This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 25 -- Feast of Saint Mella

Nice country that she settled in. 
Mella was an eighth century Irish mom.  Two of her sons, Cannech and Tigernach, both became saints.  When her husband died, she dedicated her life to religious service.  Her son Tigernach had built a small monastery at Lough Melve (Melvin) in Leitrim, but turned this over to his mom.  He then built himself a new monastery in Kill-Acaidh.

To say that Mella was an abbess doesn't quite capture her role.  In Ireland, bishops were not the masters of the religious world that they were in the rest of Europe.  The Celtic tradition was a monastic hierarchy, with bishops moving through the brothers' territories, preaching and offering sacraments to the folks who couldn't make it to the monastery for services.  This changed with the Latinization of the Church in Ireland, but that was well after Mella's life.

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the ban on women priests.  In a separate news item, an American archbishop was appointed to overhaul the Leadership Conference of Women Religious -- the largest organization of Catholic nuns in the USA.  In making the appointment, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expressed concern that the nuns were embracing "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

Aer Lingus' Saint Mella -- all AL's planes are named for saints
I'm struggling with the proposition that a man should step in to tell 57,000 women how they should run their organization.  Yes, I know they are part of the Church, and the RCC is both patriarchal and hierarchical.  But among those 57,000 nuns are many highly educated, fiercely intellectual, devoutly Christian women.  They are perfectly capable of reconciling doctrine with twenty-first century life.  I do not envy  Archbishop Peter Sartrain, the man who has to take them on; hopefully he will remember that humility is a demonstration of strength, not of weakness.

When I showed this post to my friend Jennie, she called my attention to  chapter four of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus has a sustained conversations about faith and worship with a Samaritan woman.  Jesus revealed his mission to this woman and sent her to call other Samaritans so that he might preach to them.  Don't take my word for it -- follow the link above, read the chapter, and see if Jesus speaks to her any differently than he speaks to his other disciples.  See if he sounds like the sort of guy who would discriminate on the basis of gender.

The Church has been blind to its own faults before.  Papal infallibility has been a convenient doctrine, but universal human fallibility is not only evident throughout history, it is a persistent theme in the Bible.  I say universal human fallibility.  "Because the Pope says so..." was not a sufficient answer to Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Zwingli. Calvin, or countless others; repeating it ad infinitum split the Church over and over.  Neither was "we have always done it that way." 

Mary Magdalene, not Mella
The Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are blind to their errors.  They need to re-examine the concept of priesthood -- of the administration of sacraments throughout the world -- and see how flexible they can become.  To fail to do so is to risk obsolescence and extinction.

In advance of a rebuttal: Yes, I recognize that Mella did not administer sacraments.  I will admit in advance that Mary Magdalene was not considered one of the Twelve, though she is called Apostle to the Apostles, since she brought the news of the resurrection.  But the office of deaconess [diakonos (διακονος)] existed until the thirteenth century.  I'm not arguing that we need to call in the business consultants and modernize according to some focus group data; I'm saying we should re-read the Gospels, consider early practices (here, Paul's letters can be helpful), and trace the evolution of our policies to see how we can reconcile the needs of adherents with the Gospel and our history. 

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