Saturday, May 21, 2011

Do we remember Mary Magdalene as Jesus instructed us to?

One story in which Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus just before his Passion appears in three gospels: MT 26, MK 14 and John 12.  Mary anointed Jesus’ head and/or feet depending upon the gospel version of the event.   Two gospels describe Mary as anointing his head.  Those same two renditions indicate Jesus told his disciples this regarding Mary, “Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her (MK 14:9, MT 26:13)."

What exactly did Mary Magdalene do that we should remember her wherever the gospel is proclaimed?  Since most people likely are unaware of this scriptural instruction, do we speak of her actions in memory of her at all much less “wherever” we proclaim the gospel?

Understanding what she did requires understanding what it meant to anoint someone in biblical times.  An anointing was significant due to what it symbolized and that significance was so great it justified even impoverished people using very expensive perfumes and oils for the occasion. 

People anointed the dead for burial.  They also anointed leaders’ heads to indicate that God chose them to lead.  Both the word “messiah” and “Christ” mean “anointed one”.  Thus, “Jesus Christ” means “Jesus the anointed one”.  Only women anointed Jesus and only Mary Magdalene anointed his head, a messianic anointing.  This is very significant.

Who usually anointed people in biblical times?  Another man did.  Since women had lower social status, leaders were usually men and women touching men to anoint them as leaders violated religious and social norms.  Anointers themselves also were considered important messengers of God such as Samuel who anointed Israel’s first kings.  This further reinforced the cultural practice of males anointing male leaders.  

A female anointing Jesus must have shocked people because of the marked deviation from norms.  Since Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ head was a messianic anointing, this too would have stunned people who otherwise assumed a man would anoint the Messiah.  Thus, Mary was a female messenger of God, breaking cultural and religious norms to visibly anoint Jesus so people could see God chose him to lead.  Is this how Mary Magdalene is remembered at all much less “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world?”

Since the church finds Jesus’ interactions with particular genders especially significant and worthy of eternal perpetuation, why did this significant gender-specific interaction escape them?  Why isn’t it preserved and perpetuated?  Why isn’t it retold in memory of Mary?  Jesus never speaks of perpetually remembering his mother Mary’s actions.  Why does the church fixate on remembering her actions while almost ignoring the Mary Jesus said to always remember? 

Should the Creed include Mary Magdalene’s anointing of Jesus so that wherever we proclaim the gospel we remember her act anointing him as Messiah?  Should women be anointers in the church?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Do sheep flee from good shepherds?

This weekend we read in John 10 where Jesus excoriates the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees, for being false shepherds who expel those whom Jesus calls.  Specifically the gospel passage refers to the Pharisees expelling from the synagogue the blind beggar whom Jesus personally touched and healed (John 9). 

Church leaders increasingly expel people for questioning traditions Jesus never explicitly established.   Meanwhile, these same actions violate Jesus’ explicit directive to the apostles, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you (Mark 10:42-43 and MT 20:25-26).”  Sadly, it is increasingly “so” amongst today’s apostles.   

Why do church leaders foster an environment where they “lord it over” people who question traditions based on things Jesus never actually said whilst ignoring things Jesus explicitly instructed? 

They try to justify their actions by citing the Magisterium’s self-acclaimed role as superior discerners and defenders of truth.  Yet, the clergy continue to be exposed as taking great liberties with truth, particularly when it comes to due process and the sex abuse scandal or even simple things like fact-checking homily material as mentioned in my last blog article.  I appreciate all clergy are human and therefore capable of breaking any commandment.  However, habitual 8th Commandment violators rightfully are not seen as credible, much less superior, guardians of truth. 

In this weekend’s gospel passage Jesus says, “…the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers (John 10:4-5).”  In 2010 alone, 180,000 of Pope Benedict’s fellow Germans left the church due to shepherds who abused children or enabled abusers.  Every day approximately 1,000 Mexicans leave the church resulting in over 1,000,000 Catholics leaving every three years.   Worldwide, millions leave the church due to the bishops’ behaviors and policies.   Is this exodus indicative of good shepherding?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

If the clergy have teaching authority but parents have primary teaching responsibility, why can’t parents hold clergy accountable?

Today people in the United States celebrated Mother’s Day.  Keeping with the theme of mothers, I thought I’d write about parenting. 

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, parents, not the hierarchy, are the primary educators of their children’s faith.  Yet, the hierarchy reserves the Church’s teaching authority to itself.  Thus, parents have little control over what clergy spout at their children from the pulpit or other media.  This concerns me because of the amount of incorrect historical, factual, theological, spiritual and ecclesial information I’ve witnessed emanating from the mouths of clergymen.   If I am the primary educator, why don’t I have better recourse for shielding my children from clergy’s inaccuracies?

