Friday, March 23 , 2018, 4:12 pm | Fair 62º


Catholic Church of the Beatitudes: Prophets Without Honor?

Planting the seeds of change to pursue equality in the ministry

There is a sobering story about Jesus as a prophet figure being shunned by the very people he grew up with — his own neighbors. It’s in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 13, where we read:

“Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.’ And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”

I discovered a contemporary variation on the same theme in a biography of folk musician Pete Seeger, To Everything There Is a Season: Pete Seeger and the Power of Song by Allan Winkler. When Seeger, who built a cabin on a hill above the Hudson River, started to become ecologically conscious and active in the 1960s, he hit on the idea of re-creating a classic Hudson River Sloop — The Clearwater. He dreamed of musicians serving as the crew. He foresaw that such a sloop could become a floating stage, where songs could be sung and attention could be focused on areas of the river that badly needed to be cleaned up. To no one’s surprise, his conservative neighbors conspired against him.

Winkler describes it this way: “As Seeger’s national and international reputation soared, his local reputation sank. His neighbors continued to think of him as a kook. The more conservative ones mobilized — unsuccessfully — to keep him from singing in the local high school. Even though he was able to perform, the episode left him shaken. As he wrote in 1968 to the entertainers Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, ‘One of the weaknesses in my own work, and probably the work of many an intellectual, is that I may have friends all around the world, but in my own neighborhood, I am in a very weak position, and can be knocked down by anyone who wants to tell a few lies about me.’”

Jesus in his day was preaching a radical idea, too. He announced a year of favor with God, that some scholars understand to be a “Jubilee year” — a year when all debts were to be forgiven. This was not a welcome proposal among the wealthy landowners and those who were the financial “winners” in the Holy Land of that era.

Seeger, in the 1960s, was advocating a Hudson Valley-wide mobilization to clean up the river and bring it back from its decades-long condition of pollution to a healthy state, with thriving fish and safe water for swimming. He was an ecological prophet. And by seeing his Clearwater sailboat project through to completion, his efforts paid off. The Sloop Clearwater is still sailing, and the Hudson River is clean and safe once again.

The Catholic Church of the Beatitudes today is seeking to focus attention on another stewardship issue that needs fixing: the quest for full equality of women in Catholic ministry, including Holy Orders, or the priesthood.

Those of us who are supporting this movement feel every so often that we, too, like prophets of old, are misunderstood and disrespected. The very people who should be hearing our message and responding to it with love and enthusiasm, our local Catholic clergy, look the other way. They tell our members, most of whom are lifelong Catholics, that they can no longer receive communion in their home parishes. And they tell their own parishioners that the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes is to be avoided — that we are heretics, that we have all been automatically excommunicated. That’s a bureaucratic way of saying we are shunned.

Fortunately, we have friends and supporters who welcome our words, our mission and what we stand for. We can even take comfort in being in the company of the disrespected, since we know which way the winds are blowing, and feel the Spirit filling our sails. One of our favorite songs, in fact, looks forward to a time when there will be a new Church — a “new creation” made of human hearts rather than stone, where women and men will share equally in ministry. The words I’m thinking of are attributed to “Pauline T.” — yes, a woman lyricist of the 1860s — and are set to the tune “How Can I keep from Singing?”

Our life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation.
We hear the sweet tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

So, like Seeger, we are using the power of song to plant the seeds of change. Here’s another example of some powerful lyrics, from the song “One Bread, One Body” by John Michael Talbot. It’s a song that bridges the gap between the Church of the Beatitudes and traditional Catholic parishes; you’ll hear it in both places. But how long must we wait for these words of St. Paul to be taken seriously by the traditionalist wing of our Church?

Gentile or Jew, servant or free,
Woman or man — no more.

— Thomas Heck is the music minister at the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which meets at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Heck would love to have more musicians (flute, cello, piano, singers) available to perform at our liturgies. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns.

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