The Table

Merriam-Webster users are getting themselves up to date with feminism, the word of the year. Rather than a few linguists deciding on a new and different word every year, the online dictionary can count the number of times people look something up, so this honor is a true reflection of popular interest. Congratulate yourself, feminists!

From the Women’s March to #MeToo, women finally have captured the attention of the nation. Did people begin to realize that “I’m not a feminist, but …” is no longer an adequate response? The definitions today are the same that I taught for my twenty years at Temple University: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” I always emphasized both aspects: “theory” and “organized activity,” analysis and action.

I never could see how feminism could be a problem, much less scary to anyone. But it took a long time. One of my professors at Penn, thirty years ago, said she did not think much of “gender analysis”; class and race were much more important to American history. About ten years later her most successful book was a gender analysis in her field. I am, of course, disguising her identity.

Of course, feminism is not a new word or concept. Noah Webster listed it in 1841, but with the archaic definition “the qualities of females.” Feminisme is used in the modern sense for the first time in France, perhaps by the utopian socialist Charles Fourier, and certainly later by the founders of the first French societies for woman suffrage. American women adopted it slowly in the first years of the twentieth century; those who had been active in the “Woman Movement” wondered why a new generation seemed to like this word better. To younger women, feminism seemed modern.

The more things change … today writings on feminism discuss succeeding waves, each focusing on different issues: first wave: 19th and early 20th century, suffrage; second wave: 60s and 70s, political and structural change; third wave, 80s and 90s, feminine and individual expression, fourth wave, 21st century, combining the best of all that went before – to be generous to what’s now and superficial to everything. Bustle has a really fun history of feminism with lots of links, if you want to explore it more. You get the point: there’s a history to feminism; it did not burst on the scene in response to Donald Trump. Like the old saying, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” women realize what’s at stake now.

Before this word of the year came to my attention, courtesy of Judy Heffernan, I had done a gender analysis of my posts for this blog: most have been about men. Horrors! Since this post is trending in the direction of basics, I might as well include a little more on gender analysis. I like this definition from the Global Development Research Center:

Gender analysis:

  • examines the differences in women’s and men’s lives, including those which lead to social and economic inequity for women, and applies this understanding to policy development and service delivery
  • is concerned with the underlying causes of these inequities
  • aims to achieve positive change for women

The term ‘gender’ refers to the social construction of female and male identity. It can be defined as ‘more than biological differences between men and women. It includes the ways in which those differences, whether real or perceived, have been valued, used and relied upon to classify women and men and to assign roles and expectations to them. The significance of this is that the lives and experiences of women and men, including their experience of the legal system, occur within complex sets of differing social and cultural expectations’.

Inequality is what concerns me in the church as well as in society, and it’s why I write about men: that’s where the power is right now. It gives me no end of pleasure to know that the Executive Director of WOC is based in Rome, where she can keep an eye on what’s going on in the only place that can change the structures of inequality in the church. And we all know that women have achieved positive change already by taking action and exercising their priestly ministry without waiting for official sanction. That’s what feminism is all about.

The following is a preview from the Comprehensive Catholic Lectionary, a project by women priests Jane Via and Nancy Corran that aims to include every significant story about women in the bible, eliminate exclusive language for God and humans, and bring a spectrum of Biblical theologies to readers and communities.
Advent reflections (below the readings) will be posted on the Table. Download the complete Advent and Christmas section of the Lectionary to access the entire offering including background notes, alternative readings, and responsorial psalms.

Call to Prayer  (from our psalm from Isaiah)I will rejoice heartily in God; in God is the joy of my soul! As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will God make justice and praise spring up before all peoples of the earth. We will rejoice heartily in God; in God is the joy of our souls!

