What I am to you? When someone saw a woman in veil, immediately ,”she/he would say to herself/himself, she is a Moslem” but I am not, I am a Christian and I am a woman priest…
This coming Sunday’s (March 23) Gospel Reading is from Matthew chapter four, verses five forty-two (Mat. 5:4-5-42 or the famous Story of the Samaritan Woman. She was looked down, discriminated by many would-be-theologians because she was a woman and considered a sinner. Depending what lens one is using reflect how the story will be told. Here I would like to share some recalling-reflection how the story came alive to me with my experience. Like her, unfair treatment, discrimination and other biases I encountered in life. However, I believe as I am strongly believe that like the Samaritan woman I am sent.
At one glance as it was commonly told, as far as I can remember our parish priest preached, the woman was a sinner but through Jesus she was saved. But as far as I can remember, too, I was not really convinced because I asked before to the seniors in our Bible studies (I was the youngest in the group), “why it was always repeatedly preached every year about that sinful woman? Why used it over and over again? Was she not forgiven?” The oldest man (happened to be a distant relative) replied to me. “You were still young, you could not understand its purpose. This is to remind the women who were sinners, from Eve, we became all sinners. We needed to be reminded that was why, the priest had to remind us so that we could not forget.”
I was only Grade five when my interest of participating the weekly Bible Study started for I was already memorizing Bible verses part of our Flores de Mayo, a one month-long similar to VCS (Vacation Church School) among the Protestant and Evangelical Churches. Since I would also be graduating from Elementary, I was being prepared to be Flores de Mayo teacher/facilitator for the younger children the following summer. However, instead to be more enlightened, I always came home with so many questions unanswered. Both my parents were not so Bible-oriented, they could not helped me either. My mother once said, “you better stopped attending if you got confused.” For them, to read any verse from the Bible and pray, came to church every Sunday, gave a pledge and actively participate all church program and activities, then that was it as a church member.
I began to miss my attendance to the weekly Bible study until a year after I completely stopped. I could not appreciate it anymore and I told our priest that I was stopping. Only to find out the one leading the Bible study just volunteered himself and our very kind priest could not say NO. The agreement as long there are people attending in the church, then he could led the bible Study. Then after a while I was told by an older relative that the weekly Bible study had stopped already for people were no longer attending.
Upon graduation in Elementary, the first recorded unjust treatment in my heart and mind was when I was called as one of the Five Best Achievers of the Graduating Class only. Since it was alphabetically, I was the last one to be called! Wondering all night because I know there was something wrong because no valedictorian nor salutatorian declared! But I played the main role Princess Tarhata, the main character of the Graduates drama Presentation played every year by the top honors or valedictorian (girl or the Prince to the salutatorian if he is a boy) of the graduating class. Since I had no idea of injustices I took it as it was since we had a newly assigned supervisor to our school. However, after graduation, my auntie revealed to me that two days before the graduation, they were called for an emergency meeting to change the honors given to graduating class, instead of valedictorian, salutatorian first, second and third honorable mention to Top Five Best Achievers Awards because majority of the teachers in the whole Central School could not allow to give the top awards to a non-Roman Catholic graduate. My auntie (who was a Roman Catholic by birth but married to my uncle) questioned the abrupt change. She was told that only the graduating class, the rest from Grades Five to One would remain the same. Innocently she asked, who was supposed to be the valedictorian? The new Supervisor replied, ” a certain Erahvilla Maga!” My auntie was taken a backed but said nothing when a fellow teacher silenced her. Being newly transferred to Central School, my auntie kept silence. There was some discussions since I was cast to the main role of the Graduates Presentation as the tradition of the school. The new supervisor explained, let it be as long there were no valedictorian, etc.. to be declared, just Top Five achievers, period.” The meeting was dismissed.
I remember, I was crying asking my auntie, WHY? That would be the best honors I could offer to my parents since I was first from Grade Three. Oh, I had similar experience when I was in Grade Two also! My auntie continued to reveal, that beside I was non-Roman Catholic, I came from a poor family and that the daughter of the Principal in nearby Barangay who transferred to our Central School to Section Three Grade Six Class was chosen to be given the Valedictorian honors, only my Adviser protested because Ms. Maga really topped the graduating class. The approved Top Five Best Achievers would be alphabetically called. Since the surname of that girl started at letter A, so she was called first and I was the last.
Hunger to learn more about the Bible increased, so I always listened intently to our priest’s sermon and began to read the bible myself and tried to understand the message. Of course it was very limited. When I was in first year High School, I was enrolled in a Roman Catholic School owned by RVM Sisters, first Filipino Congregation of Nun, whose Foundress was Mother Ignacia. I was always interested in our Christian Living Subject. But again, it was so frustrating because our old sister-teacher always said that those who were not members of the Roman Catholic Church were doomed and that we could not go to heaven especially if we were not baptized.
