Does a papal decree matter for the inclusion of women? Yes! Foot washing survey results.

viganoOn January 6, 2016, Pope Francis issued a new decree stating that women should be included in foot washing rites held on Holy Thursday.  For many Catholics around the world, this was already a practice.  But for others, the papal decree opened a new door for women’s participation in an important rite of the Church.

On March 28, 2016 FutureChurch launched a survey asking Catholics to share their experience regarding the new decree to see what, if any effect it had in their parish.

The survey is not scientific study, but is a sampling.  620 respondents from the United States (88%), Europe (6%), India (3%), Australia (2%), other (1%) took the survey.  The results are below.

foot washing survey

Question #1 inquired about foot washing rites in their parish prior to the 2016 decree.  Eighty-six percent of respondents indicated that they had always included both women and men.  Ten percent indicated that their ceremony included men only.  Approximately 1.3% had no foot washing ceremony.

Most of the 104 comments re-iterated that women and men were included in the foot washing rite.  Ten comments indicated that a) only males were included, b) the parish chose to eliminate the rite because the expectation was that only males would participate or, c) a parishioner discontinued going because of a change to male only participation.  Here is a sampling of those comments.

  • We used to wash anyone’s feet until our bishop banned anyone except males.  Then we stopped washing anyone’s feet.
  • Two years ago the Bishop of Madison said only men would have their feet washed. So our parish did not have the rite.
  • Thirty years ago our parish included women in this rite but, in the past 10-15 years it has reverted back to all men.
  • Our Diocese of Charlotte did not allow women to participate. It was to be 12 men lined up with the Pastor doing the washing.
  • My parish did wash the feet of men and women, however, our Bishop Paprocki chose not to do the foot washing ritual because he disagreed with Pope Francis’ encouragement of it.
  • We had discontinued when we went to men only.
  • At my home Parish in Ontario Canada we have had women and men foot washing for years but at my Parish here in Florida where we are for the winter they have men only.
  • We had no foot washing because it didn’t include women.
  • Only seminarians.

  • When the church made Holy Thursday night about the night Jesus instituted the male only ordained priesthood, I stopped going.

Question # 2 asked about changes in the foot washing rite after the 2016 decree.  Seven percent of respondents indicated that for the first time, women were introduced into the foot washing rite.  The percentage respondents indicating male-only foot washing rites dropped to 5%.  Four (number) respondents indicated that they did not have a foot washing rite for the first time this year, some commenting this may have been a protest by their pastor of the new decree.

A sampling of comments from this question are included below.  Some indicated there was a change for inclusion of women.  A few indicated that women were still excluded or newly excluded.

  • Our previous pastor in Orange, CA did not wash the feet of women.  Our new pastor did, only after I questioned him about it two years ago.  Since then he has done it.
  • Our parish washed the feet of women, men and children. When we got a new bishop he demanded that only men could get their feet washed. Our pastor stopped washing feet until Francis said it is okay.
  • New pastor intended to have only men.  After decree, he included men, women, and teenagers.
  • Depends on pastor and whim of bishop. This year all were included for the first time in five years and three pastors.
  • Our parish had opted out of foot washing from the time the local bishop had banned women until this year.
  • In Florida- still only men! I even wrote the priest here and told him of my wish to have women represented.
  • Men only.  Apparently in defiance of Pope Francis.
  • A giant step backwards. For the past 20+ years not only have we had men and women have their feet washed, we also allowed the congregation to wash the feet. This year the congregation was allowed to wash the feet of only 12 men invited. A sad, sad turn of events with a new pastor.Question # 3 asked if Pope Francis’ new changes and decree raised new awareness about the exclusion of women personally, in the parish or if it was a source of controversy.Fifty-eight percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the changes Pope Francis made to the foot washing rite raised new awareness about the exclusion of women for them personally. Thirty-six percent agreed or strongly agreed that it raised new awareness about the exclusion of women in their parish community.  And 7% agreed or strongly agreed the new decree and inclusive rite was a source of controversy in their parish community.Questions # 4 and # 5 asked respondents if their pastor had addressed the new foot washing decree and inclusive rite explicitly, and if so, how did they characterize the change.  Twelve percent indicated that their priest specifically addressed the new foot washing decree with most characterizing it as a positive change and only less than one percent characterizing it as a negative change.