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1a, 2, 4-7, 12, 14a, 17; Psalm:  Is 61:1-3a,b, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; Luke 1:26-38


A Reading from the Second Book of Samuel 7:1a, 2, 4-7, 12, 14a, 17

After the ruler, David, was settled in his palace, he confessed his concern to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” But that night the word of God came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what God says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I called to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar? Now, when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, your own flesh and blood, through whom I will establish a dynasty. It will be that one who will build a house for my Name; and I will establish that reign and house forever. I will be the mother of the one I raise up. I will be the father, and the one-to come will be my child.” Nathan reported all the words of this revelation to David.


A Reading from Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonians 5:16-24

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the desire of God’s heart for you in Jesus the Christ. Do not quench the spirit nor despise prophetic utterances. Test everything. Retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil. May the God of Peace make you complete, holy; May the God of all make you whole. And may you be preserved entirely blameless in spirit, soul, and body at the coming of Jesus the Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and will accomplish it in you.


A Reading from the Gospel attributed to Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young maiden betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David. The maiden’s name was Mary. The messenger came to her and said, “Hail, favored one! God is with you.” Mary was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this sort of greeting might mean. The messenger said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a child, whom you will name, ‘Jesus’.” Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I do not yet know man?” The messenger said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Holy One will cover you with its shadow, and so the child will be holy, and be called One Born of God.” And I tell you this too, your cousin Elizabeth, in her old age, has conceived. She, whom people called barren, is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible for God.” Then Mary said, “Here I am, a servant of God. It shall be with me according to your Word.” Then the messenger departed from her.


First Reading: David wants to build a house for God. (It is questionable for whose glory!) The ark held the Law which was understood as God’s own Word among us; effectively God’s presence on earth with us (“Immanuel”). When David laments his failure to build a house for God, God insists that God is fine without shelter, that God was pleased to live among the people as a “tent-dweller”.

“Shekinah” is a female concept/image of the Divine who dwells among earthlings. Shekinah, as a manifestation of God, was born of early rabbinic literature, rooted in the Hebrew word “to dwell.”  “Shekinah” was a word and a way of understanding God’s nomadic, tent-dwelling presence among us, where, like Wisdom, this divine presence is female.

Through time, many have sought to build a dwelling place for God with varying success. Like an expanding universe, like a pregnant woman’s womb, God cannot be contained, and yet will ever be as near to us as our own flesh, breath, and words.

Second Reading: Paul calls us to a life that is prayer; we are called to the mystery of thanksgiving in all things; and we are called to joy, and to recognize that joy is a sign of our God.

Gospel reading: As people who support women, we must live into questions that the Bible does not ask of itself, but we yet (and must) ask of it for our own times: Was Mary chosen or overcome?  Did she have a choice, or was it a fait accompli.  Remembering Denise Levertov’s poem entitled, “Annunciation,” Levertov is clear: “God waited./She was free/to accept or to refuse, choice/integral to humanness.” In traditional theological language, one might call it “free will.”  At the same time, we remember, in these readings, the women who are overpowered, who do not have choice, who cannot rejoice or give thanks, or perhaps who cannot even pray when faced with a grief or an in injustice thrust upon them. Precisely into these circumstances, God will be born.

And so…

David longs to build a House, a Temple, a home for the ark of the God. As Jane Via (RCWP Bishop) has noted about this pairing of readings, “as the ark would dwell in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, Mary would be the human ark, carrying God in her womb.”  

As winter’s darkness and the yet fecund, fallow earth nourishes us and cradles us when things look bleak, so we hope that justice and peace will spring up yet again from our very earth, our very selves.



What can we do to erase the stigma against young women who are pregnant and don’t want to be? What can we do to counter the rape culture of our times?

What can we do to transform our own faith institutions which claim to “house God,” (again, for whose glory?), but which perpetuate injustice?

What can we do to care for the earth, who cares for us, – who carried us into evolutionary existence?

What can we do to attune ourselves to the joy in and around us, and magnify it?

Waiting and Preparing

With Paul, refrain from evil and rejoice always.

With John, know the Spirit has anointed you to bring good news.

Like the ark, like Mary, know that you are a vessel of the Holy.

