A movie I loved growing up was My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It is about a young woman named Toula who wants to branch out from her overbearing, close knit family. She shares the expectations they have for her: go to Greek school, meet a Greek boy, have a Greek wedding, and make Greek babies. But Toula has different plans. She simply wants to go to community college but her father refuses because it goes against the mold of what women do in his family. Her mother comes to console her and offers to intercede. Toula says, “Ma, Dad is so stubborn. What he says, goes. You know, ‘The man is the head of the house.’” Her mother replies, “Let me tell you something Toula: the man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” With this, the mother confronts her husband and Toula goes to college.
When I watched this scene as a young girl, I admired the mother’s grit because she was a woman who created opportunities of agency in a culture and society that did not recognize it. As I watch it today, 20 years after its release, I do question how far we have come because as we see in today’s second reading, we still hear the analogy that “the husband is the head of his wife.”
The passage from Ephesians is a familiar and controversial one. There are those who appreciate the romanticism and imagery of Christ’s relationship with the Church and how it equates to a husband’s relationship with his wife. Others are frustrated with the patriarchal language and how it perpetuates sexism in the lectionary. It was written in a societal context that believed women were property, and their worth was only through submission to men and God. Society since then has evolved and I recognize and honor the fight that all womxn past and present, especially women of color, have endured to build a just, equitable society. But the oppressive social structures of the past are still prevalent today and are not dismantled overnight. They are even more difficult when scripture such as this is used to justify discrimination and violence against women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ persons.
When we hear controversial readings during Mass, we cannot shy away. Instead, within our preaching, bibles studies, and catechesis, we need to confront difficult scripture, learn its history, and recognize how it can be harmful today to those outside and within our Church.
The gospel passage that follows exists within John Chapter 6, which is where Jesus feeds the crowd of thousands and gives his discourse on the Eucharist. I imagine a large crowd made up of disciples, followers, others desperate for more food, and others who are curious to see what Jesus does next. They are met with Jesus viscerally describing eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Unsurprisingly, the crowd struggles with this. This man who recently fed thousands of people with just a few fish and loaves of bread is now saying he will feed them his body.
They respond, “This saying is difficult; who can accept it?” Difficult, also meaning offensive in this question, shows us that the teaching of the Eucharist is unlike others. All of Jesus’ ministry was radical but the Eucharist caused disciples to willingly leave. It was offensive because of Jewish laws forbidding the consumption of blood but I like to wonder if they were offended by more than this. The Eucharist is more than just Christ’s body but also what he did with it.
It is also his actions, mission, and identity. All of which are radical to us because they go against the norm. He acted to befriend the lonely, care for the sick, welcome the excluded, and love the hated. His mission was to bring light and hope to the world. And his identity was not only divine but of a Middle Eastern man, colonized and oppressed by empire. The Eucharist goes beyond bread and wine, flesh and blood. It is a call to action and a statement of solidarity. In her book Enfleshing Freedom, theologian M. Shawn Copeland says, “Eucharistic solidarity teaches us to imagine, to hope for, and to create new possibilities.” It compels us to “embrace with love and hope those who, in their bodies, are despised and marginalized.” The Eucharist challenges us to care for those who share in Jesus’ suffering and oppression. If it is the source and summit of the Catholic Church, then our Church must be one rooted in the actions, mission, and identity of Jesus. Our actions must be just, our mission must be to authentically and truthfully love others, and our identity diverse. This is what I believe those disciples left: a path too radical for them to follow.
The Catholic Church has many difficult teachings, some of which are offensive and cause harm. Because of this, I question everyday if I should leave. How can I stay when our readings tell me to subordinate to patriarchy, or when I see LGBTQ+ Catholics fired from their jobs, or when women are still denied a place at the altar, or when Catholic parishes and schools serving black communities are closed more than white schools and parishes? These teachings and practices that I do not accept tell me to leave. But I stay because of the one thing that made those disciples walk away. I stay in Eucharistic solidarity because it compels me to find hope and to fight for others. I stay because there is work to do.
I understand that even this is a privilege. There are those who leave for their safety, or to heal from trauma, or to find a better community because they were not welcomed in ours. Those who leave the Catholic Church are not wrong. It only shows us that we can do better to truly embody Eucharistic solidarity.
As we reflect this Sunday, let us ask ourselves what the Eucharist means to us and what it is challenging us to do. Let us listen to the women whose lives and dignities are threatened by messages like that in Ephesians. And let us stay in this Church to act in solidarity and continue the mission of all the courageous and powerful women who came before us.
Elise Dubravec is in her last year as a Master of Divinity student at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, CA.
Born and raised in Illinois, Elise received her B.A. in Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. While attending UIC, she was involved with the Newman Catholic Center by leading and directing retreats and serving as president of the student organization.
After her undergraduate studies, Elise served as a youth minister and Confirmation catechist for two years within the Diocese of Joliet, IL. Desiring further formation and training, she sought out graduate programs and began her time at JST in the fall of 2019.
Elise has centered her studies on advocating for women’s leadership and ordination along with LGBTQ+ ministry. During the height of the pandemic, she was a liturgical leader and presider for FutureChurch’s virtual liturgies. She interned at the University of San Francisco’s Joan and Ralph Lane Center for Catholic Social Thought and the Ignatian Tradition. There she created and directed a retreat called “Women’s Anger Inspiring Prophetic Action” and facilitated the discussion series “Women’s Experiences and the Jesuit Mission: Discerning the Next Ten Years.” She contributed an article of the same title to the Lane Center’s magazine, Pierless Bridges.
Her exegesis on the story of Susanna titled "Women's Silenced Anger: A Feminist Reading of Susanna" is published in the “At a Crossroads” issue of New Horizons, JST’s student-led, peer-reviewed journal.
Elise is a blog contributor for New Ways Ministry, an organization that advocates for reconciliation and justice for LGBTQ+ Catholics.
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