A thoroughly scientific survey would be useful in understanding the ripple effect of Francis’ changes for women in the Church, but it is clear from this small sampling that it has made a difference.  Of those who took the FutureChurch survey, 7% indicated that women were included for the first time.  While media reporting was anecdotal, there were several examples of inclusive change.  Two Latin Catholic Churches in Kerala India included women for the first time and the National Shrine in Washington DC included women in the rite for the first time.

Please support this work!  Support FutureChurch!

http://english.manoramaonline.com/news/kerala/pope-francis-decree-wash-women-feet-holy-thursday-church.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/03/26/the-catholic-church-puts-one-foot-forward-on-the-path-to-including-women/

Pope Francis opens foot-washing rite to women in gesture of inclusion

Our Catholic Church: What Do We Tell Our Daughters? A Tale of Warning and Hope

Natalia Imperatori-LeeOn April 15, 2016, Natalia Imperatori-Lee, Ph.D., head of Catholic Studies at Manhattan College in New York City will discuss, “Our Catholic Church: What Do We Tell Our Daughters?”  The event will be held at Rutgers Church in New York City. The event is filled to capacity and registration is now closed but the video will be available for viewing on the FutureChurch website.  

A missing generation 

In terms of engagement in the Catholic Church, there is a significant difference between Hispanic millennial women and non-Hispanic millennial women.  In this age bracket, Hispanic women are still quite active in parish life, attend Mass and are more likely to agree with the Church on hot button issues.

But the same is not true for non-Hispanic millennial women.  In 2012, Patricia Wittberg, S.C., Professor of Sociology at Purdue and Indiana University found that young women are leaving the Church in record numbers, a shift that began in the mid-1990s. While older Catholic women in the United States were more engaged in the Catholic Church than men of their age, the Catholic women of Generation X (born between 1962 and 1980) barely equaled their male counterparts in regular Mass attendance.  They were also significantly more likely than the men to disagree with official Church teaching on women’s ordination, homosexuality, premarital sex and on whether one had to go to Mass to be considered a good Catholic.

That trend has deepened.

Data obtained from 2002 through 2008 from the General Social Survey indicated that millennial Catholic women (born between 1981 and 1995) are even more disaffected than Gen X women.  In fact, this is the first time a generation of Catholic women are more likely than their counterparts to say they never attend Mass. Further, they expressed a general lack of confidence in the Church.

Wittberg notes, this is not the case for Protestant women.

So, why are non-Hispanic millennial  Catholic women more disaffected than previous generations?

The answer is complex but below are some of the reasons as voiced by Millennials themselves.

1. Millennial women, like their male counterparts, are likely to disagree with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, the ordination of women to the priesthood and reproductive rights. They say they are appalled at the treatment of LGBT Catholics and women in the Church.  In one study, a 23-year old woman left because, “I felt deceived and undervalued by the church.”

While some finger-wagging bishops, priests and other Catholics largely root this dissent in secularism and individualism, many Millennials find the foundation for their disagreement within the very teachings of the Catholic Church; what they understand to have been the example of Jesus, what they intuit about the love God, and what they learned from Catholic Social Teaching.

The millennial view is also reflected in whom they trust.  Pope Francis is popular among young Catholics millennials for his open-armed spirituality and his humble desire to be in a meaningful loving relationship with people everywhere.  One study showed that only two percent of younger Catholics having a negative view of him while eighty percent have a negative view of bishops.  This may help explain why some studies show that even those who admire Pope Francis cannot see themselves returning to the Church.

2. Many believe the Church does not attract younger women because it limits the ways their gifts and talents can be engaged.  Leadership opportunities in the secular world are abundant. Women head national governments, lead military branches, run multi-national organizations, and work as senior managers.  They lead universities, hospitals and launch businesses. Limiting the opportunities for women to use their gifts for ministry and governance within the Church reduces its attractiveness.

Unlike the generations before them, most non-Hispanic millennial women are not walking through the doors of the Church in the hopes of finding greater meaning in their lives.  They are just walking by.  Carolyn Woo warned of the consequences of not engaging women more effectively at the recent Voices of Faith event held in the Vatican on March 8, 2016.

Women are knocking at the door and sometimes that is wearying for the people on the other side of the door…too much knocking.  But I have the fear that the generation of women who follow us will stop knocking. There will come a day when there is the silence of people not knocking.

