On the Eve of All Saints’ Day

“On Passing A Graveyard”

May perpetual light shine upon
The faces of all who rest here.

May the lives they lived
Unfold further in spirit.

May all their past travails
Find ease in the kindness of clay.

May the remembering earth
Mind every memory they brought.

May the rains from the heavens
Fall gently upon them.

May the wildflowers and grasses
Whisper their wishes into light.

May we reverence the village of presence
In the stillness of this silent field.

From the book, To Bless the Space Between Us, by John O’Donohue

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How women are living the Gospel and creating equality in the Roman Catholic Church

written by  John Houk, Joan’s spouse

Change always comes from the bottom because that is where the Church meets the world.  This is where new information and new experiences take place.  This is where the “signs of the times” come to be acknowledged and understood.  This is where the Holy Spirit moves.  The Spirit acts in the margins of the world because God caresforthose at the bottom.

Change is always resisted at the top.  The top assigns itself the role of guardian of truth and unity.  Truth and unity are perceived as existing conditions to be defended.  This produces a mental paradigm that automatically excludes change.  Why change when what exists is the desired condition both collectively and personally?  Why change a good thing?  The top always wants to stop the movie at the part they like best.  This is human and institutional reality.

Building tension produces change.  Agents of change must be able to live in tension between vision and reality, and between bottom and top.  Not everyone can do this either at the top, or at the bottom.  Those at the top who cannot live in tension with change apply harsh rules and penalties.  Those at the bottom who cannot live in tension leave hoping to find a safe place.  (Unhappily, there is no safe place.)  Those who stay part of the Church carry the full load of tension building.

History is our best teacher.  The need for change is a universal and perpetual need.  Change is not a need unique to our time and place.  Institutions did not fall fully formed from the sky; they came into being step-by-sometimes difficult step, in response to the “signs of the times”.  History will not allow us to believe in a fully formed, fixed Church with all truth and perfect unity.  This condition has never existed, and never will.

History is also our hope.  History reminds us that when faced with new “signs” we eventually get it right, but it is always a struggle.  A perpetual and critical question has always been, who is included in God’s Kingdom?  The Gentiles?  Yes.  The Savages / Natives / Indians?  Yes.  The African-Americans?  Yes.  Women?  Not yet.  This “not yet” defines one critical sign of our times.  Women are not fully included, not fully human.  Not yet.  People at the bottom, speaking from the heart, are saying, “We are being ministered to by women, and we want their ministry officially recognized.”  Those at the top who cannot live with tension are saying, “no, No, NO and do not even discuss it under pain of being excluded yourselves.”  Harsh rules and penalties, and some people leave.

Not everyone leaves, but those who stay to build tension are not popular.  Those who leave say, “Why don’t you just leave like we did?”  Those at the top say, “Why don’t you just leave?”  Even those in the uninformed middle say, “Why don’t you just leave us in peace?”  But agents of change (prophets) will not leave because they have come face-to-face with the need to change, and they have been given the gift of being able to live with tension, and they begin to live out that gift.

This is what agents of change for the full inclusion of women have done, and are doing to build tension.  Women’s roles that have been suppressed and hidden are being brought into the light.  Academic women have done extensive research on the history of Church laws pertaining to women and found serious flaws including outright falsification, and they have published their work for all to see.  Other women have studied the early Church through archeology and found wide roles for early Christian women including ordination to deacons, priests and bishops.  Others have reinterpreted Holy Scripture to discover women’s roles obscured in the past and now made clear.  Others have written popular books and created informational web sites laying out women’s roles and asking key questions.  Vowed women religious are giving witness by living the Gospel and suffering persecution by their own Church.

Activists are raising awareness by interrupting ordinations, standing in front of cathedrals, holding prayer vigils to gain public attention to the exclusion of women.  They have publicly addressed the pope, protested and been arrested in St. Peter’s Square, and created local, national and international organizations.

Finally, women are breaking the law to change it.  Building on an honorable tradition of people like Ghandi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and even Rosa Parks, women found a way to be ordained by male Roman Catholic bishops, intentionally breaking the law (canon 1024) in order to change it.  This work has been widely reported, and an award-winning documentary, Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, produced to inform and continue to build tension for change.

Time is on the side of agents for change.  The modern academic work on women’s roles in the Roman Catholic Church began in the 1950’s with petitions asking for change presented to the Vatican during the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s.  Even before the academic work began, women began forming groups working for women’s equality in the Church.  The international St. Joan’s Alliance has NGO status, and last year celebrated its 100th anniversary.  In the U.S., the Women’s Ordination Conference came together in 1975, and continues its work.  Women’s Ordination Worldwide was founded in 1996, and the first contra legem ordinations took place in 2002.  Time is on the side of change, and agents of change accept that sometimes change takes a very long time.

What is to be done to endure and persist in this now century long work for women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church?  Academics will continue their research, writers will continue to write, activists will demand attention, organizers will bring people together, religious sisters will give witness, and contra legem women priests and bishops will grow in numbers, and (a most important “and”) do what all good carriers of the Gospel message have done, which is to minister to those most in need.

Women priests will invite those who have been excluded, heal those who have been wounded and walk with those who are experiencing important life events.  They will be good priests and bishops, and in the process drive out the fear of women from high places.  They will do what women are good at including bringing small groups together.  There are new “House Churches” modeled on the early Church, but no new cathedrals.  Ecumenism will begin again from the bottom up with healing personal connections.  Change like this will take years, but in no way are these years being wasted.  People are being lifted up, healing is taking place and the Holy Spirit is acting, as always, from the bottom up.

Why go to all this trouble?  Why question the status quo?  Why disturb the peace?  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Spreading the Gospel message of equality and the all-inclusive love of God is the ministry and mission of the institutional Church.  Women are calling the Church back to its God-given ministry and mission.

