Saturday, July 20, 2019

Lizzie Berne Has Something To Say Feast of St. Mary Magdala July 22nd 2019



JULY 22, 2019
FEAST OF SAINT MARY OF MAGDALA
ELIZABETH BERNE DEGEAR
In honor of the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, I am speaking to you outside. Because so many of the moments we contemplate most deeply as Christians, as Catholics, happened outside.
Mary Magdalene was outside with Jesus as he was being crucified
And she was outside, in a garden, when she experienced resurrection.
As a biblical scholar I’ve been spending time with Mary Magdalene in Scripture and something new has caught my attention. Her name.
Her name in Hebrew and Aramaic is Miryam Migdala. We have assumed that migdala refers to a town -- Migdal. But migdal is also a Hebrew word. Could this have been her nickname? We know that Jesus gave nicknames to his favorite students. Peter’s name was actually Simon but Jesus called him “stone” and so the gospel writer calls that disciple Simon Peter. Similarly: Miryam Migdala.
So, you may be wondering, what does migdala mean?
Migdala means Tower. Did Jesus experience Mary Magdalene as a tower? I have been praying with the image of her as a woman with a very large and impressive presence. I wonder: did she tower over Jesus?
Migdala means Fortress. The strongest worship spaces in the ancient world were built as fortresses, and were called migdal temples.Did Jesus find that the essence of his ministry was exceptionally well protected and defended by Mary Magdalene? I wonder if he himself felt really safe with her.
Migdala means raised platform or Pulpit. Did Jesus believe that after he was gone his message would find a larger platform through her? Did Jesus see her as embodying the pulpit of their movement going forward?
Well, we don’t have to speculate about that one, because that’s just what John’s gospel shows us. Jesus resurrects to Mary and commissions her to spread the good news to everyone else. There was something about Mary and her capacity for spiritual experience.  And not just to experience resurrection, but then to convey it. Sharing her experience opens up these windows of possibility in the other disciples’ minds, and as a result they begin experiencing resurrection too.
Miryam Migdala claiming  her story as her own, and sharing it as hers is a crucial part of the Christian story we’ve all been telling for two thousand years.
Yet for some reasonit is so easy for us to overlook her subjectivity. Even though John’s gospel tells us that when she goes to the other students of Jesus to proclaim she says explicitly, “I have seen the Lord” and she tells them explicitly that “he had spoken these matters to her.” For some reason, we tend to skip over the power of her subjective experience.
For instance, we read in the gospel that Mary recognizes Jesus in the garden when he calls her by name. And “she called to him in Aramaic, ‘rabbouni’ which means Teacher.” Well, no, 'rabbi’ means teacher in Aramaic. Rabbouni means my teacher. Why does the Bible make that mistake?
As a doctor of psychology and religion I know that we tend to fear the spiritual power that comes through women’s authentic personal experience. The very human reaction to that fear is to denigrate the person whose creative power and authenticity frightens us.
Are we afraid of this saint?
Is that why Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus experienced as a Tower, has been portrayed in so much art as on her knees, prostrate on the ground, groveling at Jesus’ feet?
Is that why the impenetrable Fortress trusted by Jesus,  started being referred to six centuries later as a penitent prostitute -- someone whose job it is to be penetrated?
Is that why Mary Magdalene, the Pulpit for the resurrection, is strangely silent in many of our traditions? And is this fear of spiritual-power-through-subjective-experience why all women are banned from the pulpit in the Roman Catholic Mass?
Over two millennia we’ve gotten so good at denigrating or mis-labeling or just completely passing over Miryam Magdala and her experience.
But our world today is waking up to the powerfully good news of women’s subjective experience.
I have a thirteen-year-old daughter. And every day she shows me -- with her words and her actions and her choices -- that the time of patriarchal structures  as the fitting container for our faith and our lives -- that time is over.
Now is a time to celebrate. On this Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene we can celebrate the power of her experience as good news. She is reminding us that we all have to claim our own experience as the good news. Jesus as rabbouni. “My” teacher. Your teacher. And we have to go out and live it and preach it and teach it with authority.
Because Jesus didn’t authorize any institution. Ever.
Because the institutions of our Church are sick and dying.
Because you have a story that only you can tell, and when you tell it, resurrection flows.
My message of good news today is that you are it. We are it. We’ve got a lot of choices to make. We’ve got a lot of building to do. The Feast of Mary Magdalene is a great day to start.  