As a whole host of younger women retreat from the Catholic Church, we need more than bandaids, or as Carolyn Woo stated, we need to go from “the exceptional to the habitual” when it comes to engaging them at every level of Church governance.  We need a comprehensive strategy for reform, inclusive practices and mentorships that will build trust and redeem the arrogance that drove a generation away.

Natalia Imperatori-Lee will seed that conversation and she will lead us to think about how we can move from words to action.

Our foremothers in faith taught us that God works in us.  If we are to have the blessings of the next generation of women in our parish communities, we must be faithful in our call to listen deeply, embrace all and to humbly invite those who are walking by to join us again so that together, we may incarnate the richest and most God-like aspects of our tradition for future generations.

http://blogs.thearda.com/trend/featured/u-s-catholic-women-at-crossroads-as-gender-gap-disappears-will-pope-francis-make-a-difference/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/12/millennials-increasingly-are-driving-growth-of-nones/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/09/02/the-vast-majority-of-u-s-catholics-who-have-left-the-church-cant-imagine-returning-study-says/

http://ncronline.org/blogs/parish-diary/attempt-answer-question-where-are-young-adults

http://americamagazine.org/issue/5138/article/why-they-left

Voices of Faith Multi-Generational Panel Discussion – March 8, 2016

 

 

Women Need More than Absolution: They Need the Church to be on Their Side

Changing our rhetoric, ordaining married men, and welcoming women back to the diaconate would make the Church a place where more people would come for guidance before an irrevocable decision is made instead of a place to seek absolution after the fact.


In a perfect world there would be no abortion. The sorts of structures that perpetuate economic injustice, the oppression of women, the sexual entitlement of men, and poor education wouldn’t exist. But they do. And as long as they do, the Church needs a better response to the problem of abortion.

pope-francisjpg-78988a47f1d9b1c8In a step forward this week, Pope Francis paved the way for any priest anywhere in the world to use his “discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it” during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Depending upon how you read Canon Law, ordinarily such absolution could be reserved to bishops or other priests who have been granted special faculties.

It’s a move that has been welcomed by many who see it as a hand stretched out to Catholic women who have undergone an abortion, especially in an environment that often seems void of the kind of mercy that Pope Francis is modeling for our Church. Pope Francis also shifted toward a more pastoral tone when he sympathized with “women who have resorted to abortion,” saying, “I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision.”

And yet, I get the feeling that women – and their male counterparts – won’t be busting down church doors to get into the confessional. But perhaps there’s something deeper to explore. Perhaps there’s something more the Church can do.

Pope Francis has used the image of a “field hospital after battle” to describe what the Church can be for the 21st Century world. But what if the Church could provide ‘preventative care’ too? What if the Church could be there at the beginning of the battle that is modern life? What if the church could help people make different decisions instead of arriving on the field after the battle is done to point out all the mistakes — no matter how gently or lovingly it is done.

In his comments, Pope Francis says that women “resort” to having an abortion and that there is “pressure” leading them to make the decision. That kind of language makes me think that Pope Francis knows what so many of us understand: that these women and couples need more from the Church than absolution. Women, couples and families need to know that the Church is on their side.

Reframing the conversation, as Francis has begun to, would be a good start. But the Church needs to do more than tone down its rhetoric. The church needs to show in word and deed that it understands that there are political, economic, and cultural systems and structures at play making an abortion something to “resort” to. And more than that, the Church needs to demonstrate its commitment to overcoming those very structures and systems that put women and couples in their situation in the first place. It’s a tall order. But Pope Francis had laid the foundation to do just that. Let’s hope the bishops of the world take notice.

In addition to heated rhetoric, the continued insistence upon clerical celibacy and ordination for males alone hinders the ability of the Church to stand with and companion women and families on the 21st century “battlefield.” As the Extraordinary Synod on the Family seems to recognize, life – particularly the lives of women and families – in the 21st Century is not easy. And so they called for a renewal in the way we train ministers in the Church.

No amount of theoretical training on family life or women’s issues could ever replace the actual experience of raising a family or being a woman in today’s world. The Church doesn’t need ordained ministers with more training in family life or women’s issues. The Church needs families and women in ordained ministry.

And so the Church should begin having a conversation at the highest levels about returning to its earliest traditions of ordaining married priests and women deacons. There are married men and well-trained women who can respond to the call immediately if we would just open ordination to them.

Changing our rhetoric, ordaining married men, and welcoming women back to the diaconate would make the Church a place where more people would come for guidance before an irrevocable decision is made instead of a place to seek  absolution after the fact.

In a perfect world, families, couples and individuals wouldn’t face many of the difficult decisions that they do – including whether or not to have an abortion. But our world isn’t perfect. And until it is our Church needs to do better job of putting itself in a place to stand with people on the “battlefield” of life.

By: Russ Petrus, Program Director for FutureChurch

 

 

 

 

 

At LCWR 2015 Two Approaches to the Doctrinal Assessment but One Direction — Avanti! FORWARD!

2015_lcwr_assembly_logo_smallAvanti! This Italian word for “forward!” seems to have been the unofficial theme of the 2015 Assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. To applause, LCWR President, Sharon Holland, IHM urged her fellow sisters “Avanti” several times in her presidential address.

The 2015 Assembly marks the first time the LCWR gathered since the doctrinal assessment came to an end back in April and many were anxious to see what the sisters would have to say about the process. By way of ending her presidential address, quoting Dr. Vanessa White, professor at Catholic Theological Union, Holland reminded the LCWR “What you focus on is what you give power to.” It was a clear signal that the LCWR’s leadership had decided focus its attention on moving forward instead of looking back.

Individual attendees I talked to shared the same interest in looking forward rather than dwelling on the assessment. One sister I sat with on the plane to Houston told me “it’s over. That’s what matters” when I asked her about the assessment. Another gently refocused me – as only a sister can – saying, “how we move forward is the more important question.”

Of course, for the sisters, moving forward doesn’t mean ignoring the past or pretending that the assessment never happened. As Holland said, “In considering what to say this morning about moving forward, I did look back briefly.” There were attempts to place it in context, to learn from it, and to identify the graces that brought the sisters through it.

sharon holland

Holland attempted to answer the question “why?” by framing the assessment in the context of a larger “cultural chasm,” saying, “we were somehow looking at the same realities, but were standing in different places. We didn’t realize that we were experiencing the incomprehension of two groups who did not know each other’s deeper assumptions. We risked slipping into talking about each other, without really talking more deeply with each other.” Looking hopefully at the results of the meetings, she wonders “perhaps all left the room thinking that this time they had been understood.”

MockBYDan2 (1)Keynote presenter, Janet Mock, CSJ, looked for the graces that guided the sisters through the assessment and opportunities to use that grace moving forward. She reflected, “If I have taken away anything from the past three years, it is a greater desire to enter wholeheartedly into both the activity of God when I am called to companion that movement and to wait poised for the action of God when it is beyond my capacity to act.” She recalled that “there were moments when we were rendered silent…it was those moments that God’s activity became most evident.” One such example of God’s activity through the process, according to Mock, was the election of Pope Francis. Mock insisted that “knowing when God is calling you to activity and when God is calling you to passivity is a critical discernment for our times,” urging her colleagues to “let go of the desire to do everything we want to do by ourselves.”

It’s worth noting that both of these treatments of the mandate and assessment were offered at the service of moving forward. For Holland, continuing to close the “cultural chasm” between the LCWR and the Vatican is one direction forward, saying, “a profound issue and goal was and is ecclesial communion.” She pointed out two symbols that ought to give us hope that closing the cultural divide is attainable. First is the joint report of the assessment itself, which she described as being “truly a joint report written and worked through by the same people who had engaged in the dialogue.” The second symbol was the photo of the leadership of LCWR with Pope Francis which she said was “immediately recognized as a long-awaited public symbol of the communion our sisters feel and desire with and within the Church.”

The progress towards greater communion between the LCWR and the Vatican is well underway under Pope Francis. The sisters generally, and Holland specifically, praised Evangelii gaudium, the Year of Consecrated Life, the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, and Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si. Of course the themes of Evangelii gaudium and Laudato Si are not new to the sisters. They’ve been working on these issues since they undertook the work of renewal following Vatican II. But this sort of official recognition of the importance of these themes by this Pope must bring a sense of validation of the last fifty or so years of work the sisters have been doing.

For Mock, the ability to discern times of activity and times of passivity will be vital to religious life in the future. “It is not a time for super stars, even among congregations,” she said. Pointing out that there are approximately 1,200 women in the United states in initial formation in religious congregations, she called upon the leadership to address the educational, spiritual, psychological and personal needs of these women “across congregations together” rather than trying to go it alone. Addressing the needs of the world –immigration, ecological advocacy, human and trafficking to name a few – is another area where the congregations could work together according to Mock. Of course, this will mean congregations each need to embrace a time of activity and a time of passivity.

