We rejoice today that God is doing great things for us as we grow our international movement by ordaining 3 new women bishops: Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea, from Latin America, Mary Eileen Collingwood from the United States, and Michele Birch-Conery from Canada. Each of these women brings unique spiritual gifts and diverse life experiences that will inform their role as bishop in a circular model of leadership within a discipleship of equals.
In the Magnificat, Mary Mother of Jesus, proclaims God’s faithful love for the fullness of life for all especially the powerless and downtrodden. Mary’s words echo the prophets’ message that continue to challenge us today: to speak truth to power, challenge discrimination, and work for justice.
Like Mary, we, too, proclaim that God is doing great things for us. God is working through our movement to lift up women as equals in our Church and to promote the full humanity of women in the world. We believe that women’s rights are human rights and that gender equality is the will of God for everyone. In Genesis 1:17 we read: “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.”
In a recent TED talk entitled “Why I Believe Mistreatment of Women is the Number One Human Rights Abuse,” Jimmy Carter maintains that the misinterpretation of religious scriptures is a strong determining factor in violence and discrimination against women worldwide. Carter says:”That is an all-pervasive problem, because men can exert that power and if an abusive husband or an employer, for instance, wants to cheat women, they can say that if women are not equal in the eyes of God, why should I treat them as equals myself?”
The belief that God is male and that men are created more in God’s image than women is the foundation for the misogynist attitude that men are superior and women are inferior. While we know that language about the Holy One is metaphorical and limited, the use of exclusive language and male only images puts God in a man’s only box that elevates man to the status of God. Such idolatry reinforces sexist attitudes and practices that have been taught by the church for centuries. Women have too often internalized this oppressive thinking and accepted their own subordinate status. But today, feminist theologians are expanding our God language to include God as “she.”
In the Bible, we encounter a rich array of feminine images for the divine. Holy Wisdom is translated in Greek and Hebrew as feminine, Sophia in Greek and Hokmah in Hebrew. She is portrayed as mother, sister, bride, hostess, prophet, preacher, friend, liberator, and the creator in the Books of Job, Proverbs, Sirach, Baruch and the Wisdom of Solomon.
In our first reading “Sophia permeates all living things, enters into holy souls and makes them friends of God.” In this encounter with the feminine divine we are reminded of our call to care for the earth because, ultimately, we are one with all life and the entire cosmos.
Today there is a growing awareness of our connectedness with all living beings in our very essence. The entire cosmos is giving birth to God each and every day in a communion of love and life.
As we ordain 3 women bishops today, we recognize their heritage within the Divine Feminine Wisdom tradition as embracing an awareness of our cosmic oneness alive in mystical knowing and in evolving theologies. Most of all, they are aware of the relationship between divine consciousness and human rights advocacy for taking action in encouraging compassionate global communities. Our bishops, together with our ARCWP community and the church, are emerging and evolving into a companionship of empowerment, in a community of disciples and equals.
Our international movement began in 2002 when seven courageous women were ordained on the Danube. Our first women bishops were ordained by male bishops in apostolic succession. Therefore, our orders are valid. We are disobeying an unjust, man-made church law that discriminates against women. In 2015, our worldwide Roman Catholic Women Priests membership is 215. The good news is women priests are changing the church, one inclusive community at a time. We now serve more than 75 communities.
In 2014, I ordained 22 deacons and priests, and now half way through 2015, I have ordained 19. In October, 3 ARCWP bishops will ordain 3 priests and a deacon on 3 different weekends in 3 cities Detroit, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque.
The bishops’ primary function is to ordain deacons, priests and bishops to serve inclusive ecclesial communities in mutual partnership. Our vision is a circular model united with the people we serve; hence, the bishop ordains and is also an enthusiastic communicator of our renewed vision. We do not have dioceses or exercise jurisdiction over anyone or anything. Bishops have 1 vote, as do others in the community, on decisions that affect us all.
In her book Abounding in Kindness, Elizabeth Johnson affirms the challenge that the church faces in transforming clericalism and patriarchy. She writes: This “add women and stir” recipe just results in further problems as women are pressured to disregard their own gifts and try to fit into a male-defined world. Rather, the whole structure of church and society needs to be transformed to make space for a new community of mutual partnership. The goal is a new justice” (Elizabeth Johnson, Abounding in Kindness, p. 141).
To read the entire homily go to Bridget Mary’s Blog