Elizabeth Berne DeGear is a chaplain, writer, Bible scholar and Catholic feminist.
Through Bible studies at the Church of St. Francis Xavier, Lizzie has been sharing her passion for the Bible since 2002. As a Catholic feminist, Lizzie has been happy to be involved in The Women Who Stayed ministry over the years and was delighted to be part of Feminism & Faith in Union here in 2017. Co-creating liturgical celebrations and healing circles in honor of Mary Magdalene’s Feast Day has been a highlight of this work. Lizzie believes that the beauty at the heart of the Church – Christ’s living message of love and transformation – needs no longer be bound by misogyny. Called to Catholic priesthood, she longs to be fully welcomed to the Eucharistic table by her worship community.





Thursday, July 11, 2019

Mary E. Hurson Had Something To Say June 29th, 2019 Homily at Xavier Pride Mass

Readings: 1 KGS. 19:16B, 19‐21, GAL5:1, 13‐18, LK 9:51‐62    
“Follow me.”   

Elijah to Elisha.  
Jesus to his disciples.  
Jesus to you and me.  
We are called as a mother calls her child “follow me”

Hear the tenderness in these words that invite us.     

What should we do?  
Should we turn around and look behind? 
Should we hesitate because we are unsure... of where we are going...or because  it’s not the right time... I’ll do it later... we are afraid, not able to trust, maybe not  able to give up something...?   

But what/who we are leaving behind?    

This Jesus who asks us to follow him knows us through and through, he sees us as  we are‐ our bumps and falls, our defects, our struggles, our burdens, our joys too.   (Remember Jesus knew Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus, the woman at the well just  as he knows you and me.)    

He sees us as we are and he wants us. He calls us to say forget about that stuff  which holds you back!   I know who you are and I want you! I want you to be with me... to join me...     

Jesus says to you and me “Look at who I have invited to follow me...Uganda’s  Jonita Warry, Pakistan’s Malala Yousazai , Brazil’s Berta Casares, and I have asked  you because I love you.. I want to bring you with me to Jerusalem so you may die  with me to enter new life... the life I have promised you.  … this new life, new water, new spirit who will come into you, create a new life  within you. I will not disappoint you!!”  

What does Jesus’ call have to do with this?  It is Pride weekend, and there are those of us who celebrate the freedoms we  have been granted as well as remember the struggles of those who went before  us and those who continue to struggle.    

I ask us to reflect on what does Pride mean for each of us?  ..dignity and freedom and respect and love for all of the OTHERS, one which is  about accepting the grace filled invitation to walk with Jesus as he walks with  us…to yield to the Spirit and not our self‐centeredness…    

In the second reading, Paul pleaded with the Galatians to be one in Christ‐give up  their demands of one another to be the same‐for they were all loved in the one  spirit…  and we are all loved in One Spirit!      

Paul says‐ “For freedom, Christ set us free. You were called for freedom sisters  and brothers ...use this freedom to serve one another through love!   “For the whole law is fulfilled ... You shall love your neighbor as yourself...use it in  Love for one another!!!!.”  

There is no regret, no looking back, no holding on, it’s about going to Jerusalem,  it’s about listening to Gods voice say I want you to love your neighbor as  yourself... not more or less than yourself but as yourself‐who I love totally and  completely as you are.  

How does this play out in our lives?    

We may have followed someone into this Church of St. Francis Xavier, or we may  have discovered or stumbled into this place in some spirit filled moment, no  matter how….    
…here we have come to know Jesus in our prayers, our community, our service,  
our Eucharist... 
....we heard the invitation and we did not look back, not one of us.   

In fact, we continually strive to invite all, to welcome all…to listen and learn from  each other,   
This is the hand of the spirit, I know that for myself because I have heard Jesus say  follow me……   

…not as a command but as an invitation...and I hear Jesus say “stay with me”,  even when I get distracted, disappointed in myself,  or the church, or in our  elected officials, or the state of the world ....  
….tenderly lovingly and clearly I hear Jesus say “Follow me”.  

Imagine, you are busy at something one day (could be at a soup kitchen, walking  down the street in the eyes of a homeless person, or a friend in need...and you  think you feel a soft cloak made thrown over your shoulders.. as Elijah threw his  cloak over Elisha…   and you hear something... and you know the voice... you know the voice ... 

“follow me”   

… and you follow. 


 June 29th, 2019  M.E.Hurson  

Monday, July 1, 2019

Reverend Arda Itez Has Something To Say June 23rd Homily


We’ve come together to honor and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, history and those who’ve paved the way. I feel so privileged to be standing here before you. June 28th, 1969 was the day the story changed. Down on Christopher Street a marginalized community stood up, said enough was enough, and the gay liberation movement was born. I can’t help but wonder if any of those Stonewall heroes and heroines, many unsung, could have ever imagined 50 years later we’d be here, much less in a church, celebrating the community they helped liberate. We’ve come a long way since then, but there’s still work to be done, and we must be vigilant, especially now.

This past week I read an article about a survivor of the Pulse nightclub massacre, who was at the “Freedom March” in Washington, D.C. If you’re not aware, this march is for people who have decided to leave behind their LGBTQ “lifestyle”, as they refer to it, and shed their former identities by embracing Christ. Reading those words broke my heart for so many reasons, the least of them being his complete and total misunderstanding of Jesus Christ and his message.

There are so many types of oppression, but this is the most egregious and devastating kind. The kind that attacks your  identity, your being, your very existence, through a patriarchal theology upheld by those who believe God is small, binary and belongs solely to their demographic. A God THEY’VE created in THEIR own image.
It’s time to lay that fallacy to rest once and for all.
It’s time to heal the wounds inflicted in the name of God.

We, in all our cisgender, transgender, non binary, hetero, homo, bi beauty, have been made in the image of God.

And we don’t REALIZE our inherent divine worth... which is not conditional... It’s not something that can be taken away from us, its part of our dharma. Whatever you call God, the Divine, your higher power, you are a manifestation of that. God is expressed, God lives, walks, talks, loves through you. You are borne from the Source of all things, you are consciousness experiencing itself. My friends, the world is not, could not, be whole or complete without the LGBTQ+ community.

When you awaken to who you are, nothing outside of yourself can make you otherwise. Then you are truly free. We know false and harmful ideologies still permeate pockets of our society, wreaking havoc on the lives of those who are victimized by it. This is why it’s up to us, allies included, to carry the message forward. As it’s been said before, until we’re all free, none of us are free...and everyone should feel safe and proud to be and celebrate exactly who they are, not just in June, but 365 days out of the year. That’s the freedom we should ALL be striving for.

Today we honor and praise heroes, activists, resistors and pioneers like Harry Hay and Frank Kameny, who began fighting for equal rights in the 1950’s. Marsha P. Johnson, the trans woman, who after Stonewall, went on to demonstrate on Wall Street against the extreme prices of AIDS drugs and was a mother figure to the youth that came her way. AND Stormé DeLarverie, who was given the moniker of ‘guardian of the lesbians’ and the ‘Rosa Parks of the LGBTQ community’. She walked the downtown streets like a gay superhero. AND Tammy Novak, the 18-year-old trans woman who, like Stormé and Marsha, was one of the first people to fight back. AND her friend, Sylvia Rivera, the 17-year-old Puerto Rican drag queen and trans activist who yelled, “Its the revolution!” and went on to become a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists  Alliance, and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries with Marsha. She dedicated her life to helping homeless young drag queens and trans women.

As we honor these ancestors and so many others that haven’t been named, we must recognize our own sacred responsibility to one other and especially, the next generation. We must protect, companion, inspire, guide, mentor, support, uplift and love each other in every way we can. Dear ones, this is the only way to know God. Through love, service and devotion to one another. Let’s continue to be the example to the rest of world, as New York City has always been. Let the force of our radical love send powerful, transformative waves of healing out into the Universe, especially to those who are still struggling to break free.

May it be so.

Reverend Arda Itez
June 23rd, 2019
St. Francis Xavier Church NYC

Friday, June 7, 2019

Boreta A. Singleton Has Something To Say Pentecost 2019




JUNE 9, 2019
PENTECOST
BORETA A.
SINGLETON
Holy Spirit come and fill this place
Bring us healing with your warm embrace
Show Your power make your presence known
Holy Spirit come fill this place
Holy Spirit come fill this place
This song by CeCe Winans helps me to remember that the Holy Spirit is already here with us; we just have to call on the Spirit’s presence as the disciples did in our first reading for Pentecost.
We see in the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples were gathered together, and as the Holy Spirit came to them in wind and fire, they began to speak different languages. The many people gathered in Jerusalem at first were confused, but then understood the messages that the disciples conveyed about works of God.
Have you ever been in a situation where you did not speak the language of those around you? I actually grew up with grandparents and a great-aunt who spoke very limited English. My Dad was from Louisiana, and he and his parents spoke Louisiana Creole. My Grandmother never wanted me to learn Creole, so she would put her hands over my ears when she spoke to my Dad. Like the people in Jerusalem, I was confused, but the Holy Spirit helped me to understand my grandmother’s language, and that is the language of love.
She taught me to sew and cook, and she also taught me how to be gracious in the midst of a challenge.  This was the 1960s, and although there were  no Jim Crow Laws  in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,  there were some white people who felt challenged  by people of color and made their discomfort known. My Grandmother and I frequented the many white-owned fabric stores of South Philadelphia, and to say that she was merciful to the merchants is an understatement. I acted as a pseudo translator, and although my Grandmother may not have understood the merchant, she certainly understood his or her tone of voice. I would get annoyed and my grandmother would grab my hand and give me a look.  We would eventually make our purchases. As we would leave some stores, my Grandmother would say to me, “Souviens-toi!”  -- remember!   I don’t know if the "remember" was for me or the store, but I knew I needed to “check myself” the next time I responded when speaking to the storekeeper!  She never said an angry word, she walked on, peaceful as ever.
Isn’t that how the Spirit is with us?  It is all about love. Jesus says in John Chapter 14, the Gospel, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus is clear about those Commandments-- love God and love your neighbor.  How much room do we leave for the Spirit’s love and for our response?  We all possess those gifts we were given at Baptism-- those seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that were strengthened at our Confirmation. But how often do we call on them?  
I believe that every day, we encounter the Holy Spirit. In these and in so many other situations, we have the opportunity to put those gifts into action.  Our class was frequently reminded by my Seventh Grade teacher, Sister St. Ignatius, that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are always present to us. But like any gift or present, we need to unwrap them in order to use them!  Today, with violence against Christians as well as our Jewish and Muslim neighbors, we need to call on the Spirit more than ever!  I especially call on the gift of courage in these days to help me to respond. In one of his daily Easter homilies, Pope Francis says  “Let us ask the Lord” to give us this awareness that we cannot be Christians without walking with the Holy Spirit, without acting with the Holy Spirit, without letting the Holy Spirit be the protagonist of our lives”. Let us be bold and speak out-- let us be like those disciples of the early Church and proclaim the Good News of Jesus.  You and I may be surprised-- the same Spirit that urged Jesus to pray and fast in the desert for forty days, the same Spirit that enabled him to heal the sick, the same Spirit that forgave his executioners is present in you. Let us put our words into action, too--let us care for our brothers and sisters with love and pray: Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth! Happy Pentecost!

Boreta A. Singleton, a native of Philadelphia, PA, is an African American ‘cradle Catholic.’  She taught in Catholic elementary and middle schools there and was the Director of the Office for Black Catholics for four years.  She has worked for Jesuit-sponsored schools for the past seventeen years, first at St. Aloysius in Harlem, and now at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, NJ, where she is the Director of Faculty Formation. She holds an MA in Theology from University of Notre Dame, an MS in Pastoral Care and Counseling from Neumann University and will graduate with a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Fairfield University on Pentecost Day, 2019.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Christine Santisteban Has Something To Say


My name is Christine Santisteban and I have a few things I would like to say about misogyny and patriarchy because Time’s up and it’s officially over.

Catholics especially have received hit after hit after receiving further news of Church abuses. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and heart breaking. We are living through fear filled, alternative fact filled and gas lighted precarious times. If your hearts have felt weary, you aren’t alone. We are experiencing a collective desolation.

Here we are today in 2019, more than a century after battling for the right to vote, women still face gender equality barriers and prejudice as highlighted by the gender pay gap, #MeToo, Times up movement and countless examples of everyday sexism like hepeating and mansplaining. Even with the Catholic Church still struggles with placing women in leadership roles.

If we are to move forward from a sexist, patriarchal institutions, we have to speak up and name each and every evil of this oppression. We also have to ask ourselves some tough questions. How has patriarchy been able to continue? What power and responsibilities have we failed to take on? What scares us or discomforts is about women in politics ? Women in leadership roles? Would we feel comfortable with She-sus or Christa? What threatens us about a woman wearing a collar or presiding over liturgy?

The hard truth is that we women can sabotage one another. Look at what we have done to female presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and current Democratic female presidential candidates, we hold them to different standard, we vilify then, we insult them and accuse them of being power hungry. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been labeled ‘stupid.’ This is what misogyny and patriarchy does, makes women and men behave in certain ways to further perpetuate its vicious cycle. We are conditioned!

Hepeating, when men say what you said but louder, for example reinforces the patriarchy and what while men in particular are taught from a young age; they are told they are gifted with a ‘Divine Right to Talk’ and when they do what they say is worth more than when somebody else says it. The real issue is that women are forced to change their behavior in order to level the playing field. They have to adapt and modify themselves in order to be taken as seriously as the men they work with.

So what should we do now that we coined a term for this behavior. In the future, perhaps young men will be taught not to ‘mansplain’ from a young age. Women have been told to speak up and man up for years. It’s not the women whose ideas are ‘hepeated’ that need to change. Let’s use terms like ‘hepeat’ to teach them men to pipe down. Let’s liberate boys and men from such toxic forms of masculinity and in doing so doing liberate ourselves.

I would like to share with you two stories of Church mothers who are the original resistors. Saint Brigid and Sor Juana de la Cruz. They had something to say about living in a male dominated society and we should listen and learn from their examples.

Saint Brigid of Kildare is one of Ireland’s patron saints. Born the daughter of a Christian Pict makes Brocca and Dubthach, a Leinster chieftain. She is a 5th century Irish Christian nun, abbess and foundress if monasteries including the famous and revered monastery in Kildare, Ireland.

As a young girl, her father attempted to sell her to the Leinster King. Known for her charity, she then gave away her father’s jeweled sword to a beggar to barter it for food to feed his family. The King recognized her holiness and convinced Dubthach to grant his daughter freedom.

Brigid then took a vow of charity and was veiled. She travelled from church to church, Christian house to Christian house from Leinster, Munster and Connacht.

She took on female followers and set up religious communities around her her territories. She founded a monastery in Kildare (Cill Dara “church of the oak”) on the site of a pagan shrine to the Celtic Goddess Brigid. The site was under a large oak tree on the ridge of Drun Criadh. She founded two monastic institutions, one for men and one for women. She invited Conleth, a hermit form old Connell near Newbridge to help as pastor of them. She gave canonical jurisdiction to Conleth as Bishop it Kildare. You heard correctly. Brigid installed a Bishop. She chose Bishop Conleth to govern the church along with herself. For centuries Kildare was ruled by a double one or abbot bishops and of abbesses. Her successors have always been accorded this episcopal honor. Brigid’s oratory became of center of religion and learning and developed into a cathedral city.

She also went north to Meath to meet St Patrick and visit his churches there. Her friendship with Saint Patrick is notes in the Book of Armagh. ‘Between Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people there was so great a friendship of charity that they had by one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works.’   She performed miracles en route, healing plenty of lepers and other patients, halting bandits, preventing nurses and making peace.

She was the lone female figure whose voice was heard in a male dominated church, but the stories of her good deeds and extraordinary acts set her apart. She stands today as an example of a women who followed her heart and took powers that be in a male dominated world. She was acknowledged as a Saint not by an institution but by the community of faith.

Another powerful figure is Sor Juana ines de la Cruz. She calls herself Soy Yo la Peor de todas. A 17th century Mexican Criolla, scholar, mystic, poet and playwright. she too was crucified and nailed to the cross for being a woman and for her sexuality. From her writing, La Repuesta, we know as a young girl she had a deep desire and thirst for knowledge. She taught herself to read and devoured every book in her grandfathers library at a time when learning was considered ‘unfeminine.’ Her own mother banned her from entering into a university to study. Disguised as a boy, she went to Mexico City to study. She spoke Latin after only 20 lessons and began to poetry in Latin, Spanish and her native Nahuatl (Her native Aztec Language).

The viceroy of New Spain, the Marquis De Mancera, doubtful of her knowledge, had her tested under a barrage of learned men, theologians, philosophers mathematicians, historians, poets and other scholars. One by one they examined her. They could not find any fault with her learning.

Who has forbidden women to engage in private and individual studies? Have they not a rational soul as men do? … I have his inclination to study and if it is evil, I am not the one who formed me thus- I was born with it and with it I shall die.

Not wishing to be confined to marriage where woman would still be denied freedom, she chose to join the Hieronymites.

“I went on with my studious task of reading and still more reading, study and still more study, with no teacher besides my books themselves. What a hardship it is to learn from these lifeless letter, deprived of the sound of a teachers voice and explanations; yet I suffered all these trials most gladly for the love of learning.”

The men of the Church, the Bishop would have gladly preferred to silence her forever.

“You foolish men who
Lay the guilt on women
Not seeing you are the cause
of the very thing you blame.”

By stepping into the role of the poet, a traditionally masculine space, Sor Juana immediately assumes some equality with male intellectuals of the time period. She does not condemn these men, nor does she attempt to remove them from the intellectual space. Instead she incites them to change the system and treat women more fairly, ultimately hoping for inclusion in this system rather then rejecting it entirely.

Though her writings are clearly subversive. Ultimately she choose silence. Her deafening silence still roars today. Cracking the walls of patriarchy, resounding all over the world until women are seen and respected as equals. Until women all over the world are no longer denied the freedom to learn.

Brigid and Sor Juana present two interesting feminist models of resistance. We are not called to be them. But they are with us calling to act. Will you answer the call? Where does your heart lead?

Consider striking along with Maria 2.0, wear white, get involved in other actions outside of the church this week, and volunteer elsewhere. Consider redirecting donations to other charities like our Mother’s Day sale headed by Gloria, to benefit Thrive for Life, and Mary’s House. Consider donating directly to Xavier Mission and the Women’s ordination conference, and other organizations that support women.  

Let’s us act, let us persist and keep making.


