“What’s an inclusive, progressive Catholic to do …. next?”

Mary Magdala Community

“What’s an inclusive, progressive Catholic to do ….. next?”©

by Rev. Jim Ryan, jimryan6885@gmail.com

You find yourself, after signing the petitions, writing the letters, demonstrating, protesting….

You find yourself after educating yourself, attending the conferences, reaching out for mutual understanding….

You find yourself after praying with and for each other, sharing the depth of each other’s faith and devotion, loving liturgy…..

You find yourself, after all that, wanting to gather – to pray & to celebrate inclusively – with others who share this same knowledge and heritage, with those who also wish to live out the fullness of God’s gifts to the people. The gifts of ministry, of liturgical and pastoral leadership, of service embedded among the people and embodied in women priests, in married/partnered priests and in the priestly people of God – these gifts of the Spirit and what they mean for our collective future must be claimed and shared in our gathering in community. In this way these gifts of the Spirit will thrive.

This is a collective future because the institution that comprised Roman Catholicism has wonderfully and remarkably become transformed back into the array of communities it always was. Just as scholars report to us that communities of Jesus’ followers were widely diverse in formation and in practice so we now retrieve such diversity in our time.

I write to invite us all to deepen our understanding and practice of being Catholic at ground level. By this phrase “being Catholic” I mean to explore fundamental truths that enjoin us to each other. What is the story we share that connects our experiences – one to the other – and results in the awareness, as taught by the French phenomenologist, Jean-Luc Marion, that we are “adonnees,” that is, “gifted ones”? We are the ones to whom God’s gifts are poured out indiscriminately, widely, and freely. And because we celebrate these gifts sacramentally we take seriously the obligation to make holy – our lives, our earth, our being community. This is the ground level at which we become Catholic – at moments of sacramental experience, prayerfully celebrating the liturgical work of God’s people.

Being Catholic at ground level is the challenge to operate at levels of thought and commitment that takes Incarnation at face value. Who is Jesus and who am I in relation to Jesus? Who are we in relation to Jesus and to each other?

If the divinization of humanity – God taking on flesh and blood is at the heart of who we are, then this must happen daily in who we are and what we do at ground level. And if we are the ones who God entrusts with living out Incarnation then, one would think, God is prepared to do this at ground level. This notion of church at ground level is derived mostly from the notion of a low ecclesiology, or church from below as treated by Roger Haight in his multi-volume work, “The Church.”

It is time, at the ground level, to put a stop to the denial of God’s gracious gifts among us. Who among us is unaware of individuals – men and women – who are called to full, active and ordained ministry in the Catholic Church – particularly throughout the collectivity of its communities? Who does not have a relationship with a priest and his wife or life-partner, a priest who retains ministerial gifts by the conduct of their married life and service to others?

Certainly, the scholarship and the evidence stares us in the face of our communities’ past celebrations of ordinations for just such as these – these married and partnered ones, these women. It is up to us, now after all the petitions, all the letters, all the demonstrations to, as some of us boomers used to say, Just Do It!

But just do what? Clearly, women priests are growing in numbers and, to God’s glory, are ordained to serve. In fact they are serving as liturgical and pastoral leaders within a growing number of communities.

For years we married priests have had the opportunity, if we choose to take advantage of it, to also minister in various ways in response to people’s requests. House churches of communities worshipping from within the sacramental tradition and heritage have been a staple for many over the past 35 years or so. Officiating at weddings, baptisms, anointings and other sacramental events have been grace filled spiritual experiences for many of us. Beyond these events and more deeply than the occasional encounters, though, it seems to be time to gather in wider, more public, and larger numbers.

The reason for doing this revolves around the sense, the desire for, and the commitment to inclusion. The experience of being Catholic at ground level is about a deeply held sense that too many people are being deprived of the gifts God gives. As “gifted ones” it is insufficient for us only to be thankful and seek the experience of God’s generosity of inclusive love as it happens. No, this is a gift that first of all is an experience of discovery. The discovery is that I am not alone. I see, feel, respond to the other – the other who is just like me, an other I.

In this fundamental human experience of other-I the life of community dawns. This is why Trinitarian thought should come as second nature to those who believe in Incarnation, in the divinization of humanity. The Holy Trinity is the experience of community, of Creator, Word, and Spirit. It is based in God’s expansive love, in God’s purpose that creation is destined for fulfillment, for eternity. Transformation is this 2nd nature experience – it is where we are bound to go.

So, where is the progressive, inclusive Catholic to go? What are we to do? We are to celebrate God’s fullness among us, of course. We are to remain within a sacramental heritage through the formation and practices of inclusive communities.

Consider this. When Jesus said, after sharing that first Eucharist with his friends, “Do this in memory of me,” it is most likely that he gave that charge to the community and not to specifically named individuals. Which is exactly what those first communities apparently did. A prayer leader (in the Didache this person is referred to as prophet, not episcopos (bishop), not presbyter (priest) leads the priestly people in this charge to re-member.

So, inclusive Catholics in southeastern Wisconsin, you are most welcome to join us in community at Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Inclusive Catholic Community. That’s a big title which means simply, “Come Join Us.”

We gather every Sunday for Eucharist at 9:45am.

We gather at 1529 Wauwatosa Ave, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin on the campus of the Wauwatosa Area United Methodist Church.


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