In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches the disciples how to seek reconciliation. This is clearly something the disciples needed, and something that our world, and each of us gathered here need today. Many of us here are seeking reconciliation, because our brother has sinned against us. Our Mother Church has sinned against us. Jesus says “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” So who am I to go to. Who is this brother or mother who has wronged me?
As I sat with this question I was in the midst of my first week of class as I enter my last year of my m.div program. I did not expect it but the class I am most excited about is Canon Law. I have a great professor and it is one of those classes that makes me feel like “one of the guys.” A class that makes me feel like I get to be in the room where it happens, where those preparing for ordination are learning how to be part of the Church. This week I learned that the Pope is the legislator of Canon Law, of our Church’s law. So I guess in a sense my brother who has sinned against me, the one who holds the power to change our law is the Pope. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pope Francis is great for the most part, but he never responded to the letter I wrote him when he first became pope. The local diocese where my parents live held a campaign to have young woman write letters to Pope Francis about what it is like to be young Catholic women. In my letter to Pope Francis I told him how I had felt a call to the priesthood from a young age, I told him my vocation story. I wrote about my calling and my woundedness. I wrote:
“It is hard to answer my call to pastoral ministry in the Catholic Church, because I don’t want to perpetuate the patriarchy of the church but know that I can’t abandon the Church either. I believe that I have a genuine call to the Catholic priesthood. I want women to be able to be priests and I want to be one of them.”
Now, If I listen to the model of reconciliation laid out by Jesus in our gospel – Since I told the Pope about the wrong doing of the Church and got no response – Now I get to take one or two or twenty along with me and to take with me their testimony, their witness. That is part of what we are doing this weekend. We are listening to the testimonies of our sisters, bearing witness to one another so that we can take their stories with us. It is in today’s Gospel from Matthew’s that we first see the term “ekklesia” found in the gospels. “Ekklesia” – a feminine word meaning gathering of people, a community of worship. We have gathered here over this weekend as ekklesia.
As a Church we have a long history, and in our first reading God says, “You, son (or daughter) of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel.” Ezekiel 33 is about generational responsibility. It is a call to be vigilant to stand against those who would bring wickedness to our community. To our ekklesia. Wickedness could come in the form of discrimination, sexism, and fear…. So many of us have already shared this weekend how we have heard the call of the lord to be watchful, to see that we have been called by God.
We have certainly lived out the response to our psalm today as we have not hardened our hearts – rather we have responded to the often painful and heavy message we have received from God that we are indeed called to ordained ministry.
What does this call mean? It means that we are called to love. For me it means I am called to love the Church despite the pain. When I concluded my letter to Pope Francis I signed it “Love Elaina Jo” because I do love Pope Francis and I love the Church. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he says “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love is the fulfillment of the law.” Here love is not a feeling but a concrete action and an ability. How can my call to ordained ministry stand in opposition to the Church when it is rooted in love? The very identity of the vocations of deacon and priest are rooted in an unconditional love for the People of God.
So, going back to todays Gospel we’ve done step one and two – I’ve told my brother, I’ve gathered witnesses – and now Jesus says “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” My first inclination is to say, “great, now I don’t have to deal with the Church, or the Pope, or anyone who perpetuates the patriarchal ways that continually wound our ekklesia. But then I remembered that Jesus ate with tax collectors, we drank water with Gentiles. Jesus made Matthew, the tax collectors on of his disciples. There is incredible hope in this. Jesus engaged the people that so others would treated with anger or hate. If those who have sinned against us must be treated as Jesus treated the tax collectors and Gentiles then we must say to those who sinned against us “come and follow me.” We have to invite the Church to talk to us, to eat with us, drink with us, and walk with us as we discern more deeply our unique calls to love.
As the gospel concludes Jesus says,“Amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” Jesus gives authority to interpret his teachings to the community. He calls us to be a responsible and watchful generation like the early Israelites in the Book of Ezekiel. It is the responsibility of the whole community, our ekklesia to focus on reconciliation and love as the fulfillment of the law. This is a message of hope and empowerment. This group of women gives me hope that one day our Pope and every member of our Church will let love be the fulfillment of the law rather than historical norms from first century Palestine.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” If God grants the prayers of two or three who are gathered then I can’t wait to see what he will do for a room full of the most powerful spiritual women I know. We are gathered to do the work of God, we are called to do the work of God, and God is in our midst.
Elaina Jo Polovick works at the Ignatian Spiritual Life in San Francisco and as a Resident Minister for the University of San Francisco. She is currently finishing her last year of a Masters of Divinity degree and dreams of Church that will accept her call to ordained ministry. Elaina Jo is a 2017 awardee of the Women’s Ordination Conference Lucile Murray Durkin Scholarship for Women Discerning Priestly Ministry.