Christine Santisteban is native of Queens has been a parishioner since 2014. She helps co-lead the Xavier Young Adults group, and dabbled in the many wonderful ministries at Xavier including the shelter, Xavier Bible Study, It was the women Who Stayed. She is a passionate physician, a lover of all things furry, a clarinetist, honorary Irish woman, pilgrim, and aspiring writer and poet. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe Has Something To Say Mother's Day Homily 2019


Good morning. Happy Mother’s Day.

Diane Lisanti’s moving Good Friday homily is the inspiration for this reflection. In pondering the agony of Jesus’s crucifixion, Diane found insight from the hymn, What Wondrous Love is This. The hymn goes, “What wondrous love is this? Oh my soul, Oh my soul. What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse, for my soul.”

Diane’s prayer about the mystery of God’s love focused us on the last verse, “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be. And thro’ eternity I’ll sing on.” The very human contradiction that we feel exists between death and freedom is overcome by God’s love.
Diane’s message – a message of hope - was that in death - and I quote - “God completes us in love.” “God completes us in love.”

The very power of God’s love is re-enforced in another of our Xavier Triduum hymns. This one is a Taize chant we sang on Holy Thursday, “Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God; the love of God as revealed to us in Christ Jesus.”

How then does God teach us about God’s love? The love that is the foundation of all life - that powers the universe. How do we get a hint of God’s love for us? How do we love like God intends for us to love? And, since we are made in God’s image - how do we learn to love like God loves?

We sing the words of these hymns with great fervor at mass. You can feel it wherever you sit in church – in the nave the sound is all around us, at the front the sound comes in waves. Some of us hum the hymns during the week. 

In the world of St Ignatius Loyola, which is our world here at Xavier - we look for God in all things. God acts - very deliberately - in our human history in very concrete ways. God’s love is right in front of our eyes - and in our hearts - when we witness acts of kindness, when we are the recipients of the glow of love, when we act with love toward another, or toward the earth, or animal world. At their best, the hymns impel us to action – in love.

Mothering - being mothered - being present to witness mothering - are ways that God teaches us about God’s love. In the psalm we sang today -  Psalm 100 – God teaches that we are the flock that God tends. The psalmist goes on to say – to sing – that God is good. God’s kindness and faithfulness endure for generations.

We are conditioned in our society – we are socialized - to put labels to things. And so, we see goodness, kindness, faithfulness as maternal. For God, these attributes may be maternal. For God, the most important thing is that these are the attributes that make for a line of sheep – a flock -  that lives for generations. In the psalmist’s time, the measure of success for a shepherd – who was likely NOT to be a mother - was the continuation of a flock’s line – the protection of the flock - for generations. One shepherd’s flock might be unblemished for Passover – another produced the sweetest milk and cheese. God’s goodness, kindness and faithfulness –  extend to all generations – to all flocks for all time.  This is the lesson God teaches us – the lesson about how as a person made in God’s image - as each of us is - we each learn to love as God loves.

This is what we really celebrate on Mother’s Day – the universal maternal that is in each of us. Jesus celebrates this universal maternal today when he says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life …. No one can take them out of my hand…”  These sheep – us – have known God’s universal maternal – goodness, kindness, faithfulness – for generations.

When we were growing up, our Dad - who was an only child - loved being the center of attention. He was a happy fellow and positively beamed when a huge stack of birthday or Christmas presents landed in his lap. Invariably on Mother’s Day, when that kind of attention was directed to our mother and his mother and our mother’s mother, he would sheepishly grin and say, “Remember Father on Mother’s Day.” Yes... the groan echoed through the house ...and  he laughed and laughed having now gotten the attention he sought. And, yes, like every other holiday, Mother’s Day can be complicated.

This year, I keep coming back to that memory. However dubious - questionable - Dad’s effort was to extend the glow of Mother’s Day to himself, he was on to something.

The things we celebrate on Mother’s Day are universal – we are each Mother and Mothered – as these are foundational parts of our humanity. Each role offers a glimmer for us – in real 21st century time - of how we are made in God’s image. Nurture and acceptance demonstrate this. soothing a sick child and cleaning up from a stomach virus in the middle of the night … ministering to a chronically sick person when bone tired. Extending the kind of embrace or eye contact that conveys welcome, a safe harbor with no questions, no criticism, no qualification.

These attributes of God’s love – the Shepherd’s love – “completes us”, as Diane said.  So, yes! Remember Dad on Mother’s Day. Remember Everyone on Mother’s Day. And most of all Remember Everyone, every day!

That I haven’t always seen the celebration with such clarity is not terribly interesting. In fact, some of you may share the ambivalence, even skepticism - I had toward this annual celebration by Hallmark. It doesn’t help knowing that last year Americans spent 23 Billion on Mother’s Day.

