This simple chant melody in praise of Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been elaborated on in classical music, for example, by Charles Gounod. Two days ago, the Church made note of another Mary, from Magdala. She is one of several persons by that name, among whom were Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, also Mary the mother of James and Joseph. The early Church Fathers established the scriptures, e.g., St. Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Timothy, Corinthians, Titus and St. Peter’s letter, as the final sources of what and whom we were and are to believe about this other Mary. Among them was Pope Gregory in the year 591, who gave her a negative reputation as a prostitute and adulteress. Down through the ages, then, the male power in church and society has set up conditions to keep womankind in her place, discrediting sexuality in general and disempowering women in particular.
As of June 10, that is, since last month, with the signature of Pope Francis, Mary Magdalene has become an example and model for every woman in the Church. The Women’s Ordination Conference promoters have backed the idea, “A Church for Our Daughters”. A group of 8 pilgrims walked 600 miles to Rome to try to promote a “Church with Women”. Their idea is that no decisions in the Church are to be made without the input of women. Vatican positions should be filled by women. Cardinal advisers to the pope should receive the input of women. The general secretary of bishop conferences should be a woman. The Church has always had a problem regarding women. Many of them feel like strangers in the church because they are not involved in the decision making processes. A grandmother of 12 and mother of 6 says that the women in her family have sharp minds, enormous hearts and wisdom which have no place in the present church. Officially, there are no provisions for women priests, but just say that to our own Kathy Vandenberg, who next Sunday will celebrate her tenth anniversary as a priest.
In the world of Islam, life is even less free for women than in our western and Christian societies. Just think of the clothing requirements demanded of Moslem women. Add to that the custom of the “honor murders” of young Moslem women who seek to marry non-Moslems. In our world, thinking and imaginative women consider basic issues in the Church and ask the bishops to think of them honestly and not defensively. Thinking women are not opposed to religion, but seek its applicability in daily life.
Pope Francis, however, two days ago, issued another document telling women in contemplative orders to carry out appropriate changes in 12 aspects of their lives. As if over the centuries of their existence the new ideas of these dedicated women, if and when necessary, have to be approved by a male member of some papal commission.
We members of this faith community have daughters and sisters and other female members of our families. Many of you have moving stories of their presence in your lives. Judith and I have been blessed with our hypercritical Rebecca. She no longer has contact with our Faith, having quit the Church at age 15 despite 9 years of schooling in a German Ursuline high school. But she is so dedicated to her profession of teaching, in which she is doing pastoral work of great dimensions, much more so than I ever did in my 13 active years in the priesthood. She keeps Judith and me on the straight and narrow in so many important aspects of daily life “in the trenches”. We wish a similar blessing on all parents here today and in our community. (Rest of hymn)