Like the darkness of space, like the darkness of the womb, like the darkness of winter, like the darkness enveloping the seed in fallow ground, this season is the cradle of new life: Let silence and mystery nourish us as we await new birth.

Okay, I admit it. I’m not a fan of the dark.

This season of the year, needless to say, is not my favorite. Although I hear so many rail against the excess of the coming weeks, I have to confess to being so grateful for the holiday light show and hubbub that keeps darkness, albeit through a hefty dose of artifice and over-exuberance, away. I guess in that primordial past, my ancestors were the flee-ers, not the fighters. And, let’s face it, as you can see here, I even work to abolish the darkness that prohibits women from ordination and leadership in the Catholic Church from behind the safety of words, fleeing to their shelter to do my confrontations.

Image by Kelley Kuhlman

Advent, therefore, gives me – and maybe you, too – a special challenge. As if the days shortening and darkening weren’t enough, we’re shoved into the season with Biblical descriptions of stars falling, the moon failing to bring its shine, and the heavens shaking, We get no graceful, gentle welcome into the season, just drama and mystery, and the barest hint of a promise of the coming light.

Sometimes I feel as if that is exactly where we are in the struggle for women’s places in the churches and other houses of power in the world. It is a deeply uncomfortable, profoundly discouraging time, frightening in its darkness. And yet—maybe it is the plunge into that very darkness that will give us new life.

When our usual ways of seeing in the world, our reliable sources of illumination and inspiration and creativity no longer function effectively in the new darkness, we are forced to look for fresh sources of light, for internal sight, for beacons coming from inside us or from our communities, lamps we have never seen lit before.

This kind of Advent journey from darkness to light is not for the fighters and the fleers though. It is for those who are brave in a whole different and unique way.

And because it requires such courage, we probably need to take something with us on the way. Recently, I asked my small faith group this question (one which I must give credit to Jan Richardson, minister and poet, for including in her Advent series): What would you carry with you into the darkness?

I love their answers. One said her belief that EVERYTHING is a gift from God’s loving heart. Another said, humbly, her uncertainty. Another said she would take nothing so that she could be completely open to whatever was waiting there for her. Someone else said she would take her own inner light and let its shine lead her way.

Miss Fearful, me, had one of those blessed moments of insight. I have always loved that my Catholic religion gave me the precious gift of viewing all of life sacramentally. If that is true, I suddenly realized, then darkness is a sacrament, too, a channel of grace. No fear is necessary.

My favorite of their answers, though, was quite simple. One woman replied, “My Teddy Bear.” Whatever gender, whatever cause, we all need those!

The following is a preview from the Comprehensive Catholic Lectionary, a project by women priests Jane Via and Nancy Corran that aims to include every significant story about women in the bible, eliminate exclusive language for God and humans, and bring a spectrum of Biblical theologies to readers and communities.
Advent reflections (below the readings) will be posted on the Table. Download the complete Advent and Christmas section of the Lectionary to access the entire offering including background notes, alternative readings, and responsorial psalms.

Call to Prayer: You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Holy; for you will lead us, preparing the path. You will give all people knowledge of their holiness.  The tenderness of God turns the earth towards a healing sun, illuminating spirits wherever death’s shadow appears, a light to guide our feet into the path of peace.


Isaiah 40:1-5, 9 (or 9-11); Psalm 122, Luke 1:76-80; 1 Cor 1:3-9 + 2 Cor 13:11-13; Mark 1:1-8, John 1:19-20


A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, O comfort my people! Give them peace,” says God. “Speak tenderly to my people and proclaim to them that their service is at an end, that iniquity has been removed.” For from God’s hand, they have known a double measure for all their wrongdoings. A voice cries out: “Prepare a way in the desert for the Holy One, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be raised up, and every mountain and hill be made low. The rugged land shall be made a plain, the steep places become level. Then the brilliance of God shall be revealed, and all humanity shall see it together, for the mouth of God has spoken.” A voice said, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry? For all humanity is grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower fades when the breath of God blows upon them.” “Even so,” the voice persists, “although the grass withers, and the flower fades, the Word on God’s breath will stand forever. And so climb to a mountaintop, you that bring good news. Cry at the top of your voice, O, herald of good tidings. Shout out fearlessly, saying to all the towns, Here is your God!” Here is the Holy One, your God, who comes in the power of love, coming to lead with and embrace us in the strong arm of love. For God will feed the whole flock like a shepherd, and keep them together by holding them in God’s arms. Against God’s bosom the lambs will be carried, and God will lead the mother sheep to water.


