Send a note of thanks to the sisters as they gather in St. Louis to discern the way forward. And tell a friend to do the same. Letters need to be postmarked by August 1 to St. Louis – A “Sister” City c/o Jan McGillick, 5689 Oleatha, St. Louis, MO 63139
Or to Catholic Action Network, 438 N Skinker, St. Louis, MO 63130.
Sadly, in our church today it is hazardous to be a woman. The Hawaii Catholic Herald recently carried an article, regrettably by a woman, that peddles the nonsense that when women insist on their personal freedoms it is because they have been brainwashed into believing that “the only good woman is a neutered woman.”
These distortions are not new. Mary Magdalene was an early victim of the church’s record of attack without discussion. Phyllis Zagano recently described exactly what happened:
Once Pope Gregory the Great in 591 declared that the “sinful” woman in Luke’s Gospel who anointed Jesus’ feet was Mary Magdalene, a whole industry developed to discredit her. . . .
By the sixth century, women who wished to serve the church were steered toward cloisters. . . Mary’s successors had little — if any — input to the papacy’s day-to-day business. For sure, they were pretty much shut out. “
But they would have heard Pope Gregory preach that that Mary Magdalene had used the ointment to “perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.”
Just like that, he made it so. Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, she who saw the Risen Lord, she who brought word of the Resurrection to the disciples, was, by papal declaration, labeled a prostitute. “Publicly excoriated,” as Zagano says, “by the highest church authority.” The label stuck. Thus, with these judgments is the world of so many women constricted.
The attacks on women who think have gathered momentum. From Sr. Margaret Farley to the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sr. Pat Farrell. The charge that they are betraying the faith through what the Vatican and the Bishops call “radical feminism” is not unlike the labeling of Mary Magdalene.
The difference is that this is 2012 and these women are not about to let these distortions stand. These are women who are breaking new ground in understanding sexuality, in being pro-life.
The big question, says Sr. Pat Farrell, is whether it is possible to be Catholic and have a questioning mind. The Vatican and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops don’t seem to think it is.
The sisters have spoken out strongly against the death penalty, war, hunger. They grapple every day with complex, right-to -life issues at the ground level amongst “the impaired, the chronically mentally ill, the elderly, the incarcerated, the people on death row.”
Meanwhile, the Bishops expound on doctrine from the opulence of their offices and in front of the media, in full regalia.
DO NOT MESS WITH THE SISTERS!
While the Bishops launched their so-called “Fortnight for Freedom” from the grandeur of the cathedral in Baltimore, the Nuns on the Bus led by Sr. Simone Campbell were travelling from state to state. They met face-to-face with legislators, many of them Catholic, about the very un-Catholic Ryan budget.
Nearly 60,000 nuns are at the heart of the story of Catholic education, healthcare and community service. They help sustain more than 500 hospitals serving 90 million people. Mercy Sister Margaret McBride of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix even “earned” an automatic excommunication for her role in sanctioning an abortion that saved a young mother’s life. Sr. Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association defended that decision and was also a champion of the Affordable Care Act. Some like Sr. Dorothy Stang have faced down rapacious developers and paid with their lives in far off lands. Despite the enormous sacrifices, the fact that the sisters can, and do think has been deeply threatening to the hierarchy.
We drink of the Spirit too!
I remember with gratitude my own headmistress, Sr. Enda (Mena Ryan), the feisty Franciscan headmistress of my alma mater, Assunta Seconday School in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, who most shaped my Vatican 2 sensibility.
On Pentecost Sunday, First Corinthians tells us that “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. All of us have been given to drink of the Spirit.” Certainly the women religious and our conscience channel the Spirit no less than the Bishops do. Many of the sisters, some long gone, have left soft traces of themselves in the lives they have made possible, made more bearable, maybe even made joyous.
Too many women still experience what it is to be Mary Magdala: labeled unjustly, unable to respond. Women can yield to the bullying or choose to walk in the footsteps of the many thousands of lay and religious women of all faiths, all ethnicities, who together hold this planet in their hands.
We pray we choose wisely. And that our fathers and our brothers, our husbands and our sons, choose to walk with us. In the name of Mary Magdala, in the name of Mary, the mother of Christ, and above all, in the name of Love. Because even when it is really, really hard, love is what we are called to.