"There are some truths that will never change, and the Church is including within the deposit of faith the fact that it cannot ordain women as priests." This statement was made by Fr. Ronald Lengwin, Spokesperson for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, in the documentary film, "Pink Smoke over the Vatican."
A response to that statement was given by Bishop Patricia Fresen who said: "The Deposit of Faith has not been closed off. The Church has had to admit it was wrong many times. Think of Galileo." Another responder mentioned slavery which the Church didn't say was against its teachings until the late 1800's. Another responder spoke of the change in the teaching that "money was evil and lending money was a mortal sin."
Looking back at the early church we see that strong differences of opinion have always been present within Christianity. In the early days the important marker was community. The fact that different cultures had their own theologies was known, but charity was most important. There was little distinction between clergy and laity. All were followers of the Risen Christ. All elected leaders, including the Pope.
About the year 1000 the picture started to change. With the Western church headquartered in Rome, its goal and image was that of a perfect society, perfectly ordered and, recently, even infallible. A major separation between clergy and laity began to be enforced. Laity had no power in decision-making. Clergy began dressing in elaborate attire like high Renaissance nobility, scandalizing many Christians who were trying to model their lives on Jesus of Nazareth, poor, persecuted and executed on a cross.
Today cracks in this system are becoming more and more prevalent. Even the new pope seems to be in step with breaking from the past and is making it clear that he is a pope of the people.
But what about the core beliefs, the conditions for membership, that were the problem in the infant Church? In the chapter from the Acts of the Apostles from which our first reading is taken, there is a discussion among Paul and Barnabas, Peter and James about whether Gentiles were eligible to be members. Their conclusion was based on Peter's statement that "Just as we believe that we are saved through the grace of Jesus Christ, so are they," and the report from Paul and Barnabas recounting all the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them. This was how Gentiles were spared having to be circumcised to be Christian.
Do we, as members and supporters of St. Mary of Magdala Catholic Community, still hold to those core beliefs that we are saved through belief in Jesus Christ, and carrying on Jesus' healing ministry? Are we true members of the Church, or are we outside the Church?
Let's look at our Creed:
We believe in God who is creator and nurturer of all.
We believe in Jesus, the Christ, who is our love, our hope, and our light.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the breath of Wisdom Sophia, who energizes and guides us in building caring communities and in challenging oppression, exploitation and injustices.
We believe that God loves us passionately and forgives us everything.
We believe that we are radiant images of God who calls us to live fully, love tenderly, and serve generously.
We believe in the communion of saints, our heavenly friends, who support us on life’s journey.
We believe in the partnership and equality of women and men in our church and world.
We believe that all are one in the Heart of God.
Here we live our prophetic call of compassion and equality for all.
What do you see is the same as what would be said in a parish church? ……….
What do you see that would not be said there? Why are we different? ……….
Then there's the rest of the liturgy, the Mass, what is the same? ……….
What is different? Why?.......
How do we participate in Jesus' healing ministry? ……...
The next time we meet to celebrate the Eucharist we will go deeper into this understanding of we, Church, as the Body of Christ. For now let's remember the words of Pope John XXIII, "Let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is doubtful, and charity in everything."
We are forming a community by being here, giving up our own plans to cut the grass, go shopping or Skyping our family. But becoming one Bread, one Body will take another step: real communion happens when we let go of our demands in order to lighten another's burdens. That's when Christ's love shines in the Church. Let's celebrate Christ's love now as we share in the gift of the Eucharist!
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP