The Table

Michael Owens, “American Pieta”

Sometimes you cannot avoid the image of the Pieta, Mary with the body of her dead son in her arms. That deep, deep sorrow holds onto you as she held onto him.

These days we are held in the grip of the tragedy in Parkland, and all those similar tragedies here and around the world. We hurt with their hurt. We hurt with our own.

But then we see the comforters, the healers, the nurturers step forth. We see them tend to the wounded and help the wounded tend to themselves. We see magnificent power and enduring glory in its most tender form.

To me, this feels like the feminine manifestation of God in our world, always with us, always within each one of us. To me, this is feminine as true power, as strong, as forceful, and as sacred as its masculine complement.

Today, I lift up a plea for this kind of sacredness once again. We need the feminine always before us but especially in our designated holy spaces. We need women to stand up front, to call us forth, to pray, to speak, to lead, to inspire, and, most importantly, to consecrate. We need that kind of nurture, that kind of comfort, that kind of power and that kind of glory, that kind of love, today and every day so that we all can heal, regain hope, and go forth.

Amen. 

“Winning the battle, losing the war” became the frame for this post at a performance to celebrate the Chinese New Year on Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday. Watching this talented family of immigrants perform their traditional music, I realized that the lunar New Year is called “Tet” in Vietnam. The Tet Offensive in 1968 was the turning point in the “American War”: when the forces of the United States inflicted great damage to the North Vietnamese, and when the people of the United States started to turn against the war.

The birth of the New Moon is celebrated by Jews every month as Rosh Chodesh, this year February 15. I would like to know if the new moon begins the 46-day cycle (Sundays don’t count for the 40 days of fasting) that leads up to Easter, but I can’t find an easy answer online. Certainly St. Valentine’s celebration is not linked to a moon cycle except in popular songs and swoony images of love. Lunar New Year is even acknowledged on the February 16 Google search page with images of dogs on a ski lift, celebrating the Olympics in South Korea. Let us not forget the fragile hopes raised by North Korean participation there.

Celebrations are important to nourish human life, and we as Catholics have a rich liturgical tradition. I want to argue in this post that traditionalists in the Vatican won the battle of English translations, but will lose the war. The 2001 document Liturgiam authenticam resulted in the 2011 Missal for the entire English-speaking world that is an obstacle to genuine celebration of the liturgy, every day, every week.

Consider these examples from an article in Commonweal, by Gerald O’Collins with John Wilkins:

The Christmas Day “Prayer over the Gifts,” from the 1998 rejected Missal:

Lord,
on this solemn day accept the offering
which has brought us reconciliation and perfect peace
and is the full expression of our worship.
We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord.

Compare this with the “Prayer over the Offerings” from the 2011 Missal:

Make acceptable, O Lord, our oblation on this solemn day,
when you manifested the reconciliation
that makes us wholly pleasing in your sight
and inaugurated for us the fullness of divine worship.
Through Christ our Lord.

Another example: “Prayer over the Offerings” from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

First the version from the 1998 rejected Missal:

In your goodness, Lord, receive the sacrifice of salvation which we offer on the feast of the immaculate conception. We profess in faith that your grace preserved the Virgin Mary from every stain of sin; through her intercession deliver us from all our faults.

Now the version from 2011 Missal:

Graciously accept the saving sacrifice which we offer you, O Lord, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and grant that, as we profess her, on account of your prevenient grace, to be untouched by any stain of sin, so through her intercession, we may be delivered from all our faults.

“Prevenient”? Really?

I am grateful to the authors for providing these illustrations of awful translations, and they go on to describe the goals of Liturgiam authenticam:

The instruction wanted a “sacral style” (stylum sacrum), which could differ from current speech and even sound strange and “obsolete.” It dreamed of a “sacred language” (lingua sacra) with its own “vocabulary, syntax, and grammar,” which might have its impact on “daily speech.” Where current English and other languages have moved toward “inclusive” speech, the “sacred language” should not follow suit. The gendered language of Latin was not to be altered. “Pray, brethren,” excluding half the human race, is in accordance with the instruction, whereas “Pray, brothers and sisters” would not be.

I can’t tell you how much this makes me want to wage war! You may remember that my small faith community does not use the 2011 Missal, but every time I am part of a celebration in a church that does, I struggle with the language on the card or worship aid so blithely imposed on millions of people. My little private battle is NOT to be imposed upon.

O’Collins and Wilkins quote “chant historian” Peter Jeffrey, who writes about Liturgiam authenticam in his book Translating Tradition:

He sharply criticized the instruction’s tone: “What it lacks in factuality it makes up with naked aggression. It speaks words of power and control rather than cooperation and consultation, much less charity.”

I am not usually drawn to military metaphors, but when it comes to the liturgical life of the church, I am sorely tempted. I want to endorse the motu proprio Magnum principium promulgated by Pope Francis last year, which suggests not a world-wide battle but a process to “become the voice of the church in its time and place,” to quote O’Collins and Wilkins. Now is the time for the bishops in English-speaking countries to step up and continue the process of effective translations begun by the ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy), the 1998 versions above. Only New Zealand has.

This article, “English Is Not Latin,” is adapted from Lost in Translation: The English Language and the Latin Mass. It provides historical and linguistic context to more fully understand the role of language in celebration – and the political battles surrounding it in our church.

Happy New Year, New Moon, Valentine’s Day, and Ash Wednesday! Wear red, and repent of all the prayers you have less than enthusiastically recited, and know that the war is not over.

This past summer I took a writing course called “The Power of the Pen” focusing on using poems or plays to address a social issue about which we were passionate. You can guess which one I chose!

Our first assignment was to write a short monologue that someone in history who had inspired us might have spoken. I chose Eleanor Roosevelt. Here is what I imagine she might have said about herself, her husband, and Lucy Mercer, the woman she loved:

What is a Woman?

It’s not hard to remember, the gentlest of touches on my hand. I think James or Franklin had done something unspeakable – or maybe just unkind – and she was comforting me with that most gentle of touches. Lucy.

And I let her, knowing I could never do that, knowing my hands were hard, my grip too strong, forceful, forged for pushing people forward or onward or away.

But Lucy had the ability to softly soothe, with her voice, too. Where mine was high-pitched, grating, unmetered, piercing, full of rigid determination and, yes, a certain amount of righteousness, hers was like poetry, the sweetness pulling you in and closing around you, fragrant almost with the lightest kind of passion, the undemanding safe kind.

And her body was rounded and molded, crafted with care, created to be seen and admired and love. Mine was erect, firm. Despite the planing and plumping of childbirth and age, it did not yield easily.

I had not the touch nor the voice nor the body, nor, mercifully, ultimately the inclination to serve him. What is a woman I thought as I turned away, as I looked away. Am I still one when touch and voice and body fail me in pleasing, and I let hardness and firmness and determination and righteousness, with piercing force, turn outward instead?

I send this as a valentine to all of you, to us women and to men, to people of all genders, who, with piercing force – and sometimes even with the gentlest of touches – work to change the world.

Deb Rose-Milavec, Simone Campbell and Kate McElwee at “Voices of Faith” in 2017

I am indebted to Simone Campbell for this week’s theme, courtesy of Marian Ronan. In The Georgetown Voice, the ever-revolutionary Campbell “then took audience questions, leading to a profession of her personal ‘heresy,’ her belief that women can and should be ordained.

“’Ordination is an extension of baptism, and there are different kinds of baptism… Why can’t there be different kinds of ordination? In my experience, in real communities, women are already called to priestly opportunities,’ said Campbell. ‘My advice is to step in where we’re called, and opportunities will open. Ordination is in response to need.’

“’We can have the institutional fight,’ said Campbell. ‘But let’s just do, and definitions will catch up.’”

Campbell’s talk – and life and witness – is all an example of her “just doing,” justice doing. Every time I have heard her speak, the depth of her spirituality is evident – though she is better known for her activism, from leading NETWORK to the Nuns on the Bus. This talk seems to have been no exception, and I encourage you to support NETWORK’s work and to listen to Campbell every chance you get.

And if you want to embrace a model of the “institutional fight,” there’s always the new movie, Created Equal. A young sister sues the Catholic Church to be allowed to enter the seminary to be ordained a priest. Watch the trailer! They follow the article by Kristen Whitney Daniels in NCR. A bit more like Dan Brown than is my usual fare. I still can’t wait to see it, which does suggest that I’ve seen Dan Brown movies, too. Anything to further the cause.

Daniels grounds this film: [it] “does not shy away from fleshing out the deeper theological and legal questions that such a case would actually raise: Can you be a good-standing, female Catholic and still want to be a priest? Who decides whose call to a vocation is valid? Can the court legally intervene in the church’s traditions? Do religious liberty laws exempt religions from discrimination laws?” I am sure we in WOC will see it through this lens: questions we have confronted and answered many times, the heresy we embrace.

The producer, Thada Catalon, is less theological. “What drew me to [this story] is it’s an equal rights issue,” Catalon told NCR. “I’m not Catholic, so when I came into it all I saw was a woman who wanted to be a priest and she wasn’t able to simply because she was a woman. … I wanted to be a part of something that can make a statement, that can be a part of a progressive movement that helps women.” She also refers to ancient history: “At the time when it was presented to me we had three women running for president of the United States and we were still having that conversation of whether a woman can break through that glass ceiling, and it’s like, why not?” Catalon said. “And so that, to me, the whole movement started there honestly with a woman trying to become president of the United States. … It’s women just trying to make a stance and say, ‘Hey, we’re here and we should be equals.’ ” Thank goodness, that is not a heresy here…is it?

Expanding the heresies, Mary Hunt begins her report in Religion Dispatches: Why is this International Women’s Day in the Vatican different from virtually every other International Women’s Day in the Vatican? It isn’t. Women still have no power to make and implement decisions. The proof is painful, but clear.”

It has been very exciting for those involved in the past four years to be discussing women’s issues IN the Vatican. Organized by Chantal Goetz, Voices of Faith’s goal is “to bring together leaders in the Vatican with the global Catholic community, so they can recognise that women have the expertise, skills, and gifts to play a full leadership role in the Church. Why does the Church continue to deny women that right based purely on gender? We amplify the capability of women in education and programs of social transformation, especially in areas of marginalisation and extreme poverty. Above all we showcase the enormous and under-utilised potential of women to exercise leadership at all levels of the Catholic Church.”

This year the group chose riskier speakers. Mary McAleese, the former President of the Republic of Ireland, is the only one named as excluded by Irish-born American Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. McAleese’s son is gay; she has supported women’s ordination and has taken a strong stand on making the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Dublin LGBT-inclusive. You remember the inclusivity of the meeting after WOW in Philadelphia, right?

Others excluded may be Ssenfuka Joanita Warry, “a lesbian Catholic advocate from Uganda,” according to Robert Shine in Bondings, and according to Hunt, “… it’s anyone’s guess who caught the cardinal’s ire and why,” whose comment here should be a tease to get you to read her whole article, which examines the power of access and money in Vatican circles, and to watch for reports about this March 8 event.

Voices of Faith will be held in the Jesuit Curia in Rome. Just like Georgetown, open to women and our ideas. Embracing the most persistent heresies of our time.

I know everywhere we look there is something wearying. I’m not even going to mention any examples. You know what they are and where they are. In spring, summer, and fall, we can bury the discontent and weariness we feel in all the bursts of life and color and activity around us. In winter, we’re stuck with it; it permeates like piercing rain, like crusty frost, like snow that covers and blankets but holds no warmth. We’re stuck inside our houses and inside ourselves.

Am I bringing you down? Or were you already there?

Okay, let me go one step lower and then, mercifully, I’ll stop. Our Church leadership is pretty much as static and immovable as ever on women’s ordination, on the priesthood of all believers. There’s a blanket still over us, still smothering us and bringing no warmth.

If, like me, you need something to break through all of this winter gloom and bring some springtime cheer, I offer you:

Joan Chittister (Need I list her accomplishments?), one of the most influential religious leaders and spokespersons today, member of the Benedictine community, author of 40 books, winner of numerous awards, regular columnist for National Catholic Reporter, quotes an ancient philosopher, “Every age that is dying is a new age coming to life.”

In this new age of our own Church, she challenges us to be like Judith, Esther, Joseph, and Jesus, the outcast and invisible, who dared to rise up and overturn the oppressive system of their time. Theirs is our legacy and from them we receive our nurture as we work against injustice and oppression, refusing, like Judith, to abandon ourselves to “moral invisibility.”

We must continue, Joan Chittister says, to go “from passive consumers to dynamic communities” questioning (“If scripture says nothing negative about women’s ordination, why do they use Jesus to obstruct it?”) and challenging (Should we really return to the Latin Mass “where mystique is confused with mystery?”). 3% of the Church is clergy, 97% laity; 6 lay people are in training for ministry for every 1 priest and “65% of them are women!” What does that say to us? She relates the story of an elder Native American giving advice to a younger tribe member about to set off on a perilous journey, “Remember, when you see a great chasm, jump!”

…and…

Henry David Thoreau (Need I remind anyone of his prominence in American Letters?) seems to agree with Joan Chittister (no mean feat since he died over a century before she was born!). Speaking of – of all things – skunk-cabbages, which poke their heads persistently out of the dreariest, heaviest, most brutal winter layers, he wrote, “Is it the winter of their discontent?” Do they lie down? Despair and die? No! “Up and at ‘em,” “Excelsior,” “Pull it through,” – these are their cries… to themselves and the world. Going further, he asks us to see every “winter” walk (Read: protest, witness, prayer….) “as a sort of crusade”. He even challenges us to: “Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.”

Of course, he means this literally – but also metaphorically – and, as such, can be inspiration for our getting through our long struggle for full inclusion in the church. We do need to keep taking those walks through stormy proclamations, icy barriers, and frosty indifference, those winters of our discontents, because, he reminds us, we all have an amazing source of strength. In each one of us is a “slumbering subterranean fire…which never goes out and which no cold can chill,” and that “inner hearth,” that “divine cheer” has “its altar” in each of our hearts.

Let’s warm ourselves with those thoughts until spring returns again.

What am I reading this week? Of course, the great novel by Leo Tolstoy. How do I relate it to the data collected about Catholic women that I wrote about two weeks ago? Marriage, Love, and Children, three topics I did not cover then.

The 96-page study published by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate that was extensively reported in America raises some intriguing questions that were not fully explored in the magazine. For example, what is the result of the following pattern? “Sixty-three percent of Catholic women in our survey are married (46 percent to a Catholic spouse and 17 percent to a non-Catholic spouse). Six percent are widowed. One in 10 is separated or divorced. Six percent live with a partner. Fifteen percent have never married.” Many of the women who left the church or felt uncomfortable there did not fall into the 46% of those married to a Catholic spouse. A few, however, came to the church because of a spouse. And the unmarried generally don’t think it’s important to marry Catholic. Typical American patterns affect the church.

There’s not much at all about Anna Karenina’s kind of wild, illegitimate love, but there is plenty about families and children. Remember, this is the book that begins: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Catholic families in this survey are happy families on the surface; little is revealed about what actually goes on.

The CARA study reveals a multi-generational Catholic world, which I would have thought had broken apart years ago. “The typical Catholic woman in the United States has had two children, and both of those children are Catholic. (Note: ‘Typical’ refers to the median observation.) Most often, they grew up in households where they had at least three brothers or sisters. Thus, their parents often had twice as many children as they have had.” Almost 60% of the respondents indicate that their brothers and sisters are Catholic today. Of those who have had children, 73 percent report that all of their children are Catholic now. Fifteen percent say none of their children are Catholic.

Today fewer than one in 10 Catholic women has had four children. Now, how did that happen? What question would you ask? This study asked only about one method of birth control. “Respondents who had ever married or who are living with a partner were asked, ‘Have you and a partner ever practiced Natural Family Planning or N.F.P., which Catholic marriage preparation programs often teach as a method of postponing pregnancy without the use of artificial contraception?’ Overall, 22 percent said ‘yes’ and 78 percent said ‘no.’” A third of women who attend Mass weekly have used N.F.P., while only 12 percent of those who attend less had. N.F.P was used more by Hispanic women than non. “Generationally, the oldest and youngest generations of Catholic women are the most likely to indicate that they had used N.F.P. … Vatican II Catholics (those born between 1943 and 1960) are the least likely to have used N.F.P. (18 percent).” I guess my generation rejected all that jazz after Humane Vitae.

The survey asked only these women why they used N.F.P. “The most common reasons cited were related to finances (38% “very important”), not wanting to have more children (34%), and their relationship with their husband (33%). Fewer indicated the following to be important: medical concerns (26%), time concerns (23%), or space concerns (20%).” So at least there was the opportunity to comment on why it was important to limit the size of their families – for the 22 percent of those who used N.F.P.

So what are the other 78% of partnered women using to avoid their mothers’ large families? Other forms of birth control, obviously. And abortions. Patrick Brown, in the next issue of America, uses data from the Guttmacher Institute to issue a call to arms to pro-life campaigners in the church. He finds it deplorable that 24% of those who procure abortions are Catholic, about the same as their percentage in the US population, 22%. In contrast, only 13% of Evangelical women abort, though they comprise 27% of US women, “revealing a greater reluctance toward choosing abortion, a greater reluctance toward revealing their religion on a survey or both.” This article is a good dose of reality for America because the survey that did not ask the majority of women who do not use N.F.P. these important questions. Of course, this article is one man’s opinion – not a survey of women.

Brown uses earlier studies to search for the “face” of the women seeking abortions. He continues, “This data suggests that the face of a Catholic woman choosing abortion is often not a scared college student or a single woman trying to reach career aspirations but instead a stretched-thin married mother with children at home. Her challenges require us to recognize that pro-life outreach should not just focus on college campuses or inner-city clinics but on middle-class suburban parishes as well.” He extrapolates from the studies that the Catholic woman tends to be older (over 30), married, at home, a mother, and white or Hispanic. He concludes, “We should consider what complex forces might drive a married Catholic woman to obtain an abortion—perhaps financial constraints, fear of neglecting other children or their careers or avoiding the social stigma of having ‘too many’ children.” Nobody in the survey mentioned that kind of social pressure; is it invented?

I confess that I am using Anna Karenina as a frame to get you to read more of the statistics from the survey. As I read the novel, I keep thinking about agency: who acts and who reacts? I want to understand how the Catholic women in the survey act and react in their lives. The data give us some clues.

For a while now, maybe a long, long while for all I know, we have been challenged to see God in feminine as well as masculine terms. We experimented with using “She” as a pronoun for God and then progressed to using gender neutral terms. At least, the “progressive progressers” did.

I like to think of myself as progressive, but I remember being disoriented at first, a bit uncomfortable; something was just not right. I’m happy to say that” just not right” turned into “just unfamiliar”. I needed to hear old stories, wisdom, ideas, metaphors expressed with more inclusive vocabulary over and over and over before I developed a new way of listening. I also needed, openly or silently, to begin every “Lord’s Prayer” with “Our Father/Mother” before the idea of the sacred feminine could permeate and become a critical part of my life.

For a while the progressive Catholic Church I attend cooperated with this transformation. We did become used to hearing all masculine pronouns for God in prayers and hymns and readings and sometimes even homilies either eliminated or turned into repeating God in place of “Him” instead. It sounded awkward at first; a certain flow of language was sacrificed. People would forget and stammer. Others would point out Lord and Kingdom and other words had to change, and even the word, God, let’s face it, was masculine. We tried to work around it all, and had many models within the church reform community to inspire us, but, I’m sorry to say, we failed in persistence as new priests came and went. Pretty soon many of us who cared came and went, too.

Some of us, however, went to a small Eucharistic community as well as, or instead of, the traditional church. There, not only words changed, but a whole new way of celebrating Eucharist. We had decided to champion the idea of “the priesthood of all believers”.

As we work to envision a renewed church, the concept above is another aspect to consider. What if, for example, whatever gender is leading the worship in the future said words like these at Communion:

Here are our lives, ourselves the bread that we bring. This much is ready now. Knead us as your own. Wine of our joys, our dreams, our lifetimes, we are ready now. Pour us as your own…

We know you in the breaking of the bread, and we know each other in the breaking of the bread, and we are not alone any more. We seek to know with greater clarity your inclusive and welcoming message based on love, clear and transformative. So please say to us what you said to your other friends around another table:

Share with me…This is my body….This is my blood.

Now we are your body and blood.

May we who have a voice speak out for the voiceless, and let us speak out clearly and boldly. May we live compassionately with a keen awareness of the interdependence of all, all part of one another.

May we walk in solidarity in the struggle for peace, justice, and equality…

I wish I had composed those words; even more, I wish I knew who did so that I could give her/him credit. (Please write in and take a well-deserved bow if it was you.) These words and the people of different genders who say them – or other consecrations just as meaningful – each week are now familiar. We’re used to the full inclusion. It has become part of us.

At the traditional church, we often cringe at the vocabulary, but not at the community, which is more diverse in age, race, ethnicity, and economic means than the one at the small Eucharistic community can, by size constraint alone, be. Yet we want to experience full inclusion both places. It’s the sacred thing to do. It’s what a renewed church could do. How amazing it would be if full inclusion were simply something we’ve grown used to and won’t give up.

As an excellent resource for inclusion, you can now download the Lenten portion of the new inclusive Comprehensive Catholic Lectionary from our homepage!

My Jewish week began with my local book group discussing Geraldine Brooks’ novel The Secret Chord (2015). It’s the story of David – yes, that David, in the Bible. Much I did not know. Goliath may not have been a giant, just big. David sang beautifully – the secret chord – and wrote poems to The Name. He also united the various tribes into the kingdom of Israel and built the capital, Jerusalem, not peaceful pursuits in any age. This was also an era when men had many wives and concubines. I was fascinated by Brooks’ depiction of the women in David’s life, especially Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba. These are complex women, who suffer rape, manipulation, dynasty building and destroying. I went to my Bible and to Miriam Therese Winter’s Woman Wisdom: A Feminist Lectionary and Psalter: Women of the Hebrew Scriptures, Part One (1991). On Michal, Winter writes “A Psalm to Guard Against Hypocrisy” and on Abigail, “A Psalm of Wise Words.” “Bathsheba’s Psalm” is in Part Two, and is the most moving of them all:

Voice: Come to my aid, O Holy One,

for violence overpowers me,

desecrates my integrity,

blames me for its sin.

All” respond to her voice of pain; we absolve this suffering woman, and pray for her healing – as Natan (Nathan) does in the novel by forming a fatherly bond with her wonderful son, Sholmo (Solomon), who becomes David’s heir.

My book group has three people more or less raised Christian and six more or less raised Jewish. David’s great love was not any of these wives or concubines, but Yonatan (Jonathan). The question was asked how our different faith traditions handle same-sex relationships. Certainly Leviticus condemns to death men who lie with men, and we get the word “sodomy” from Genesis. David does not think about any of this in his love for Yonatan – but then, David, as Brooks presents him, acts on his appetites without much reflection at all.

What I felt good about saying was that David is convinced he is beloved of Yahweh. He has a personal relationship that is the source of his psalms, and he accepts that his punishments are for his sins against Yahweh, though we also see them as sins against people.