For Mock, working together, at times taking an active role and at times taking a passive role doesn’t mean squelching the of any individual congregation because each will always bring their charisms and their wisdom to the table: “Instead of threatening our individual charisms, we find working together enhances them – because these charisms illuminate a way of approaching ministry that together makes our service so much richer.”

There well may be as many ways of making sense of the assessment and mandate as there are members of the LCWR. But from what I can tell, there is only one direction: Avanti! Forward!

By way of conclusion, I’d like to offer prayer in solidarity with the LCWR — the same prayer that Janet Mock opened the assembly with:

“And so, God of deep waters, we come as we are. Wash over us with your grace. Refresh us with your Spirit. Lead us into new depths that we may emerge from these days as if baptized anew, strengthened and renewed for your mission. May we be what you want us to be in our time. And may what we are about here be healing for our world. To this we say AMEN.”

AMEN, indeed!

Catholic Women Speak Up in Time for the Synod

CWSEven before the Synod of Bishops could get up to speed after Vatican II, it suffered setbacks under Popes Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Instead of forums for real discussion and decision-making, the “rubber stamp syndrome” came into play as bishops learned to firmly align themselves with the Pope in power.

Pope Francis has set the synod on a new path that is closer to the vision of Vatican II.  Still, as a way toward collegiality, it includes only those who are ordained.  There have been no provisions that allow for full and equal decision making powers by the laity.  Lay input and decision-making are important across the board, but are especially critical as we head toward a synod where family and marriage are front and center. Women’s voices have only been heard at the very margins of synods in the past, yet are critical components in any credible decision making process that involves discussion and debate about pastoral practices related to family life, relationships, marriage and birth control.

This year, a new effort has been launched to make bring women’s voices forward in the lead up to the 2015 Family Synod.

Catholic Women Speak: Bringing our Gifts to the Table, is an extraordinary effort to make women’s experience and reflections on a variety of topics related to the 2015 Family Synod available to synod delegates, auditors, experts and to Catholics everywhere.

Tina Beattie, Director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Religion, Society and Human Flourishing at the University of Roehampton, headed this effort and is a force of nature in the Catholic Church.

With almost miraculous speed, she and a small group of dedicated editors wove together this first-of-its-kind resource.  Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table is an anthology of essays by women who represent a broad international perspective and come from a variety of personal backgrounds, who believe that the Church cannot come to a wise and informed understanding of family life without listening to women (Paulist Press blurb).

The book is divided into four sub-parts with more than 40 authors from diverse geographies and backgrounds addressing a) our traditions, b) family, marriage and relationships, c) poverty and exclusion and d) our institutions.

The book begins with an essay by Cettina Militello, an Italian theologian who sent a few blessed shockwaves when, at the April 28th conference held at the Pontifical University Antonianum entitled “Women in the Church: Prospects for Dialogue”, she gave an overview of a history of misogyny in the Church, spoke about the devastating effects of Inter Insigniores and criticized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for its  demonization of gender theory.  In her essay in Catholic Women Speak she follows a similar track sketching the history of women as well as the new realities of 21st century life that should inform Church teaching.  She calls for equality and greater roles for women in the Church noting, “Women have moved from silence to speech, from invisibility to presence, from submission to co-responsibility. The journey has been long and is far from complete, but the goal is now illuminated by the new awareness that God’s design is an inclusive one.”

Lucetta Scaraffia, editor of Donne, Chiesa, Mondo for l’Osservatore Romano likens a synod without women to “breathing with just one lung.”  She makes the observation, “The absence of women at the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family reveals two negative aspects of the life of the Church: ignorance of and lack of interest in the female point of view – even in situations where women are at the heart of the matter – and disconnection from daily life.”

Amelia Beck tells of her experience with Vatican sanctioned birth control and the many babies she conceived even though she was meticulously following the Natural Family Planning method. She calls her essay “Vatican Roulette.”

Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, writes about the marginalization of women in the family and points to the challenges their lives pose to the idealized notions of family and marriage set out by the Church. Where women have little to no access to power of any sort she points out that, “struggling to survive in a world that is marked with poverty, exploitation and lack of personhood, marriage for them is a burden and being born female a curse. Sold or off-loaded into marriage before the age of sixteen, for many of these women “the desire to marry and form a family” is not a choice (Lin. 1). It is a prison sentence, replete with marital rape, domestic violence, isolation, subservience to the point of slavery, and unplanned pregnancies that have fatal consequences for both mother and child.”