The ordination of women will give them a place at the table where agendas are created and decisions are made.  Half the members of the Church are now excluded from this table.  By changing the status of women in the global Church, the global status of women will change.  For the goal of Church mission, ministry and the global status of women, there are prophets who will disturb the peace.

John Houk      August 4, 2012



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May all I say and all I think
be in harmony with thee,
God within me, God beyond me,
maker of the trees.
                             Chinook Psalter

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Christmas 2013

Emmanuel, God with us.
Holy Mystery
Pure Gift
We are loved by God,
each and everyone of us.

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2013 Year of Francis

St. Francis of Assisi famously is quoted as saying,

“Preach always.  When necessary use words.”

Our new Pope Francis is our modern living example

of how to Preach Always.  The power of this preaching

is there for everyone to see, even to the Cover of Time Magazine.

The only thing our pope is missing is a wife who could “preach” to him

about women’s hope for equality.

Our prayer for the New Year is for the personal and global

courage to Preach Always in the way of St. Francis.


Pax et bonum,

+Joan and John

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I share with you today a poem by Mary Ellen, one of my sister priests in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Great Waters Region.

Advent Women

Women preparing,
wonder on the way,
willing spirits,

Gathering women
greeting each other,
giving and preaching life,
grasping wisdom here now.

Jesus bearing women,
journeying in each birth,
justly preparing the road,
jewels to witness creation.

Spirit led women
surprising new lights,
seen by many,
successfully moving on.

© Mary Ellen Robertson, RCWP
Norton Shores, Michigan.

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Harvest Blessings – November 2013

Leaves of red, gold, brown


to the ground.

Autumn pumpkins smooth, orange, round

apples, nuts, corn abound,

Blessings from our gracious God.

 Blessed be God at harvest time!

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Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 2013

A reflection from my experience of making and chasing huge bubbles with my grandson while on vacation last week:


Just as the bubble floats upward and then disappears, where is it now?  It had been here where I could touch it, wetting my hand–where it would sting my eyes with its soap if its bursts in my face–where I could see the direction of its travels.  It was here; where is it now?


Mary was here–where she gave birth to Jesus–where he touched her face–where people saw her with Jesus, and watched her walk with him on his journey.  She was here; where is she now?


When the bubble is gone, we only have memories of it–we tell the story of watching or chasing the bubble.  Mary is gone to a place where we cannot touch or see her; we only have memories and stories handed down from the people who knew her.  The stories of joy and sorrow, anticipation and worry, fulfillment and loss, hope and promise.


When we are gone, what will the memories be?  What stories will be shared with others?  Yes, there will be the stories of joy and sorrow, anticipation and worry, fulfillment and loss.  Will there be memories of love and compassion?  Will there be stories of helping and caring, of faith and hope?  What memories are you creating today?


In joy and hope,


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JULY 2013

Blessed are you O God, Creator of the Universe!

From you we have deep rich earth, spring showers

and warm light from a summer sun.

Blessed be God forever!


On our deck we have a vegetable garden planted in pots, which has been faithfully and lovingly tended by my husband, John.  This spring I watched as small oval-shaped salad tomatoes began to appear.  At first green, and then one day four turned red, and ripe enough to pick.  At lunch I poked a fork into the red gem in my salad, and as I bit into the firm flesh juice burst forth in my mouth that was the most wonderful sweet tomato taste ever.  How gracious is our God to provide us with food that nourishes our bodies and our souls!  God is great!

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Easter 2013

Easter 2013
Peace be with you!

The followers of Jesus came to believe that he was the Messiah, the one for whom they waited, and in whom they hoped. Jesus embodied God’s mercy and justice, a reign of unconditional inclusive love, on earth as it is in heaven. Scriptures tell us that at the discovery of the empty tomb, the women ran from the tomb with fear and great joy; they were alarmed; as they fled terror and amazement seized them. When the Resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples in the upper room, they were startled and terrified. In the midst of wonder, anxiety and fear, Christ’s greeting was one of peace, “Peace be with you!”

Over the past few weeks, members of our Church have experienced a flood of emotions with the resignation of our pope and the election of a new pope. For some it was the fear of losing what was known to the terror of possible change and an unknown future. For many the arrival of Pope Francis brought about excitement and joy, optimism and hope for the possibility of change. We hope for change from a dysfunctional system to healthy Church leadership following the Gospel more closely.

Peace be with you!

As we blessed Pope Francis and experienced his simplicity during those first days, we began to hear the raising cry of criticism of the man. Cynics claimed that his simplicity and his chosen name were just a way to manipulate us, and that he was not authentic in advocating for the poor. Assumptions were made that he will not bring about any change, and the Church will remain rigid in its doctrines. Could this criticism be based upon fear? Are we who had the Spirit of Vatican II stolen from us afraid to hope? Does it hurt so deeply that we can’t take a chance of being let down one more time? Yes, I believe we are living with that kind of fear.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.” “I am with you always, to the end of the ages.”
“Peace be with you!”

Just as the women and men who walked with Jesus had to trust in his Word, we too must trust. In time, Pentecost came. Filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit the disciples went out from the upper room and literally changed the world. We too must wait for a while in the upper room. We must prayerfully wait and watch as we let Pope Francis lead the Church. In time, the embers of Vatican II will burst into flames and the fire of the Spirit will burn brightly in our Church. We must not be afraid to hope.

Christ is risen. Alleluia!
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Peace be with you!

In joy and hope, +Joan


Pope Francis’ General Audience on Wednesday, March 27, 2013:

He [Jesus] led all to the presence of God, who is interested in every man and woman, like a good father and a good mother is interested in each child.




Pope Francis’ Homily at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, March 28, 2013:

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith.



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