What I did not feel good about saying was that all I have learned from those who advocate for LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church suggests that Christ’s law of love supersedes the prohibitions that had just been brought up from the Hebrew Scriptures. I think I actually used the word “supersedes.” What I didn’t know then was that the letters of Paul in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are sometimes translated to condemn homosexuality in their lists of sins. What I didn’t remember was that Jesus is quoted in Matthew 10:15: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for that town.” This is the gospel of love; welcome is more important than sexual sins. While I did not ask everyone specifically, I would imagine that all the members of my book group support LGBTQ people in their search for equality in marriage and civil rights and everything else. That’s why the question was raised.

The end of my Jewish week will be a discussion this afternoon with the Philadelphia Commonweal Local Community (CLC) on “Interreligious Dialogue: Judaism & Christianity.” The introduction to the various articles to be read includes this sentence: “Indeed, for most of its two millennia, Christianity has (willingly or not) antagonized Judaism: by supersessionistic theology, by blaming the Jewish community for the death of Christ, by calling into question the validity of God’s original covenant with the Israelites, by praying for their conversion—and so on.” Oh, there I am! I have rid myself of most of these sins, but not the first, despite the best efforts of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and others. Yahweh, I repent of secessionism!

Then my Jewish step-grandson called, and I explained my guilt about what I had said about Christian love superseding Jewish rules, and Matthew said not to feel bad. The only bad thing would be if such analysis led to anti-Semitism! That is the point of the articles, especially the last by John Connelly, and Matthew got it immediately. One can separate theology from prejudice – but does that really happen?

All of the Commonweal articles examine the Church’s official repentance in the years since Vatican II: well-intentioned but ineffective, rarely preached and superficially understood. Connolly says of the document, “Nostra Aetate celebrates the church’s origins in Judaism, and asserts that God holds the Jews ‘most dear.’ The church says such a thing about no other religion or people.” This means that Judaism continues as valid an expression of Yahweh’s covenant as Christianity is. No supercessionism because “Mysteriously, the old and new people of God coexist.” Our lives are our witness.

This brings tears to my eyes, thinking of my Jewish family and friends. Also this week, the SEPA WOC group expanded my understanding of guilt and shame as a detour during its regular meeting. I look forward to the Commonweal discussion today, and hope that some members of that community will comment on this post. And I’ll send it to my book club.

Many of my favorite signs at Saturday’s Women’s March had arrows pointing outwards in all directions proclaiming, “I’m with her!” (My only wish was that at least one arrow would have said, “And him!” since I went with my 13 year old grandson and had many men and boys surrounding both of us, too.) A variation on the sign had all the arrows facing inward to a face of the Statue of Liberty saying, “I’m with her!”

When I saw the latter, I wish I had had a sign with a symbolic face of all the women who feel called to be, or who already are, Catholic priests with all arrows pointing both in and out and declaring jubilantly, “I’m with her and her and her and her and…”.

Then I thought what would it mean if the priests and bishops and even pope ever said, “I’m with her”…with us? It’s not that we need their approval or sanction; many women priests have been called by, and provide priestly ministry faithfully to, their own communities. It’s just that the struggle could be so much less wearying on our hearts, minds, and bodies if we could all stand in solidarity as we did at the Women’s March, if, despite our different agendas, we could just cheer each other on as – if you will – sacred creations.

A local television station recently aired a documentary on the life and work of jazz artist, Mary Lou Williams. She grew up impoverished, one of eleven children. With perfect pitch, an amazing voice, and early love of music, she taught herself piano at age 6 and began helping support her ten brothers and sisters by playing at parties. This music mastery led to a deep understanding and appreciation of swing, bebop, and blues. She became a background pianist for various groups; she even composed and arranged music for leading musicians of the 30’s and 40’s, including Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, and Benny Goodman. But she was not often in the spotlight, just very close to it. Then in 1952, she went to Europe; in 1954 she walked out of a performance and then out of performing altogether.

She had found, according to her biographers, the jazz music scene and her spiritual quest incompatible. Eventually that quest led her to Catholicism to which she converted in 1956.

