by Jen Owens
As the season of Lent draws to a close, I am struck by how different these past forty days have been from what I expected them to be. Before the season began, I promised to practice better self-care, attend Mass every Sunday, and regularly meet with my spiritual director. Who would have thought that I had to abandon the second one to honor the first one?
Certainly not me. Despite my concerns about exclusive language, attending Mass has always been a spiritual practice that grounds me, that keeps me rooted, that helps remind me of who I am at my core. The drama of the Eucharistic meal is a compelling one, and the way in which the essence of Christ becomes a part of the essence of me fills me with a sense of mystery and awe. The communities I have known through first-hand experience remind me of the potential the church has to be a Gospel community committed to love and justice.
However, the institutional church consistently disappoints me. Last fall, the Vatican threatened Fr. Roy Bourgeois, MM, with excommunication for giving the homily at the ordination of one of his fellow organizers into the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement. Fr. Roy’s work to close the School of the Americas breathed life into my faith as a college student in the late 1990s. Protesting at the gates of Ft. Benning allowed me to see the Mass in a new and liberating light. And when this Lent began, we seemed to be dealt one institutional blow after another—the situation in Brazil that Kate Long blogged about so movingly, the pope’s dismissal of the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, then more recently, the firing of Ruth Kolpack from her Madison, WI parish for her master’s thesis advocating inclusive language.
I am disappointed because of the message that I hear beneath these actions. No room for you because you stand in solidarity with women who seek ordination. No room for you because you chose to protect the life of a nine-year-old mother. No room for you because your image of God challenges the norm. If there is no room for people like Fr. Roy, this young girl’s mother, and Ruth Kolpack, how long before a member of the hierarchy decides there is no room for me?
I never thought I would end up giving up Catholicism for Lent, as one of the other authors put it. But the more I try to make sense of my decision not to attend Mass, the more I realize that this is about something bigger than the researchers who list Mass attendance as a prime criterion for Catholic identity allow for. This is about finding a means to pray without being judged for the way in which I feel God calling me to interpret and act upon the Gospel. This is about seeking a community in which the gifts of women are honored and affirmed. This is about imaging God in ways that free our imaginations to grasp the Divine anew.
In the end, my hiatus from attending Mass was a stop-gap measure, a time to stick my finger in the hole in the dam before the community can gather together to repair it.
Jen Owens looks forward to spending Easter Triduum this year with The Paulist Center community in downtown Boston. She is also grateful to her mom, to Kate, and to the community of authors for reminding her that there is always room for her in the Catholic Church.
Filed under: Jen Owens, Spiritual Identity | Tagged: catholicity, community, condoms, excommunicaton, feminist consciousness, HIV/AIDS, lay ministry, Lent, ordination, Pope Benedict XVI, right relationship, Roy Bourgeois, Ruth Kolpack, Womenpriests |