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Catholic Church of the Beatitudes: Why I Stay

The windows have opened on an institution closed to the outside world for far too long

Ten years ago, the Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP) movement emerged when seven brave women were ordained on the Danube River in Europe. That day, those spirit-filled women led those willing to follow into an exciting, uncertain but ever-evolving future.

A couple of months ago, the Catholic community of the Church of the Beatitudes in Santa Barbara celebrated the 10th anniversary of those first ordinations of Roman Catholic Women Priests. For me, being a part of this movement, as well as leading the Church of the Beatitudes in Santa Barbara, is a daily experience of being inspired by the Holy Spirit and of personally embracing the power of Divine mystery.

At the Church of the Beatitudes, we try to always provide a living witness of the Vatican Council II’s description of church as “the people of God.” Together we engage in an ongoing journey toward spiritual maturity. On that journey, we penetrate deeply into our rich Catholic traditions, we celebrate spiritual practices and strive to bring our practices to bear on social justice work.

Perhaps the question I am asked most frequently by those who do not understand what the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement is about is: Why do you stay with Roman Catholicism? If you wanted to be a priest, why didn’t you leave and join another denomination?

To that query my reply is: Spiritual maturity is not necessarily about leaving; it is often about staying and renewing, refreshing and reconnecting with the depth of one’s tradition.

Every spiritual tradition has depth and invites a seeker to explore those depths. The depths of the Catholic tradition are often revealed in the spiritual quest of both our martyrs and the desert mothers and fathers. Together they point the way beyond the common need for spiritual certainty, and move past the need for a hierarchy that is self-invested with insatiable power and control. Instead, those earliest Christians take us to places within ourselves where we discover a gospel-wisdom that opens our minds to the Spirit within our own hearts and introduces us to the evolution of consciousness. The early church was Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.

The new movement of Roman Catholic Women Priests invites us to recapture the Spirit of the early church and re-create the dynamism of unfolding spiritually in light of our modern and post-modern scientific understandings.

Catholicism at its best is steeped in ritual and mystery. Having shed engagement with theological and doctrinal debates, having become observers of the process of hierarchical, male-dominated machinations, and having witnessed the abomination of a predatory clergy, those involved in the RCWP find themselves free to Walk Out and Walk On, as Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze have so brilliantly titled their recent publication. The subtitle of that same book is, A Learning Journey Into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now. It is by engaging ever more deeply in our Catholic rituals on a weekly basis and inviting sacred mystery to touch the depths of our being that we can live the future now.

So why do I remain a Roman Catholic?

I stay because I believe that the Vatican Council II did in fact open the windows of an institutional church that had been closed to the outside world for far too long in order to allow us to reimagine the Church as the People of God. I stay because I see the People of God being empowered to bring their gifts and talents to community. I stay because shepherding a new community is deeply challenging and spiritually enlivening. I stay because I am being fed spiritually and psychologically by each and every member of the Church of the Beatitudes.

If you hunger for a return to your primal roots as Catholics and desire to be a part of a Liturgy that is transformative, “come and see.” We celebrate our weekly Eucharist every Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 2101 State St. in Santa Barbara. All are welcome!

— Suzanne Dunn was ordained through RCWP in 2008 and is pastor of the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which meets at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns.

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