Now comes the interesting part of the story. In 1957 she returned to music but this time with a friend and mentor on her side, Father Peter O’Brien, a Catholic priest. With him as her champion, she found new ways to offer music to the world: in jazz clubs but also on college campuses, through her own record label, on television and at her own sponsored Jazz Festival in Pittsburgh. She began composing sacred music including a mass, Music for Peace, which was performed by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater as Mary Lou’s Mass in 1971. She also embraced the social justice mission of Catholicism. She started the Bel Canto Foundation to help musician addicts; she established thrift stores in Harlem and dedicated their profits, along with 10% of her own earnings, to musicians in need throughout the rest of her career.

The February 24, 1964 issue of Time magazine quotes her: “’I am praying through my fingers when I play,’ she says, ‘I get that good “soul sound”, and I try to touch people’s spirits.'” Our very own church, in fact, a priest in our very own church, helped bring that out, helped make the shine within her turn its rays on the world.

I don’t know about you, but my arrows are pointing in and out: I’m absolutely with her; I’m absolutely with you…and maybe someday, if they just stop barricading and start celebrating women…with them.

The why: Is it “propitious” or pure chance that this week the National Catholic Reporter and America both feature the results of major surveys about American Catholic women? Are you reading this before or after the march in your community? Are you going as a Catholic feminist?  I hope you do.

The who: The surveys were designed by the same organization, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA), and the survey itself by the GfK Group. CARA’s women principals, Michelle Dillon in NCR and Mary Gauthier (co-authored with Mark M. Gray) in America wrote the lead articles. I make two peevish distinctions that might be considered Jesuitical. One is that the NCR article is about a survey of women and men, and the editor of America claimed “No one had ever done a comprehensive survey of Catholic women. So we did.” Really? The other is that the editorial in America notes that they “continue to oppose legal abortion, an unfortunate inclusion in the official platform of that march. But we stand in solidarity with every woman and man … who marched a year ago.” Solidarity is good. Hope you are out there today or tomorrow, too.

The what: far too much data to do either survey justice, so I will use this blog often to highlight and compare some of the findings. Scientists determine the validity of studies by replicating results, and these two surveys find much the same thing about women’s weekly mass attendance, 31% in NCR and 35% in America. Gray and Gauthier note that the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5%, so this result is outside it. I combined the finely-differentiated categories in the America survey to include those who attended almost every week with those who went every week or more than once a week, which perhaps indicates my less-scrupulous approach to mass. If I were asked if I went every week, I would say “yes” unless the option of “almost once a week” were presented to me.

What would be compromising to the assumptions of the study in my response, however, is that I attend an intentional Eucharistic community, independent of the hierarchy, and yet identify as Catholic. These surveys do not elicit that information. But the overwhelming response I have to these studies is the immense presence of the institutional church, like looking at the Cathedral from a women’s ordination witness across the street. This huge church, not us, is the elephant in the room. And so I accept the validity of these studies of Catholic women and that I am a minority.

The most telling result is in the America question “Do you feel the Catholic Church should allow women ages 35 and older to be ordained as permanent deacons?”

Would you have phrased the question that way? Of course not. It does reflect the caution of the America survey, yet the 61% outright approval of this small step suggests that women are open to women’s leadership. The survey may have done us a favor in suggesting to another 21% that this was an issue to be explored further.

And further, of course, more than 10% of us in WOC could claim that we personally had experienced sexism — because of the exclusion of women from the priesthood. These respondents did feel excluded from ministry, many as altar servers. 15-25% of those were educated in Catholic colleges and high schools, had considered religious life, or had served in parish ministry – our demographic.

The other result I will highlight today is the church commitment of millennials (born 1982 or after). The NCR survey, because of women and men, highlights the differences, but I focus on young women’s responses.

Attendance is less important to these respondents than long-term commitment. Somehow more than half of these young women have been exposed to the faith enough to feel that they will never leave. They are our audience to lead the church in the future.

More to come from these surveys, about politics, birth control and abortion, and belief. But finally, I want to affirm the valuable role of the Catholic press. While we might be frustrated by the conservative decisions they sometimes make, we can be grateful when they focus on issues near and dear to us – ones we march for.