There are two things I know about Father Fred with a great deal of certainty. One, his profound and deep love for sacred scriptures; and two, his understanding of discipleship as a call that each of us receives at the time of our baptism.
Fred’s love for sacred scripture was more than just an intellectual pursuit, it was not to be limited by the classroom, but rather God’s Word was intended to be absorbed within, to become the very marrow of our being. For Fred the inclusiveness of God’s Word was paramount in everything he preached and taught – the message was intended for everyone.
Fred’s understanding of discipleship flowed from his understanding and interpretation of the scriptures. Of key importance to Fred was his profound belief that discipleship was not to be limited to ministerial priesthood alone, nor was it to be limited by gender – each and every baptized person is called to discipleship. This understanding of discipleship is part of Resurrection spirituality, the spirituality that was so much a part of Father Fred because of his membership in the Congregation of the Resurrection – a belief that in our encounter with the Risen Lord we are called to discipleship.
The Gospel passage I selected for today was chosen because I believe it truly reveals the message Father Fred lived and proclaimed – that it makes clear the inclusiveness of God’s Word and the call to discipleship.
Our encounter with Mary Magdalene in John’s Gospel today confirms for us that women were a part of Jesus’ inner circle, they were a part of Jesus’ ministry team. The inclusion of women by Jesus would confront the religious and social norms of his day, often resulting in conflict with religious authorities. Mary Magdalene is today identified as one such woman that Jesus included in his ministry of proclaiming the Good News, she was actively involved.
Father Fred in his exegesis of this passage would point out three things of importance for us to know in order to fully absorb God’s Word into our very being.
One, only in the Gospel of John do we find Mary Magdalene alone at the tomb – other Gospel accounts would include others accompanying Mary Magdalene.
Two, that for Mary Magdalene to be alone, not properly accompanied outside of the home, as the norms of the day required, reveals the boldness of Mary Magdalene and her desire to follow the Risen Lord regardless of the personal cost to her.
Three, in the encounter at the tomb Mary Magdalene receives a special revelation from Jesus, thus recognizing her special status among the disciples.
I can hear Father Fred at this point saying very forcefully that God’s Word, AND discipleship is to be inclusive.
And if we did not get the message I am positive Father Fred would continue by telling us that Mary Magdalene:
- was the first to encounter the Risen Lord
- the first to be called by name by the Risen Lord
- the first to converse with the Risen Lord
- the first to hear the revelation regarding the Ascension
- the first to be commissioned by the Risen Lord
- the first to announce the Good News of the Resurrection.
Father Fred himself responded to this form of discipleship in his own life as a consecrated religious and priest based upon the Word of God and the example of people such as Mary Magdalene.
I believe there are two things that we can do in order to not only honour Father Fred, but also to continue to proclaim the message proclaimed with his life.
First, make the scriptures a part of who are, absorb their message deep within our very souls.
Second, proclaim and live the message of inclusion, particularly in our understanding of discipleship.
Father Fred, well done, good and faithful servant of the Risen Lord.