There were two of us in the class who were not Roman Catholic members. So we felt isolated and felt we did not belong to the class but it was a required subject. We tried our best to participate and got higher score in the exam but she almost failed us giving very low grade in the midterm exam. However, in the middle of the year, we were asked to get out because we are not RCC baptized. That was when my other classmate shouted to the old sister-teacher and started to make a fight with her. Sister Consuelo (now I remember her name, 80 plus year-old)) went out from the class and went downstairs (we were in the 3rd floor) but after a while she came back with a knife and angrily was coming to my classmate who was so surprised. He started to run to the boys side to get shield but they scattered when Sister Consuelo started slashing the knife. There were shouting and crying among us. An older classmate tried to calm the very angry sister and luckily he held her hand with the knife. But she kept shouting, “you get out from my class”. Then the Principal Sister Carmela came and Sister Consuelo was brought downstairs. She was replaced by a soft-spoken Sister Fe who was a complete opposite of Sister Consuelo and who treated us fairly in the class. But the following year I was transferred to my hometown National High School. I missed my Christian Living Class because in a public school, there was no Bible classes anymore.
However, it seemed “history keeps repeating” that when graduation time came, I could never have the top awards, as valedictorian because I did not have my four years in the school. Because I transferred from other school the honor I could have was only salutatorian. So be it!
The interest to learn more about the Bible now became a longing to me. We had no Bible Study except during Flores de Mayo in Summer in time of our Flores de Mayo. When I became active in our parish youth organization, I always volunteer to attend seminars because there were always bible reflections. In fact I even attended DBS or Daily Bible School in a Southern Baptist Church to learn some children songs in April so that I could teach them during our Flores de Mayo in the month of May. The very first song I learned was “Sampong May Sakit” based on the story of Ten Lepers, healed by Jesus but only one came back to say thank you to Jesus. Then I acquired an old personal Bible and began reading it individually, trying to learn some other Bible stories which I then shared in the Bible Study portion of our Flores de Mayo. I remembered, however, there was less support from the women, the men and some youth especially those seniors to me.
To improve my Bible awareness I enrolled to free Distant Learning Bible Course however, after almost a year through correspondence class, I still felt confused because it was not Trinitarian but a Unitarian Church led Correspondence Bible Course (hahaha). I was in second year that time going to Third Year. What attracted me most why I lasted for a year were Bible Story Pictures sent free, magazines and maps as well which help me understand Biblical geography. That increased my interest in geography and led me to really love National Geographic magazines evident to my collections.
I continue to attend seminars related to Bible and our Church History. The breakthrough was before I graduated High School I attended A Christian Awareness Seminar (CARAS) the banner Diocesan Christian Education Program and later became part of the Diocesan Team. My desire to learn more about the Bible increased more and led me to enter the seminary:to be equipped on Biblical whereabouts, orientation, and the likes so that I could teach better and be more effective in Christian Education and other related studies in our diocese.
My coming to the seminary had changed a lot in my views and understanding about the Bible and other related subjects. My small world became bigger, wider and deeper simultaneous with my whole understanding not only of the Bible, the Church, my faith and my whole human person in relation to the society I belong and the whole world. My exposure to ecumenical arena (different seminaries, different churches and various Roman Catholic congregations), the societal realities (different sectors in the society) became new encounters of life.
Breakthroughs in my seminary life came one after the other: live-experiences of peoples living in dire poverty of which I never imagined to be real like families living in shanties made of cardboard, broken plywood and plastic covers and all craps assembled to make a shelter for them with flooring of mud surrounded with piles of garbage were really an unforgettable encounter of life’s struggles. Living with workers in the picket-lines with makeshift shelter-tent covered with plastic or rugs built along the streets brought some fears to me everyday especially during nights. I remember that in my first week, before I could finally sleep I prayed many times to God not to allow any vehicles to accidentally hit the shelter-tent and always happy the following morning that we remain safe. The fishing village which i with other seminarians spent in one week end had to share the same small fish on the table where in fact they are living near the lake but we were so confused why the lake were in partition of hundreds of fish pens that no one from the fishing village owned. Why the farmers were uprooted from their farms and why there were men in uniforms guarding their farmlands? Women dancing in half nude gyrating to soft music were not actually smiling but I saw tears on their eyes as they performed in front of their male customers drinking on the tables with exemption to few who were shouting and laughing as if they were drunk or drugged. Indigenous People or Lumads camped in one small place because their places were bombed and they fled from their homes to another barangays for fear of their lives. These life-encounters among the many encounters I experienced during seminary life changed my outlook of God. I began to question. So many Why’s!
Well, the experiences above, classroom discussions and the progressive understanding to revolutionary messages of the Bible with the various interpretations, reflections and contextual theologies helped me find some explanation and facilitated my growth and maturity and brought me to deeper reflection and discernment of biblical message and the Good News of Shalom!. The feminist theologians on the later years, had assisted me more through their depth reflections and using women’s point of views in Biblical understanding not only the chapters, verses and messages but as well as the whole context: what, when, where, how and whom the Bible was written. That was 120 degrees turn around and gave me a new turning point in my personal theological reflection and the way I perceive God’s message.