For example, I attended Mass today with one of my children.  The priest gave a homily overflowing with “history” and “facts” that were, for lack of a better word… wrong.   For instance, he told us that St. Luke was the head of the early church in Jerusalem when, in fact, St. James was. 

He also told us Mother’s Day originated from people bringing flowers to their “mother” church and this tradition somehow grew into honoring human mothers, when, in fact, Anna Jarvis campaigned for the Mother’s Day holiday to continue her mother’s (Ann Jarvis’) feminist efforts inspiring women to take a more active role guiding society and politics.  Anna succeeded in making Mother’s Day a U.S. holiday in 1914.  Anna’s mother, Ann Jarvis’ inspiration was the 1870 “Mother’s Day Proclamation” written by feminist and pacifist, Julia Ward Howard.  

He also provided us with a flawed etymology and linguistics lesson as he rambled about the term, “Theotokos” (Θεοτόκος in Greek characters).   He explained the term meant “Mother of God” and came from two Greek words: “theos” (Θεός) meaning “god” and “tokos” (τόκος) meaning “mother”.  He was correct that “theos” means “god”.  However, “tokos” means “childbirth” or “bearer”.  Thus, “Theotokos” means “God-bearer” or “one who gives birth to God”.  The actual Greek word for “mother” is “Meter” (Μήτηρ).   “Meter tou Theou”  (Μήτηρ του Θεού) is how one says “Mother of God” in Greek.  Though related, they mean different things.

Those were just a few of the priest’s erroneous statements today.  People familiar with the subjects readily knew he was incorrect.  But likely many people were not familiar with the subjects and just took what he said on faith.  The potential damage of his errant teachings is anyone who took his statements on faith, subsequently might believe and propagate incorrect ideas about a host of topics. 

Taking my role as primary educator for my child’s faith seriously, I found myself giving a running commentary throughout Mass correcting his errors, lest my child walk out of Mass today with warped ideas about language, church, theology and history.

Today’s priest was not the first priest I’ve encountered who takes great liberties with truth and facts.  Sadly I’ve encountered many.  Today’s priest, as a matter of practice, preaches homilies littered with inaccuracies; today was the norm not an exception.  He also teaches diocesan-wide classes.

What puzzles me is why priests like this are allowed to spout inaccuracies?  As my children’s primary educator in the faith, how do I dismiss an error effusing priest from having opportunities to teach my children?  What is my recourse?  Where is the governance?

If the clergy have teaching authority but parents have primary teaching responsibility, why can’t parents hold clergy accountable?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What would happen if today's apostles were as courageous Christ followers as Thomas?

Today’s gospel reading is about Thomas, often referred to as, “doubting Thomas”.  Since all the disciples and apostles doubted until they had a direct resurrection encounter with Jesus, why is only Thomas labeled a “doubter”? 

Scripture indicates Thomas actually exhibited more loyalty, wisdom and courage than the others.  For example, just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, a feat that would seal his fate, he told his followers they all should return to Judea.  The followers were reluctant and afraid because people tried to kill Jesus there.  Yet Thomas seemed to understand what Jesus faced and courageously said, "Let us also go to die with him" (JN 11:16).

At the Last Supper, Thomas wants to follow Jesus no matter where he goes so he asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus told him: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (JN 14:5-6).  This is the most important revelation Jesus makes about himself and Jesus says it directly to Thomas not the disciples as a group.  It also contrasts with Jesus chastising Philip immediately afterwards in JN 14:8-9 for not recognizing Jesus' divinity.

In today’s reading, Thomas is not with the others who fearfully locked themselves in a room.  He’s been out and about, likely continuing his work as a Christ follower, without fear.  Jesus honors Thomas and returns a week later in response to Thomas’ request to see him.  Jesus invites Thomas to probe his wounds but Thomas doesn’t do it.  Instead he says, “My Lord and my God”.  This testament to Jesus' nature contrasts with Philip’s ignorance of Jesus’ divinity.  Thomas knows Jesus is God perhaps because there seems to be a thread of direct personal and spiritual intimacy between Thomas and Jesus.

Interestingly enough, Jesus did not condemn or accuse Thomas.  Neither did the other disciples.  However, if we transplanted Thomas into a modern scenario, current apostles likely would condemn him Orwellian style for improper thought.  Today, those who question like Thomas are condemned.  Others who privately have questions hold their tongues because they are as fearful as the earliest disciples.  Instead of fearing Jewish religious leaders and their groupies though, they fear the Magisterium and its groupies. 

Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who believes God is all-powerful and not contained by Magisterial edicts, likely will be defrocked.  A vast number of other apostles agree with his opinions about God, women and ordination but are too fearful to speak out and support him.  They are locked in their own private room for fear of the Magisterium.  What would happen if today’s apostles were as courageous Christ followers as Thomas? 

(Thanks to biblical scholar, Don P., for the idea.)