A Reading from Paul’s 1st and 2nd Letters to the Corinthians 1 Cor 1:3-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and Jesus the Christ. I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus. Through God, you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you. As a result, you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of Jesus the Christ. God will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of Jesus the Christ. God is faithful, and by God you were called to community with Jesus the Christ. Finally, beloved, we wish you joy. Mend your ways. Encourage one another. Have a common spirit, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people send you greetings. The grace of Jesus the Christ, the love of God, and the Holy Spirit be with you all.


A Reading from the Gospels attributed to Mark and to John Mk 1:1-8; Jn 1:19-23

Glory to you, O God. The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, born of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, Who will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of our God. Make straight the highway.” John the Baptist was in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem flocked to him. As they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, they confessed their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. When he preached, he proclaimed, “One more powerful than I is coming after me. I am unworthy to stoop and untie the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but the one to come will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” … And this is the testimony of John, when the Judeans sent religious authorities from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of our God,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”


As we enter the 2nd week of Advent, our readings remind us of the role we play in preparing  for the rebirthing of Christ in  our world. Isaiah announces that comfort is coming for those in exile, his proclamation reminds a people in pain that they will experience the tender love of God and  justice will prevail.   We live in a world and church that desperately is in need of prophetic voices that proclaim justice and compassion.  The Gospel presents John the Baptizer as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s reading, he  is the one who comes in the wilderness to prepare and announce the coming of Jesus.

Like John, we are also called to be the hope for a rebirthing of Christ in our world, a birthing that brings dignity and justice to the oppressed and exiled.  We are called to  be a people who embody and live justice and compassion in  every aspect of our lives.  This call requires us to resist the temptation of going with the flow, rather we must be be willing to speak out boldly when necessary.  Isaiah tells us to cry out at the top of our voice to proclaim the good tiding that God is love, God is compassion and god is Justice.  

We can boldly proclaim this good news and rebirth christ in our world by:

Loving and protecting  the undocumented immigrants in our neighborhoods.

Fully recognizing the dignity of our LGBTQI brothers and sisters.

Honoring and recognizing the call to the priesthood of women in our parishes.



How are you being called this week to be an agent of justice and compassion in your church and neighborhood?  Are you willing to say or act in a way that may be uncomfortable to be the agent of justice and compassion that rebirths Christ in our world?

Waiting and Preparing

In the midst of Advent and Christmas preparations and celebrations, take some quiet time to reflect on how Christ is present in the midst of your everyday activities.  

John and Bonnie Raines (Photo: Emma Lee/WHYY)

I went to a funeral today after seeing a movie that reminded me of loving and losing my own good man. This morning, it was John Raines,  a colleague at Temple University. You may have read his obituary in the New York Times a week ago Sunday.

The Times headline blared “Evaded Capture in F.B.I. Breach.” That’s because in 1971 John, his wife Bonnie, and a few friends broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole records of then-unknown Cointelpro, illegal activity to defame civil rights activists and infiltrate peace organizations. John was a minister and professor. Bonnie was a day care worker. They had three young children. The eight conspirators read the evidence in a farmhouse, copied it, and sent it on to Senator George McGovern, Representative Parren Mitchell, and three major newspapers. John called Reuters to inform the world that the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI was responsible for the burglary. Nobody would know who they were for twenty years, when they revealed themselves to the Washington Post reporter who broke the story in 1971, Betty Medsger – and to their children. In 2014 her book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI and the film 1971 made the identity of these saintly criminals public.

Who is a saintly criminal these days? People like John and Bonnie, who risked their jobs and the security of their children to end abuses in the public realm? People like the women who violated the agreements they signed to end abuses in the private realm?

John Raines was 84, much older than most of those who claimed in these weeks that they grew up in a different era. Maybe it was before John’s time to believe that everybody could use his (deliberate use of pronoun) power by forcing women to face risking their jobs and security or to agree to something they despised doing.

Professor is a position of trust. I appreciated John most in that role when a very bright senior in a STEM field told me he elected my American Studies course because the one he had taken before, The Sixties with Professor Raines, inspired him so much. I am sure John was not sharing the FBI story then; he had been a civil rights activist and a Freedom Rider, again risking injury with the likes of now-Representative John Lewis. Inspiring to a white student from a Philadelphia “rowhouse” neighborhood is the kind of teacher John was.

The last time I saw John was at the bus stop after he had agreed to retire. What do I do with myself, he asked? I teach one course, John, and I work for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church; Bonnie has supported us for years. John’s funeral was at Christ Church, where founding fathers like George Washington and Ben Franklin had pews two centuries ago. Today, while the rector is a man, the minister is a woman.

The following is a preview from the Comprehensive Catholic Lectionary, a project by women priests Jane Via and Nancy Corran that aims to include every significant story about women in the bible, eliminate exclusive language for God and humans, and bring a spectrum of Biblical theologies to readers and communities.
Advent reflections (below the readings) will be posted on the Table. Download the complete Advent and Christmas section of the Lectionary to access the entire offering including background notes, alternative readings, and responsorial psalms.


Call to Prayer: Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come (Mark 13:33).

Readings:  Lam 5:1-5, 8-15 or Rev 12:1-6; Psalm 137:7, 1-5 ; Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 13:1a, 2, 3b-5a, 7-8, 14-27, 33-37


A Reading from the Book of Lamentations 5:1-5, 8-15

O Holy One, remember what has happened to us! Pay attention and see our disgrace. Our heritage has been handed over to strangers, our homes, to those who do not know us. We’ve become orphans, without fathers. Our mothers are like widows. We pay money to drink our own water! Our own wood comes at a price. With a yoke on our necks, we are driven. We are worn out, but allowed no rest… Servants rule over us, with no one to tear us from their hands. We risk our lives just to get bread, exposed to the desert heat. Our skin heats up like an oven, from the searing blasts of famine. Women are raped in Zion, young women in the cities of Judah. Princes have been hanged, elders shown no respect. Young men carry millstones. Boys stagger under loads of wood. The elders have abandoned the gate, the young their music. The joy of our hearts has ceased. Dancing has turned into mourning.


A Reading from the Second Letter of Peter 3:8-15a

Beloved, you must not ignore this one thing: that with God, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. God is not slow in carrying out promises, as some think of slowness. Rather God is patient, wanting no one to be lost, and all to come to repentance. But the day of God will come like a thief, and then the cosmos will pass away with an enormous roar. The elements will catch fire and melt away. The earth, and all that is in it, will dissolve in flames. Consider, then, what sort of people we ought to be. We must lead lives of holiness and dedication, as we anticipate and hasten the coming of the day of God, when the cosmos will go up in flames and the elements melt in the heat. Relying on God’s promise, we wait for a new cosmos and a new earth where justice will be at home. So, beloved, while we are waiting, strive to live and be in peace, that God may find us unblemished and above reproach. And consider God’s patience an opportunity to become healed and whole.


A Reading from the Gospel attributed to Mark 13:1a, 2, 3b-5a, 7-8, 14-27, 33-37

As Jesus was making his way out of the Temple area, Jesus said to the disciples, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be one stone left upon another. All will be thrown down. Later, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked Jesus privately, “Tell us when this will happen and what sign there will be when all these things are about to come to an end?… Jesus replied: When you hear of wars and threats of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things happen; but it will not yet be the end. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes and fires…and there will be famines. These are the beginnings of the labor pains. When you see the desolating sacrilege set up (in the Temple) where it ought not be…, then those in Judea must flee to the hills. The one on the housetop must not go down to enter the house or fetch anything out. The one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Alas for those who are pregnant and those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days, there will be suffering such as has not been from the beginning when God created until now, and never will be. And if God had not cut short those days, no human being would survive; but God has cut short those days for the sake of those whom God chose. If anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look, there’s the one who will save us!”, do not believe it; for false leaders and false prophets will appear and produce signs and wonders to mislead the chosen if possible. Therefore, be watchful. Remember, I have warned you of everything… In those days, after that time of distress, the sun will be darkened. The moon will not give its light. The fiery stars will fall from the heavens and all the powers in the cosmos will be shaken. And then they will see the Chosen One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. The Chosen One will send out winged messengers, and gather the chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the cosmos. In truth I tell you, before this generation passes away, all these things will have taken place. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But as for that day or hour, no one knows, neither the cosmic messengers of God, nor the Chosen One. No one knows but God. So, be on your guard. Keep watch. For you do not know when the time will come. It’s like someone going on a journey, leaving home, putting others in charge, each with their own work, and ordering the guard to stand watch. Stay awake! For you do not know when the owner will come home, in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow, or at dawn. You don’t want the owner to come unexpectedly and find you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all: Keep watch!”


Lamentations describes a desolate period in the history of Israel when the country has been overrun by the Babylonians and most of the population is driven into exile.  Careful reading of the “lament” shows how far the world has strayed from the original plan of Creation, or even the original plan of the Promised Land!

Much of our current world continues to reflect the desolation described in the book.  Think of those in the world without water, food or safety.  As a parent, I sometimes imagine how horrible it would be to watch my child starve or die of thirst. (Like Hagar in the dessert. Gn 21:16)  Or, how horrifying it would be to live in a city as it is bombed and know there is no way to assure the safety of my children.  What if I were to attempt to escape to safety only to find myself and my children detained in a refugee camp with minimal food, water and safety?  Yet, people live under these conditions in many parts of the world.  Where is God in all the chaos

“Come,” says my heart, “seek God’s face.”
Your face do I seek.
I yet believe that I shall see Your goodness 
in the land of the living.
I wait for You,
Be strong, my heart, and take heart.
With expectant hope, wait.”     Ps 27:13-14.

We believe the death and resurrection of Jesus has redeemed the world. The purpose of the Church is to spread the good news by working to bring about salvation to all the nations of earth.

As the reading from Peter describes, we believe, in God’s time, the promise of salvation will be fulfilled.  We expect God to come again and restore all of creation.   


Acting: God can do all things. God can use me to do one thing.  What one thing will I do this week to alleviate the suffering in the world? Can I volunteer locally? Can I send a donation to an organization that helps those hurting from violence or natural disasters? Can I commit to doing either (or both) on a regular schedule?

Waiting and Preparing: As I rush into the Christmas Season with all its many distractions, I will commit to setting aside a few minutes each day to sit with our God.  Then, throughout the day, I will stop and be mindful of the present moment.

Scripture Reflections, Advent 2017

Isaiah 40; Psalm 85; Mk:13; Lk.1; 1Thess.5

Each week I receive a prayer/reflection from US Catholic. Today we pray with Anne Frank: “I can feel the suffering of millions…and, yet, when I look up at the heavens, I know this cruelty will end”. (Just a note: Historians tell us that Anne Frank and her family were denied U.S. visas since it was believed we needed to guard against an influx of refugees during a time of war.)

