1 post). This brought back a flood of memory for her. She told me that she too had been baptized at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Her mother was a Catholic Frenchwoman, and she took my grandma and her older sister to church there when they were very young. My grandma's father, however, was Protestant, and he went to the United Brethern Church (from my understanding, this eventually become a United Methodist Church). So the family was divided by religious denomination and did not attend church together. My grandma told me that when she was only 3 or 4, they came home from church one Sunday, and there was a proliferation of pink roses in full bloom in her yard. She is 84 years old, and she still has this vivid image of the roses in her mind after 80 years. She can still see them perfectly. Why this particular memory stands out, she says she does not know...

In my mind, I am screaming, "Mary!"  Grandma associates the roses with her young childhood in the Catholic Church. And there is no more predominant symbol of Mary than the rose. Rosary literally means garland of roses. My grandma did not attend the Catholic Church past the age of 4. For the sake of family unity, my great-grandmother began attending church with her husband so that they could all worship together. But, my grandma told me, her mother never, ever stopped being Catholic. She never transferred membership to my great-grandfather's church. I believe strongly that Mary knew that my grandma, and her mother and sister, would be leaving the Catholic Church, and the gorgeous pink rose blossoms were Mary's way of letting them know that she would always be with them. She would always be their Mother.  Subconsciously my grandma associated my Rosary miracle with her own miracle of roses.

I was only 5 when my great-grandmother died. I have memories of her, and I remember crying when my mom told me that she had passed away. I wish I would have known my Catholic great-grandmother who sacrificed so much for the peace and unity of her family. How did she live without the Holy Sacrament, the Eucharist? How did she live without Mary as part of Christian worship? Did she still pray her Rosary? How her heart must have ached. How brave she must have been, how full of faith.

But I am comforted by this thought:  My great-grandma Ruth is a saint in heaven. I can talk to her whenever I want. And how happy she must have been on the day of my daughter's baptism, to see from the celestial view her great-great-grandaughter coming into the Church that she had so loved in her lifetime, the Church she left but never abandoned. And of course she will also be thrilled to see me enter the Church at the Easter vigil next year! In my small way, I can make reparation for her sacrifice.  I can give something precious back to her, and I am humbled to be able to honor her memory in this way.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

True Devotion to Mary

As (Mary) is the dawn which precedes and reveals the Sun of Justice, who is Jesus Christ, she must be seen and recognized in order that Jesus Christ may also be.  
--St. Louis de Montfort 

In his book True Devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort repeatedly uses passages from the Wisdom Books of the Bible to refer to the Virgin Mother of Christ. Montfort specifically designates Jesus as Holy Wisdom; in concert with this, it appears that because of his deep understanding of the completeness of Wisdom's indwelling of the Blessed Mother, he also recognizes Mary as Wisdom in a mystical sense. She is the embodiment of the feminine Wisdom, who is the mother/daughter/bride aspect of divinity.

Montfort advocates his particular process of consecration to Jesus through Mary in this book, and I think it no exaggeration to say that he felt there could be no fullness of expression of Catholicism without devotion to the Mother of God. One cannot truly know Jesus without knowing his mother. Therefore, a Christianity lacking in Marian devotion is an incomplete religion, from Montfort's point of view.

It seems, then, following the example of Montfort, that it is beneficial to contemplate the Virgin Mary when one reads the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament (particularly Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach). One could picture our spiritual Mother while dwelling upon these holy words and images, making this a powerful practice of devotion to Our Lady.

"We are convinced without any doubt that devotion to Our Lady is essentially joined with devotion to Christ, that it assures a firmness of conviction to faith in Him and in His Church, a vital adherence to Him and to His Church which, without devotion to Mary, would be impoverished and compromised." --Pope Paul VI