Agnes Brazal of the Philippines looks at family life through the prism of out-migration where greater and greater numbers of women are leaving home to bring in much-needed income.  Linked to “international capital’s search for cheap labor and domestic services, as well as to the increasing poverty in the sending countries,” families and especially children are suffering as their parents leave in search of work.  Brazal examines Church teaching with its assumptions about male/female and parenting roles and shows how it fails to take into account the economic strains on family life in the Philippines and beyond — adding to their burdens rather than relieving them.

In the last sub-section dedicated to the institutional church, Christine Schenk, CSJ, describes how the Lectionary leaves out the stories of women, and especially those who acted with authority in early Christianity.  Madeleine Fredell brings in the powerful story of the witness of Mary of Magdala and Rhonda Miska talks about young Catholic Women working in ministry in the Church.

These are just a few of the authors who have contributed to this well-produced resource.  Bishops attending the 2015 Family Synod would be better informed by reading it.

A synod on the family that does not engage women in meaningful ways leaves the Church limping, “breathing with just one lung.”  But more than that, it leaves women and children at risk by what is passed over or assumed because of the blind spots created by race, sex, geography, class, age, privilege, etc.

In my international travels to South Africa a few years ago, I met a women whose words unsettled me because they were so counter-intuitive.  She said, “the most dangerous thing a woman can be is married.”  As my jaw fell open, she explained that she lived in a region where the HIV Aids rate is one of the highest in the world and where men bring the disease home to their wives.  In one of many moments in my life, I, again, saw how limited my own understanding was and how my own privilege blinded me to the realities of women from other parts of the world.  May our bishops understand this is true for them as well, especially as they try to fashion guidance in worlds where women, children and men face life and death situations daily.

May this new book of essays help fill the gap.  Where male experience and wisdom has its limits, may it help the Church to provide meaningful and, yes, life saving guidance to all the baptized.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

FYI, this book is being published by Paulist Press and is available for pre-order from their website.  It is also being offered as part of FutureChurch’s Pentecost campaign.  Learn more.

 

Assumptions about the Assumption

Dalit Mother by Jyoti Sahi
Dalit Mother by Jyoti Sahi

A Reflection on Mary on the Feast of the Assumption by Deborah Rose-Milavec

Like many Catholic women, I have struggled with some of the imagery surrounding Mary of Nazareth.  Was she a doormat?  A “yes” woman?  A docile, passive type – who obeyed rather than questioned?

As a youngster, I loved Mary and without question and absorbed all the stories about her.  But as I grew into young adulthood, her flawlessness started to trouble me.  As a young mother sitting in church with four little children and a baby in my lap, I wondered what I could possibly have in common with this perfect specimen of a woman.  A virgin and a mother?  How could I relate to that?  Conceived without sin?  What did that mean?  Assumed into heaven?  How?  The Mary who had so easily been part of my heart, now seemed distant and more alien to me.

My journey to understand Mary mirrors what many other Catholic women have struggled to understand.  Because of modern biblical scholarship and feminist scholarship in particular, we know that Mary’s image, more than any other, has been shaped within a patriarchal narrative and promulgated to define women’s roles and place of women in the Church.

Thankfully, scholars like Elizabeth Johnson, Judith Davis, Jeanette Rodrigues, Mary Christine Athans, Rosemary Radford Ruether and others have begun re-sorting who Mary is in our salvation history.  They have unearthed a historical, incarnate Mary who struggled with and was empowered by her God.  In a relationship that was fierce and yet, tender; unnerving and yet, irresistible; (s)heroic and yet, available to all – Mary held together the dismal realities of her people and her belief that God wanted something more for them.

Mary no “yes” woman.  Yet, she did say “yes” to the God who called her to speak prophetically for those who were oppressed.   Like the mothers in Palestinian refugee camps, the women raped in Iraq, those fleeing violence in South Sudan, or those making a life in the slums of Nairobi, she knew God stood against those who used their power to oppress and exploit and stood with those who were deprived of their dignity and life because of that abuse.  It was a truth she proclaimed to her community and taught to her son.

And after a long and faithful life to God, did she die?  How did we arrive at the story of the Assumption?

The Assumption, like many other stories in our Marian tradition will be explored in FutureChurch’s newest educational series that will be launched in time for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 2015.