2017…suffering…cruelty…but, a new year is coming…Advent…can we help this cruelty to end? God calls us, “Give comfort to my people” (Is.40) How? We should “be watchful, be alert” (Mk: 13), and “pray without ceasing…do not quench the Spirit!” (1Thess.5)

Hearing this Scripture reminds me of a shared recent reflection by Pope Francis of the Vatican II teaching on the development of doctrine. Francis said that we cannot be “tied to interpretation that is rigid and immutable, as this would demean the working of the Spirit…move with great enthusiasm, as in the early church, toward new horizons where God guides us. Remember, too, that the Word of God cannot be mothballed like some old blanket, as it is a dynamic and living reality”….hmmm… could this relate to anything to which we’ve dedicated ourselves!?!

Advent is a time we hear from the prophets. In that same US Catholic email there was a reflection on hope from our prophet Mary Luke Tobin, SL. She was one of only fifteen women observers at Vatican II (who were told by the officials, “Listen, but don’t speak!”) Cardinal Suenens and Father Haring made sure women were included on the commissions, and speak they did, for “Justice and peace shall kiss…truth shall spring out of the earth” Ps.85.

And we listen to Mary Luke Tobin’s prophetic life from US Catholic and NCR: She began the day by singing Morning has Broken; she said we must be open to the Spirit, open to an appreciation of all creation, open to ecumenical and feminist insights and hear the call of the poor.

As she did, may we see frustrations, tensions, conflicts and obstacles as the raw material for creativity and action to make the world more just, with peace for all, and she encouraged us to continue the struggle to get a fair female voice in the church and fully recognized personhood. (“Nothing is impossible with God”! Lk: 1)

May we live out her advice to Maureen Fiedler, SL, “Go out on a limb…that’s where the fruit is!”

Judith A. Heffernan, M.Div, is a member of the Community of the Christian Spirit and the SEPAWOC Core Committee. She attended the first Women’s Ordination Conference in Detroit and remains an active WOC member. 

Editor’s note: This Advent and Christmas, the Women’s Ordination Conference invites our readers to use The Comprehensive Catholic Resource, an inclusive lectionary. Available for download now.

So how did the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops do on the inspired leadership front? (See “Ain’t that a Shame,” November 4, 2017, The Table) The surprise that made lots of news was the election of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann as chair of the Pro-Life Committee over Cardinal Blaise Cupich, 96 to 82: no Girl Scouts over “seamless garment.” Leadership not in a good direction, not in a Francis direction, toward certainty, away from flexibility.

John Gehring in Commonweal spells out the differences between these two men somewhat more politely than Michael Sean Winters summarizes the Vatican politics in the National Catholic Reporter. On leadership, I find more telling the comment of Bishop Frank Dewane, who heads the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Heidi Schlumpf reports “He said many fellow bishops greeted him at the meeting by noting, ‘We’ve heard a lot from you lately,’ and shared how they too were addressing those issues.”  I read this as the kind of put-down I often hear when I’ve pressed a point more than the responder wants – but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they do welcome someone taking them from a “ripple” toward a “tsunami,” a rather felicitous metaphor from Bishop Dewane, who has issued two statements since the USCCB meeting critical of the US House and Senate tax proposals. I am compelled to mention that there were lively debates on immigration and on racism – but no concrete proposals for action, yet. The tyranny of the majority, perhaps. And that Mary Hunt’s reaction to the Rolling the Stone Away conference I contrasted to the USCCB meeting in my post “was a fabulous experience the likes of which I have not had since Re-Imagining.”

You’ll have to look up those events because I have to go on to the Pope. Marie Dennis describes the leadership role Pope Francis has taken to condemn nuclear disarmament in favor of total abolition of nuclear weapons. For a long time, the position of the US Bishops had been that deterrence was a rational strategy. Not for this Pope. That’s leadership, and Marie Dennis has been a voice calling in this wilderness for a long while in her various roles with Pax Christi.