What I’d like to share a bit is God’s lesson that lead me to start today’s homily at the end of the journey.

My Mother’s Day thoughts started early this year. In March our mother - the matriarch of our family - died at 93-  after a tough year in hospice – cared for at home in what had been the family dining room. We are a resurrection clan with a gift for stories. As you might imagine we celebrated her life - well you might not imagine is that we could celebrate for 6 days - and nights - but that is what we did. Amid the stories, we were amazed that she wouldn’t need this life - or us - in her new eternal life. And we shared the deep grief that goes with the death of a beloved.

Into that space - dislocation and emptiness alternating with joy at having so many really good memories, and thanksgiving that we had taken good care of mom and each other. Into that very odd space came the notion of preaching today. The timing was perfect.

During these past weeks of Lent and Easter, I’ve been steeped in flashes of memory, every day experiences in real time and gospel images. Some of these impressions and images are at odds with our usual way of thinking. Ours is society largely organized around two choices - either/or, me/you - though really the choice is me/not me. Parent/non-parent. Maternal embracing/ Paternal handshake. One recurring image is of my brother-in-law and brother ministering to our mother during her last days. The tenderness with which they shifted her position or found a less intrusive way to give her the meds was a gift to all of us. We were living a role reversal where the mother who gave so much for decades could not acknowledge the mothering she was receiving from two strong fellows with lots of thumbs. The binary model - the unalterable choice between A or not A- didn’t work for this experience of life. These two fellows put the lie to several aspects of  the maternal/non maternal choice.

In our fast-paced world we make judgments in nanoseconds, often based on the me/not me dichotomy. Limiting maternal love as accessible only to mothers, relying upon a three- line Hallmark card to express all that we know about mothering, puts distance between us and God’s love. We become insulated from the drama of human engagement - loving each and every person and all of creation as God loves. We absolve ourselves from having to engage in the serious work of loving as God loves. And, we let ourselves off the hook from loving as we are made - in the image of God. God loves each and every part of creation, individually. In short, God does not have either/or categories

As I mulled over these things, I looked for ways to test my feeling that all things maternal are really God acting in human history. Ignatius’ finding God in all things. One day I heard an NPR Storyboard episode. A mother described how her autistic son, 6’ 3” tall, experienced a bad reaction to a new med. As they entered the ER, the son bit the mom. Hospital police quickly pinned him to the floor. She was sure he would die. But then a policeman lay flat on the floor next to her son and crooned to him till he calmed enough for a physician to treat him. Her mothering could do little for him. The cop’s mothering saved his life.

Because all these musings were occurring during Lent, I began praying, to see old Gospel stories with new eyes and a larger heart.  Accounts of Jesus and the people around him where God’s love appears as the universal maternal.  The story of the Prodigal Son is one example. Part of the parable’s power is the father’s unconditional acceptance – maternal – of his son. Father ran to meet son when he saw him as a speck in the distant horizon. That love in its rawness – its intimacy – sears hearts and brings tears to each person who has loved, been loved, wanted to be loved – unconditionally. In God’s lesson there are no categories, no binary choices, no conditions, no caveats. In God’s lesson there is total acceptance – the universal maternal – because everything made in God’s image is good. This brings us full circle – back to the Taize chant: “Nothing – NOTHING – can ever come between us and the love of God…”

Among the stories told about our mother those six days we celebrated was one that captured the kindness and grace common to the human – and maternal – in all of us. Mom invariably could be counted on to miss some critical part of what it was to be “hip” about something. In this case it was how to be a snarky driver in New York. At that time, we had at least one aggressive driver in the family who would cut in lines, head off speeders and freely share the third finger at strategic moments. And we had one youthful passenger who happily regaled the family as he witnessed these drives. One day, Mom was unusually animated at dinner. She’d been driving Brooklyn’s crowded avenues, double parked cars everywhere when a person cut her off. For a bit in traffic they see sawed back and forth each taking the lead for a time. She recounted how the other driver yelled and gestured a lot. Finally, she pulled ahead of the other driver for the final time. At her most animated, Mom said, “I did it! I did it! As I passed, I gave him the finger!” And, she raised her thumb – the universal “it’s all okay” sign.  So somewhere in Brooklyn there is a fellow who is still wondering how he became the recipient of unconditional mother love.

We should all offer – and receive – the same.
Happy Mother’s Day. Remember everyone, every day.

Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe is Vice Chair, St. Francis Xavier Pastoral Council 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Lizzie Berne DeGear Has Something To Say



“I am a Catholic priest.”