But you do not have to wait in suspense.  In FutureChurch’s Advent packet, Judith Davis, PhD, sketches out the complex history of the Assumption story and how it arose to a place of prominence in our tradition.  On this feast day we have made this essay available for you to download for free.  CLICK HERE to download this informative resource.

Beyond all dogma, Mary remains, in Elizabeth Johnson’s words, one of the cloud of witnesses, a “friend of God and prophet” and “truly our sister.”

https://futurechurch.org/women-in-church-leadership/women-and-word/product/advent-resource-restore-women-of-advent

St. Louis, MO Parish Stands Against Human Trafficking at Mary of Magdala Celebration

St. Louis, MO — Parishioners at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish gathered together on July 20th to celebrate Mary of Magdala. In keeping with this year’s theme of Being Witnesses to Victims of Human Trafficking, the celebration invited participants to consider action steps they could take to help put an end to this modern day form of slavery.

StLouisMaryMag

Buffalo, NY Celebrates Mary of Magdala in honor of deceased Sister

Sister Mary ThompsonBuffalo, NY- At the end of July,  Sister Mary Thompson, SSMN, author of Mary of Magdala, Apostle and Leader (New York: Paulist Press 1995) passed away unexpectedly.

An interest in women of the gospel led her to write “Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Preacher.”  Women took a strong interest in this book because Sister Mary’s writing portrays Mary of Magdala as a leader of considerable influence rather than the erroneous identification of her as the sinful woman of St. Luke 7:36-50. Sister wrote:

“To have been the only person, male or female, listed in all four gospels as the first to realize that Jesus is risen and to have announced that message to the other disciples was to have reached undeniable prominence.”BuffaloMaryMag

Thank you, Sister Mary Thompson, for your ministry and your dedication to Saint Mary of Magdala! May you rejoice with Mary Magdala this day!

Of tombs and human trafficking: Cleveland Celebrates Mary of Magdala

Magdala CollegeIf you’ve stayed at a hotel, visited a nail salon, passed through a highway rest area, or flown on a plane, chances are you’ve crossed paths with a victim of human trafficking.

We were so honored to have Sisters Rosemary Powers and Josie Chroniak, both Sisters of the Humility of Mary, with us at our Mary of Magdala Celebration in Cleveland. Describing human trafficking as “a hidden problem,” these women have made it their mission to pull this modern day form of slavery out of the darkness and into the light.

Through their work with the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking, Josie and Rosemary are bringing their message to high schools, college campuses, and groups like ours. Besides making their presentersaudiences aware of the problem, they gently call everyone who will listen to conversion. They noted that “high demand” is the reason human trafficking is such a problem in our world, pointing out that much of the demand was for the laborers who make our clothes, clean our hotel rooms, do our nails, make our candy, and harvest our food — not just sex. In fact, the demand is so high that two human beings are sold into modern day slavery every minute. They pointed us to slaveryfootprint.org to help us see how we may unknowingly and unwillingly may be contributing to the demand.

Their message was all the more poignant within the context of our touching Mary of Magdala prayer service. As we heard the first-person accounts of victims of human trafficking paired with the John’s complete account of the exchange between Mary of Magdala and Jesus at the tomb.

And as I sat with the image of Mary at the empty tomb I couldn’t help but think of all the ways the victims are entombed by this modern day form of slavery: cut of from family, cut off from dignity, denied food, refused medical care, physically abused, raped, threatened with harm should they try to escape. All of them waiting to be pulled from the tomb. All of them waiting for their “easter moment.”

And I couldn’t help but think of the tomb of relative ignorance of the this problem that keeps all of us in the dark.

MM Relief Less BorderYet, the message of the Resurrection is one of hope; that the tomb is not the end of the story. I pray and hope that the work of Josie and Ruthmary, modern day Magdalas and disciples of Christ, will one day break the world free from the tombs of busy-ness, ignorance, inaction, and self-centeredness that allow human trafficking to be the “hidden problem” that it is. And more importantly, I hope that their work shines a light onto the systems and structures that allow for the entombment of these victims in this modern day form of slavery.

Like Mary Magdala, Sisters Ruthmary and Josie are visiting the tomb, equipped not with herbs and oils, but with knowledge, wisdom, and a mission. Let us pray and make the changes needed in our lives that one day they and the others who do this fine and important work arrive at the tomb of human trafficking only to find it empty.