The Pope’s strong stand impresses me in light of the Gospel for Christ the King this Sunday. The KING? When did that evolve? Certainly we can identify ourselves among those who the ruler (Quixote translation) welcomes into the reign of justice and love, but do we feel comfortable with the exclusion from the kindom of the accursed ones who did not see Jesus in the suffering and the poor? The Pope condemned those who would threaten the use of nuclear weapons and I, at least, hope that his words and those of the other leaders at the conference Dennis describes will inspire “rulers” with power in our nation to change their ways before it’s too late for all of us.

Sometimes we rail, rant, raise verbal fists (and even, with any luck, consciences!) in newsletters, tweets, posts — on The Table, in the world. Sometimes we burst out in energy and enthusiasm in the streets, in the parks, on the concrete steps outside our churches, and the concrete piazza outside the Vatican. And sometimes, imitating God, I guess, we rest.

Sometimes we just sit back and take a breath and grow thankful for what the long struggle has already given us and continues to give us: each other. That is the gift that has and will see us through whatever is to come.

This Thanksgiving I am especially thankful for all of you, and I am grateful for having a day of gratitude, a day of rest from the challenges, a day to remember and say thank you.

Each year, as a mealtime grace, I read a passage from an article by Anne Lamott (Traveling Mercies, Grace Eventually, Help, Thanks, Wow, and most recently Hallelujah Anyway) called “Counting Our Blessings”.

At Thanksgiving, she says, someone always manages to say grace:

I think we’re in it for the pause, the quiet thanks for love and for our blessings before the shoveling begins. For a minute, our stations are tuned to a broader, richer radius. We’re acknowledging that this food did not just magically appear: Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, baked it. Wow.

We say thank you for the miracle that we have stuck together all these years, in spite of it all; that we have each other’s backs, and hilarious companionship…We pray to be mindful of the needs of others. We savor these moments out of time, when we are conscious of love’s presence, of Someone’s great and abiding generosity to our dear and motley family, these holy moments of gratitude. And that is grace.

 Happy grace-filled Thanksgiving.


This question was raised in my mind at a meeting this fall. When the speaker mentioned “inclusive language” in the context of liturgical work, a listener interpreted it to mean something like promoting diversity. But that is not it at all, at least for me and for my small faith community, which modifies language in song as well as in scripture.

For years when doing a reading in a church, I have been changing “Lord” to “God” and using “God” instead of gendered pronouns for the deity. Not Jesus when specifically about him, but about the general godhead. This is a stealth strategy; I am usually reading at a special event and I don’t warn anyone in advance. I might have trouble if I was a regular lector and anyone noticed.

But does anyone notice? Does anyone care? The oppression of women in religion in general and Catholicism in particular is not imposed only through inequality in the priesthood and in ascribed gender roles. It is the ubiquity of a male god, pervasive in our culture.

There are other images in the Bible, and WOC has compiled an excellent list of them. The list includes the familiar and those not so much. It begins:

Genesis 1:27 Women and Men created in God’s image

“Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.”

Hosea 11:3-4 God described as a mother

God: “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”

We have heard some of these aphorisms all our lives. For all the years of its existence, WOC has published and publicized resources that celebrate aspects of God that are not explicitly male, and moved beyond a kind of “balance” to believe in a God beyond gender. Do we pray to that God ourselves? Do we enact that belief in the liturgy, the public worship of the church?

My raising this question now may seem ridiculous to those who have been in the movement forever, especially in light of the tortured English translations of recent years. I will address them in another post. But as more and more intentional Eucharistic communities rise up among us, we have the opportunity to be intentional about our language and our images as well.

And we don’t have to wing it. Many people have been doing gender-free translations. One of the first is by Catholics Speak Out at the Quixote Center. This 18-year project has resulted in volumes that meet a variety of needs from the lectionary cycles to complete paperback editions of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Some of these items are currently on sale and all are available. We owe it to ourselves and to our communities to shock our thought patterns by exploring a new version of familiar and beloved readings.

Editors’ note: The Women’s Ordination Conference will soon launch an inclusive lectionary, “The Comprehensive Catholic Lectionary,” for the Advent and Christmas season, with Sunday reflections on The Table. Stay tuned!