In my almost thirty-two years as a Roman Catholic, I have never been prouder of any pope. Granted, I've only encountered three in my lifetime, but I am also a student of Christian history. You stand out among your predecessors.
You have rocked the entire world with your embodied proclamations of the good news. You kiss the wounds of the sick. You share tables with those who have neither tables of their own nor food to put on them. You warn your clergy again and again against the glamour of clericalism. Your love is abundant, like Christ's was and is, and I have seen it have a multiplying effect, even (perhaps especially) among non-Roman Catholics.
I am tremendously grateful to God for your faithful, living witness to the teachings of Jesus. Your heart is wide open, and I feel quite certain that if I happened to walk into your midst, you would smile and greet me with the warmth of an old friend, and I would greet you likewise.
I need to confess something to you. On February 16, 2014, God willing, I will leave my cloak of Roman Catholic identity behind in order to be received as a member of the Episcopal Church.
Despite having spent my entire life as a devoted (albeit flawed) Roman Catholic, I cannot remain Roman Catholic any longer. Because despite the gospel of Jesus you now proclaim miraculously through your very body, and despite the many ways in which I encounter Christ's presence through your holy example, I'm afraid there is at least one way in which you, like most if not all of your predecessors, have failed to hear the voice of God and heed it: in the calling of thousands upon thousands of women around the world to ordained ministry.
I was able to name my own God-given call to ordained ministry thirteen years ago. I was still a teenager then. I am close with several Roman Catholic women who share the same call. Yet you, like your papal predecessors, have dismissed even the possibility that women might be called to ordained ministry.
I don't understand this hardness of heart. Not from you.
What I do understand is how hard it can be to hear God's earnest whispers when so much of one's culture screams against it. My favorite psalm is Psalm 51, because it is a perpetual invitation to be changed, transformed, turned around:
Create in me a clean heart, o God. ... Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
I suspect this psalm is as dear to you as it is to me. Please, then, let God's whispers reach your ear through my meager words: God calls some women to serve as ordained ministers. That the Roman Catholic hierarchy refuses to acknowledge this (or even to discuss it) is gravely sinful. It is presumptuous to deny God's calling to those whom God has chosen.
Please, for God's sake, don't allow whatever is lacking in me cause you to be deaf to what God is speaking to you through me in this moment. If anyone with the authority to effect gospel change in the Roman Catholic Church can hear this prophetic word, I believe you can.
Please, open your heart and listen for the sake of my daughters, who will grow up in the midst of your legacy even if they never set foot in a Roman Catholic church.
Please, listen. Listen because you know better than almost anyone that God speaks prophetically through those who are marginalized, women included.
Please, I beg you from the bottom of my heart, listen--allow yourself to be importuned by me, just like the judge was importuned by the widow, or like Jesus was importuned by the woman begging for scraps. You and I both know what happened in those latter two instances. If Jesus' mind could be changed, surely yours can.
I believe that the world-wide turning of hearts to God, if you listened in this one way and acted accordingly, would be a miracle of biblical proportion.
With blessings and love in the One who creates, redeems, and sanctifies all the world,
M. Kate Allen
This letter originally appeared at parentwin.com, where I am a regular contributor on topics of religion. The letter went viral among my Facebook friends and received more discussion and shares there than anything else I've every written, anywhere. A friend of mine encouraged me to mail it to Pope Francis. I did. If he responds, I will share his response here. (Unless he asks me not to.)
Way #1: There’s a lot of waiting around. My kid became daytime potty-trained last week. We started potty-training her over a year ago. Advent’s like that—you only get to light one candle a week on your Advent wreath, or open one little door on your Advent calendar per day. The church hymns, if you’re in a liturgically oriented church, are subdued, like the mood of a parent thwarted by uncontrolled toddler bladders and bowels. If you’re super-observant, the Christmas tree doesn’t come home till Christmas Eve and the Christmas music makes way for the usual dose of Muse and Metallica (okay, that’s the music at my house, but you get the idea). “Fun” isn’t the first word that comes to mind in either case.
Way #2: It takes repetition—lots of it—to get the idea. Without our many-times-a-day repetition of “Do you need to go potty?” our kid just had no awareness of it, and oops! There went her diaper (or, worse, on the days we were foolish enough to dress her in it, her underwear). At my Anglo-Catholic church, we sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel—several verses of it—every Advent Sunday to start the liturgy procession. Wait, what are we singing about? You mean Jesus isn’t here yet? You mean he’s still in the dark, nourishing womb of the one who bears him? Reminders of what hasn’t happened in the midst of everyone’s celebration of the it-already-happened do help.
