Co-Director of Discerning Deacons, Casey Stanton, offers her reflections of staying true to our own individual interpretations of Jesus’ message. Join her in the call for new voices to speak at the table of spiritual leadership.
One Sunday, I’m waiting for our priest to offer his homily on Matthew 16, the story of Jesus asking his disciples: who do you say that I am? I begin to recall my own relationship to that passage. Soon, memories come flooding over me—particularly of one summer that the question came alive for me.
I was living at the Agape Community – a lay catholic community committed to living Jesus’ non-violence and walking gently on the earth. We lived on 40-acres of land in Western Massachusetts. I turned the dirt and pulled the weeds and entered the rhythm of the communal monastic life, Jesus’ question turned over within me, asking: “who do you say that I am?”
I began to live into the answer as the churning of my own hurts and doubts began to lighten. As I worked, slowly transforming the fertile ground in my spirit, I found myself wondering inwardly: “Am I myself like this ground, where waste is turned under and eventually nourishes new life?” I was coming to believe Jesus was, in fact, who we say he is: God enfleshed, risen, whom the powers of death cannot hold. And a healer with whom nothing is impossible.
“As I turned the dirt and pulled the weeds and entered the rhythm of the communal monastic life, Jesus’ question turned over within me, asking: ‘who do you say that I am?’”
I snap back to the present. The priest is offering his own interpretation of the text –and it did not include a metaphor about compost and gardening. He went on,“Jesus came to create order. Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom, thus establishing the hierarchy. This was an important part of Jesus’ mission – to establish the apostolic order beginning with Peter and continuing today.”
I continue to listen to the homily, but everything in my mind, body, spirit, and heart knows that Jesus did not come to earth to institute an all-male decision-making power structure for all of eternity. For me, a big part of the conversion of my Agape summer was found in healing from patterned, gendered, sexual violence. It was violence sustained by a worldview that says that while women are to be cherished and valued, the circle of importance for men is bigger, than that drawn for women. And of course, for women of color and indigenous women, the circle is drawn ever smaller.
“Everything in my mind, body, spirit, and heart knows that Jesus did not come to earth to institute an all-male decision-making power structure for all of eternity.”
Inside this Petrinal lineage, propped up by a narrow reading of the Gospel of Matthew, we have constructed mountains of precedent and practice with grave consequences. We have sacramentalized male superiority. We have mistaken self-denial for smallness. We have mistaken service for servanthood. We have written into the cosmos a gendered order, with a male-head-of-household and head-of-church, rather than let God’s order of creation be revealed. We have forgotten to see the spectrum of creation is seen as a delight and a gift.
For those of us who have been excluded from the circles of power, it can be hard to believe that Jesus is asking his question to us directly. But he is. Jesus was, and ever shall be, inviting all of us to live the question: “Who do you say that I am?”
“Our advocacy for greater discernment about women’s role in church leadership is rooted in the Rock of the Church. We continue to trust, ever more fully, in the Holy Spirit who advocates and guides – faithfully renewing the Church in every generation.”
In the years since first opening my life to the possibility of who Jesus is, I have come to know a God who calls me, along with multitudes of women, to be more than what the Church would imagine is possible. I have followed this God into the heart of the Church, where new life is beginning to spring forth.
In October 2023, for the first time, Catholic bishops are joining with lay women and man along with those with different roles in the Church to discern, propose, and vote together how the church can walk closer to its own people. That is, how the Catholic Church can journey more closely with Jesus who is bound to humanity in our collective struggles for life, dignity, healing, and hope beyond death.
Naysayers will claim this is yet another sign of the crumbling of “The Tradition,” and that it opens a pandora’s box of confusion and disaster. Others will say that this effort does not go far enough, fast enough. But the path beckons us to move forward nonetheless, despite the critical voices. Our advocacy for greater discernment about women’s role in church leadership is rooted in the Rock of the Church. We continue to trust, ever more fully, in the Holy Spirit who advocates and guides – faithfully renewing the Church each generation.
Reflect with Us
Do you recall moments when scripture “came alive” to you? What insights did you gain? Share your reflection with us.
Casey Stanton is the co-director of Discerning Deacons, a project engaging Catholics in the active discernment around women and the diaconate. She most recently served as Adult Faith Formation minister at Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, North Carolina. Casey is proud to make a home in Durham, North Carolina with her partner Felipe, and their two children, Micaela and Teddy.
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