I Couldn’t Stay

“After I had put on the robes and a stole,” she said,  “I just sat there and cried. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy…”  I had been casually listening-in on a conversation between two fellow Divinity School students for some time before I heard the young woman describe this moment.  From what I gathered, she is preparing for ordination in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) tradition, and currently working as an intern at a local UU church where she had, for the first time, tried on the pastor’s robes she would wear while preaching during some upcoming Sunday service.

For the first time in my life I am surrounded by women who talk openly, almost unthinkingly, about their calls to ordained ministry. Continue reading

Thanks, Dad

Through some of the most formative years of their children’s lives, parents are often the most consistent example of what it means to be human, to be a mature adult. And while we all know that parents can pass on negative impressions to their children, they also have the potential, and perhaps the responsibility, to expose their children to a healthy, fruitful way of living in our world.  In this sense, I think that every parent has the potential to be a child’s hero.

My dad has always been my biggest hero. Continue reading

What’s the big deal about gender-inclusive language?

In the most recent issue of my diocesan newspaper, a question referring to God’s gender caught my eye. Father Mike, a local priest, answered the question, “Why do you refer to God as “he”? Are you implying that God is male? Doesn’t this support a patriarchal worldview?”

Father Mike’s response got off to an OK start — he affirmed the Catechism’s teaching that ‘God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes,’ and went on to say that the Church considers using identification with a male God to oppress women as a grave evil. Then, he insisted that because God is a “who” instead of an “it,” we must use pronouns that affirm God’s personhood. And we use the pronoun “he” because Jesus told us to think of God as “our father.” Father Mike’s final say? “Apparently, he wants to be called ‘father.'”

The easy dismissal of the complexities of the issue pained me. Where is the discussion about the fact that subtleties in meaning can easily be lost in translation? For example, the English language — and many other languages — are incredibly limited in that there is no pronoun to describe a person who is neither female nor male, or both female and male, and yet these people exist in the physical and not just the spiritual realm. Where is the suggestion that, even though most translations of the Bible use “he” as the default pronoun, a translation of God as “she” would be equally accuratein light of what’s been lain out in the Catechism? At the very least, I would have appreciated an affirmation that referring to God as She in conversation outside of strict Biblical reading is perfectly acceptable for Catholics.

Instead, Father Mike never took that step of aligning God with the word “She.” Instead, he shrugged the question off — perhaps because of the prevailing belief in our culture that the use of “he” as the default pronoun doesn’t really “matter” because “everyone knows male pronouns can be used to refer to all humans.” In actuality, this means that it “doesn’t really matter” to most of the culture when women are invisible. And we can become so used to our invisibility that we can begin to believe in it ourselves, despite the fact that this goes against what we believe as Catholics about the dignity and worthiness of every human being.

When I was a child, I marked up all my CCD books with inclusive language. As an adult, I replace “he” with “God” in most of the congregational responses throughout the Mass, and I drop “men” out of “for us men and for our salvation” when I say the Creed. As an editor for a feminist organization, I know the power that words have to shape reality, and I try to be careful to choose my words accordingly to create a more just reality.

But it wasn’t until I attended Reverend Regina Nicolosi’s Mass three years ago that I experienced truly inclusive language — not just dropping the ‘he,’ but hearing the ‘she.’ And this time I couldn’t say the Creed or sing the hymns because I was crying. Despite my quiet resistance to the default male pronoun, I never realized how I’d numbed myself to the pain of being invisible until, for one hour, that feeling was gone, for one hour I felt both fully woman and fully Catholic, and that both parts of me were sacred.

Although I haven’t had the opportunity to attend another Mass said by a woman priest, I have occasionally had the fortune of attending other Masses with gender inclusive language. And every time I encounter it, I can’t keep from crying tears of joy. And isn’t that what encountering God is all about? Being overwhelmed with the Joy of being part of the Creator’s family, perfect in God’s image, just the way S/He intended you to be? That’s a realization that’s worth fighting for.

Paying Attention to the Voices that Cry, “It’s Not Fair!”

Nancy Gruver, founder of New Moon Girl Media — also, incidentally, my supervisor — has an essay published in Catching A Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century called “That’s Not Fair! Nurturing Girls’ Natural Feminism.” In this piece, Ms. Gruver makes the case that girls — and one could argue kids in general — are equipped with an internal gage for injustice. But in our culture, too often children’s cries of “That’s not fair!” are disruptive to a carefully maintained adult order; how many remember being told (or telling kids) that “that’s just too bad; life isn’t fair”?

That’s certainly true, but it’s not a good reason to stop fighting for a fairer world. Nancy’s essay struck me when I first read it as an intern at New Moon because it made me recall my own awakening to feminism and social justice. It came through the Catholic Church.

I was 10 years old when I started to notice something “off” about the lessons in my CCD textbook. When we learned about the sacraments, I realized that the beautiful sacrament of Holy Orders wasn’t meant to ever include me. My internal social justice alarm started ringing too loudly to ignore: That’s not fair! My hand shot up into the air, and when the CCD teacher called on me, I asked, “Why can’t women become priests?”

The teacher, like most CCD teachers, was a volunteer from the parish who had no formal theological or Catholic training. She was caught off guard and flustered. She said, “I . . . I don’t know. Let me ask Father about that.”

A week later, our parish priest gave a sermon about why Holy Orders was reserved for men: because Jesus was a man, and the priest takes the part of Jesus when he performs the sacrament of the Eucharist. The priest kept making eye contact with me throughout the sermon. I wasn’t buying it. Suddenly the man who performed miracles, who rose from the dead, and who was God, couldn’t perform the very minor transformation of allowing a woman to represent Him on the altar? If we were all supposed to live our lives as Jesus lived His, why was there this one instance in which we weren’t supposed to walk in His footsteps? The “reasons” for barring women from the priesthood seemed to make null and void everything I believed about Jesus. And because I wasn’t willing to stop believing in Jesus, I knew I had to disagree with the Church.

The issue of women’s ordination still cuts me deep in my heart. Every time I hear the same tired “justifications” for this pillar of sexism in the Church, my anger bubbles up; but under that anger is a much deeper ache, the ache of being told again and again by the Church I still love that because of my sex, I can’t ever stand in for Jesus the way a man could.

I often think back to that year when my crusade toward women’s ordination began. I respect my CCD teacher’s willingness to admit that she didn’t know the answer, and to take me seriously enough to bring the question to a “higher authority.” But really, so much healing would have come from my teacher, from my priest, from anyone who had more power than a 10-year-old girl, if they had had the courage to look me in the eye and say, “You’re right. It isn’t fair — now, what are you going to do about it?”