Way #3: Rewards help. For a while we used potty treats in the form of little gummy fruit-flavored snacks. It didn’t really work unless our kid was hungry, though, so we shifted to a homemade chart for which she earned shining metallic stars. And you know what? Going square by square works! That’s what makes Advent calendars a raving success. My husband is especially fond of the ones from Trader Joe’s, loaded with chocolate. I’m fond of the Jacquie Lawson virtual Advent calendar, which I’ve received as a gift for the last several years. The wait for the lighting of each Advent candle on a wreath takes seven times as long—but oh, that moment when you finally get to light the next candle, multiplying the light that will eventually manifest as a bright, beckoning star!
Way #4: Taking time is kinder than a sudden total shift in reality. When I first got the idea to potty-train my toddler, it was right after I learned that I was pregnant with my second child. We wanted her to be potty-trained by the time the second one arrived, so I found a three-day fail-safe method on the internet that a friend had used. The author of this method said as long as her directions were followed to the letter, it would work for any age, period—in three days. She lied. And this mama wept and wailed before (and after) admitting defeat. The shift from Thanksgiving to Christmas (or the Fourth of July to Christmas) wrenches my heart like that. Really, I need time to prepare, and I need the experts to respect my need for time to prepare—like John the Baptist—for the birthing of the Christ in my world. If I take seriously what Isaiah writes, my lioness self just isn’t ready to lie down with a lamb. I need time to step back, shut up, and listen to the quiet, quieting voice of God, whether as the voice in my dreams or as a prophetic voice speaking out to me in waking life. Way #5: The final reward, after all that waiting, is a little odd to talk about if you step outside the immediacy of the moment. The toilet is filled, the diaper at last remains dry. There’s nothing else you can think about, and you can’t stop squealing. If your non-parent friends could see you now! So the Christ-child is born and laid in a manger of animal hay to become food (“manger” means “to eat,” after all). Um, whose food? And did you notice that the child got swaddled swaddled like a mummy? Same way he’s going to be wrapped in the tomb thirty-three years or so down the line when he actually does die, and…becomes bread for the world? Birth and death. Death and resurrection. Birth and risen bread. Whoa.
Toilet-training is to Advent what Potty-Training Day is to Christmas--the necessary prelude to the main event. And you know what? The wait renders the main event absolutely glorious.
If you're like me, you're just not ready for the red and green and tinsel cropping up at Target, Starbucks, and the grocery store. I want to go, "Hey, don'tcha know there's all kinds of cool stuff that goes on for a couple of months before Christmas ever arrives?"
I invite you to try out the following this year, not to ditch your family traditions, but to expand them.
Thanksgiving/Chanukah: This year, for the first time (and the last time for 77,000 years, according to one source, Thanksgiving and the first day of Chanukah coincide. This year, as you finalize your Thanksgiving day menu, consider a few Jewish specialties, like latkes
(Pro-tip: matzo ball soup can be made in minutes using a handy-dandy pre-made dry mix in the Jewish section of your grocery store.) When you and your family and friends are gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table, share the story of the miracle of Chanukah, in which an oil lamp with only enough oil for one night lasted eight nights, providing ongoing light in darkness. Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish feast of enduring, miraculous light--telling this story is is a great time to light the first candle of eight of your menorah, if you have one, or perhaps the first of other candles you have on your table. Allow this to be your segue into a giving of thanks by each person around the table.
Then, when you awake the day after Thanksgiving, consider just staying home. Really. Eating latkes with cranberry sauce for breakfast while sipping home-brewed coffee and wearing fuzzy slippers is a far gentler holiday practice than trampling your neighbor at 3 a.m. to get through store doors. Consider continuing your candle-lighting through the eight days of Chanukah, saying a silent prayer as you light them if you aren't familiar with the Hebrew prayers.
Next, Advent, as in, advent-ure! That's right--before you pull out your tubs of Christmas glitz, try cutting a few boughs from an evergreen (places that sell Christmas trees may give these away for free, if you don't have any evergreens of your own) and fashion an Advent wreath with your kids.
Each Sunday, beginning December 1, light one of the candles. Sing a verse of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" or "People Look East" with your kids. Invite them into conversation about what the dawning of light means. Refer back to the Chanukah ritual, if you used it. You might ask:
Why do we want light when it's dark? What are examples of darkness we experience? What are ways that we can bring light to dark places?
Allow Advent to be the season of quiet, pregnant anticipation that it's intended to be--because if you do, the glimmer and dazzle of Christmas Eve's light and the bright clamor of Christmas morning will shine and ring out for you in a whole new way. This post was originally featured at parentwin.com.