It is the summer of 1998, I am thirty years old, and I am sitting in a parish office on Eastern Long Island, one town over from where I am staying with my 89-year-old grandfather for a few weeks. My grandfather, like everyone in my family, is Jewish and he knows nothing about my conversion to Catholicism three years before. So my presence here is on the sly. The woman sitting across from me, who has just uttered these words, works at the parish. We have met only once before -- when I approached her the previous Sunday. As pastoral associate, she stood at the pulpit after Mass, making announcements and managing to fit in a powerful two-sentence homily on that day’s gospel. Her words were the most spiritually significant moment of the liturgy for me (I still remember the entirety of that homily) and I knew I had to meet her.

As we sit face to face, I thank her for her homily, and she accepts my gratitude with grace. Then she says simply, “I am a Catholic priest.” My reaction is instantaneous. I break into a huge grin, and say to myself, “I knew it!” As a relatively new Catholic, eagerly learning about the Church, this good news does not come as a shock. Somehow, in my bones, I had sensed the existence of Catholic priests who were women. She goes on,

“God ordained me.”

As we continue our conversation, this priest shares some of her story with me and I’m fascinated. My own vocation crystallizes in a new way in her presence and I find myself musing aloud, “I’m a priest too, but I think I’m still in training.” With an abrupt and assured laugh, she says, “Oh, believe me, you will know when God ordains you. It will not be subtle!”

~

She was right. A few years later, when God ordained me, it came with layers of ritual and wonder that took a long time to marvel at and absorb. Over the weeks and months that followed the sacrament I filled a handmade journal with reflections on the unfolding experience.

Vocational milestones marked my path over the next few years. The same night I experienced ordination I was also encouraged to join members of my parish on a trip to visit companion communities in Honduras. Smiling, I thought to myself, “Ordination comes with a honeymoon! Who knew?!” Days after returning from that spirit-expanding and soul-deepening trip, I began a master’s program at Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. Other vocational moments that stand out from those early years: certification with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains; discovering my passion for group work while ministering on the inpatient psych unit at Mary Immaculate Hospital in inner city Jamaica, Queens; and discovering my passion for the Old Testament as I poured over ancient Hebrew words while riding the subway every day on my way  to work.

~
One aspect of God’s call to me that continues to delight, bewilder, and sometimes exhaust me is its “both/and” quality: the “more” of Ignatius’ ad majorem dei gloriam, the surprising and joyfully abundant invitations that pour forth from a supremely generous Hostess. When I otherwise might fear that life is asking me for an either/or decision, God reminds me of this “more.” For instance, as I first discovered myself as Catholic, God assured me that I was not being asked to convert from Judaism to Catholicism; rather I was discovering a convergence of my Jewish ancestral being with my blossoming Catholic faith. Similarly, during the decade of my life following these milestones (roughly from age thirty-six to forty-six), God taught me to weave two aspects of my vocational life together, even as She wove them within me: priesthood and motherhood.

On my first date with my future husband in 2004, I told him about my PhD application to Union Theological Seminary and my hopes to study depth psychology, theology and the Hebrew Bible concurrently. He said with an odd assurance for someone who had only met me once before, “You’re going to get in.” And even though I had heard this sort of encouraging confidence from friends, this was the first time I believed it too. As we got to know each other over a pitcher of beer, he asked me, “So, why aren’t you a nun?” and with an odd frankness for someone who had only met him once before, I spoke about my vocation to motherhood. Later that evening, we laughed when he said, “Oh boy, now when our kids ask about our first kiss, I’m going to have to tell them it was when I called you a nun!” When he asked in a genuinely vulnerable way how I imagined raising kids and being so devoted to my work, the answer came out of me before I had time to second-guess its first-date appropriateness, “God isn’t asking me to choose between them. Please don’t ask me to either.” When I got home that night, with that floating, butterflies in the stomach feeling that comes after a really, really good first date, I checked the mailbox on my way up to my apartment. The invitation to a four-year fellowship at Union Theological Seminary was waiting for me.

That four years stretched to eight and a half as Tony and I welcomed Daisy and Fred into the world. The intensity of both early parenthood and doctoral studies found relief in their entwined combination. Experiences from one side of my motherhood-priesthood vocation helped me develop the other. For instance, on one of my doctoral exams I was asked to articulate an aspect of psychoanalyst DW WInnicott’s clinical theory; I wrote about Winnicott’s “transitional space” between mother and infant, and how that space widens to become the space of creativity, communication, and culture. Critiquing the exam, my doctoral advisor Ann Ulanov noted that I was “spotty” on the theory but that the example I gave -- from a surprising and humorous moment while nursing my son -- confirmed that I indeed understood what Winnicott was driving at. Years later I would find myself returning to this academic/lived wisdom for my work on the Immaculate Conception and what I termed “the gaze of grace.” These family and seminary experiences, woven together as they were, formed an invisible stole that the shoulders of my priesthood still carry.