swords, ploughshares, popes, bishops, and women’s ordination

swords and ploughshares

Advent is my favorite month, and today’s reading from Isaiah provides one of my favorite images,

“and they shall beat their swords into plough shares.” Isaiah 2:4 

I was planning all day to write a reflection on these wonderful words, but I got side-tracked. The discussion boards over at the National Catholic Reporter were hopping! NCR published an editorial in favor of women’s ordination. Denying women access to the priesthood, says the editorial, is an injustice. This evening, you couldn’t read the newest comment without several more pouring in. Many are enthusiastically supporting the editorial staff at NCR for their courage. Others, a smaller but very vocal group, are slinging accusations of unfaithfulness and heresy.

Now, for anyone who doesn’t know the do’s and don’ts of Catholicism, there are some issues that you have to keep mum on. Women’s ordination is one of those issues. You can be a pedophile priest or rob your parish blind, and punishment will not come as swiftly as it would for a fellow priest who has openly participated in the ordination of a woman, or a mass celebrated by a woman priest. Recent news shows that a bishop can be found guilty in a court of law of not reporting an abusive priest and the same bishop can remain active in pastoral ministry. He can even attend a national Bishops conference, seemingly in good standing, without a single bishop challenging his presence.

But, openly supporting women’s ordination is considered a grave sin. Excommunications and defrocking are handed out bluntly and swiftly.

No sooner has the inked dried on commentaries about the recent expulsion of Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the Maryknoll order and the priesthood, news came out that Jesuit Fr. Bill Brennan, a 92 year old priest from the Milwaukee area was ordered by Archbishop Jerome Listecki to no longer celebrate the Mass or perform any other priestly duties. NCR published the story just this afternoon. Fr. Brennen’s sin? He participated in a Eucharistic liturgy with a woman priest last month.

I’m trying hard to cling to the Advent spirit of hope, to ponder the images of swords being beaten into plough shares. It turns out that I already wrote a reflection at this time last year. It’s a strange thing when you forget what you wrote. It’s even stranger when your own words force you to stop and ponder.

What about the swords and plough shares in our own lives? Do we use the gifts and resources given to us to promote peace and unity, or dissent and division? Our words and actions have the power to slay for good or for evil…

What swords do I need to hammer into plough shares? This is a constant challenge with my writing. It’s a fine line between having a good, cathartic rant and using your words to attack. When an issue is close to my heart, it is easy to fuel the flames of dissent – in myself and in others. The flames have the power to heat up my personal views. Witty words add fuel, as does the support of kindred spirits.

…once we have spoken, how do we take our own passions and unite them for the greater good? How do we hammer our own issues into plough-shares for peace in our church and our world?

Yes, I have many swords that need beating down–an embarrassingly large arsenal in fact. I need to put aside that which destroys, and pick up that which is life-giving.

I wish that the powers that be in our Church would try to do the same. Picking up the sword against those who question or refuse to give assent to one teaching of the church, while refusing to acknowledge all the pastoral work they may have done, does not nourish our faith. It just makes us wonder why swords, and not plough shares, are in the hands of those who call themselves shepherds.

our own swords and plough shares

“and they shall beat their swords into plough shares.” Isaiah 2:4 

Advent is my favorite liturgical season. We are invited to travel with the prophets on a journey of waiting and longing. We see visions of heavenly feasts where righteousness and justice reign. We are promised a future of peace and tranquility, where love trumps violence and hatred. Our present struggles will fall by the wayside along smooth, straight paths.

Prophets know the power of the poetic word or phrase. It stops us in our tracks, nudging us into deeper pondering. Beating swords into plough shares is one of these phrases. Take a quiet moment to reflect on the richness of this image. What does it mean to our world today? What challenges does it bring? How can we respond to make this vision a reality?

Sadly, our world is filled with too many examples of scarce resources being used for war while millions of people are starving. We can point a finger at countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. We can turn the same finger back on ourselves when our national resources are used for unjust wars and the build-up of weapons rather than peace-keeping. It boggles the mind to think of the global imbalance caused by war; where swords are becoming increasingly expensive and whole populations are dying of hunger.

What about the swords and plough shares in our own lives? Do we use the gifts and resources given to us to promote peace and unity, or dissent and division? Our words and actions have the power to slay for good or for evil. Working for a peaceful and just world does not mean being silent. It requires entering into difficult conversations; passive door-mats need not apply. But, how good are we at dialogue within our own families, our neighbourhoods, our places of work, our schools, and our churches?

What swords do I need to hammer into plough shares? This is a constant challenge with my writing. It’s a fine line between having a good, cathartic rant and using your words to attack. When an issue is close to my heart, it is easy to fuel the flames of dissent – in myself and in others. The flames have the power to heat up my personal views. Witty words add fuel, as does the support of kindred spirits.

I am not saying that we shouldn`t share our experiences openly and honestly. On the contrary! It is important that our voices are heard, and that we listen to the voices of all. But, once we have spoken, how do we take our own passions and unite them for the greater good? How do we hammer our own issues into plough-shares for peace in our church and our world?