I began to develop my own sermon, my own theological reflection, my own writing, and even my own thinking on how to teach and preach the Message relevant to the people I am with. I began to realize that spreading the good news, teaching and preaching did not require to please the hearers/audience/listeners because the Gospel message is meant to liberate us from our “box-understanding” whoever delivered the messages we heard either from the priests or bishops in their sermons. I even realized that there are those ordained who can preach beautifully but in words only, not reflective with their actions. I also realize not to just agree what you hear and what you read in the Bible but learn to question especially when you had doubts. The Samaritan women never shy away questioning/asking/ conversing with Jesus. She clarified even argued with her points and insights. But she knew how to listen.
The insights of progressive, radical and revolutionary men and women theologians and feminists enabled me to help my journey in seeing and reading the whole Bible, the Gospel message in a woman’s perspective deepening my enlightenment as I continue to discern my life’s journey as a woman, as a mother, as a priest as a person, as a wife, as a friend, as a writer, as a poet, as a lover of life and as a person created in God’s image.
The Samaritan Woman was nameless, discriminated more than once: 1) being a Samaritan, an outsider; 2) being a woman, an outcast and 3) being thought a woman with five husbands, a sinner. The unjust treatment of her even by the disciples, those people closed to Jesus and those who knew her never lessen her interest and commitment to speak the truth and spread the Good News. In her conversation with Jesus, she speaks openly and asks question directly and declares Jesus, the Messiah. The encounter with Jesus enables the Samaritan woman to know herself more and of her capabilities, her strength and commitment. She becomes stronger, more confident and even becomes an instrument to spread the Good News. With Jesus, she was not a sinner (as i remembered the sermon) but she was accepted as a person equally like the rest of the men. She was sent, commissioned to take part in spreading the Good News. That was why the disciples were very surprised to see Jesus comfortably talking with her. It was a disbelief for the disciples, so strange for them of a Jew talking to an outcast, a Samaritan and a a woman.
As I closed my eyes trying to visualize the whole picture of Jesus, a Jew talking with a Samaritan woman who first felt confused why on earth a Jew talked to her and later both became comfortably discussing while sitting on a well facing each other like two friends conversing an interesting subject about the future brought a big smile to my lips. I imagined the approaching disciples were astounded as if they “caught Jesus on act of committing something bad” halted and continued walking slowly trying to eavesdrop what the two were talking about? Maybe they saw the woman’s reaction on her face as they continued their conversation. And they were left to wonder when they watched the woman leap and started running happily towards the direction of her origin. The whole picture seen by the disciples was very liberating image of the acceptance of Jesus, of God-sent-Son to women become a partaker in spreading the Gospel, so that the Good News becomes closer, truer and alive to those people who need to be touched, and to bring them to belong.
Jesus liberates the Samaritan woman. She liberates the women from their lowly status. He gives hope not only to the confused, discriminated, unjustly treated and even those un-heard of. Jesus lifted up the women, embraced them to his circle and commissioned them to be instruments of the Good News.
When the Samaritan woman leap and run happily toward her place, women priests also happily received their vow of ordination. But along the way, surely the Samaritan woman met some questions, doubts, disbelief and even rebuked, insults, and unjust treatment like the women priests. But the she withstand all the struggles because at the end many were drawn to Jesus because of what the Samaritan woman told and preached. Jesus did not only transformed her into a missionary but she was assured of a new phase of her life to be a servant of the Messiah. It is a very liberating experience of women received to be God’s servant as priests.
As I now turn fifty in my lifetime, I began to smile of the past confusion, discrimination and unfair treatment I experienced before and some in the present time. I can smile the pains and the hurts inflicted to me in the past and in the present. I can even laugh of the trying times of the past and the present. Because deep, deep down in my heart, God listen to me from my sobs, whimpers, cries and bellowing and I know God keep me strong always. Owning the fears, the angers, the hatred lurking deep inside me offering to God liberate my whole being. Now I could feel less anger, no more hatred to those who had been unjust to me. Now, I feel less fear of what future lies ahead of me. Like the Samaritan woman, now I can say, I am more confident and stronger everyday.
Many are still surprise when friends introduce me as a priest, a woman priest. Disbelief to meet a woman priest is all painted on their faces. Some smiles and are delighted to meet one, some just nod and say, “I see.” While others comment: “Wow, that is nice to know.” or the like, “Really!” “What you wear?” “Do you say mass also? baptize, etc..?”
Now Lord, sent me like the Samaritan woman to where I will be more effective of your service. To be more resolved that with my life’s encounter and life’s experiences I will be more matured, more grown up and can teach and preach more relevantly the Gospel Message of Good News which is SHALOM: total abundance, total harmony and total order for all.