A Feminist Theologian on Her Dad: A Modern Day Levi

Mary Magdalene by Piero di Cosimo

Mary Magdalene by Piero di Cosimo

For those of you who are not familiar with the Gospel of Mary, it is an apocryphal Gospel from which we get the story of Mary Magdalene repeating what was spoken to her by Jesus. Not unlike some contexts today, her authority was met with suspicion, and she was ridiculed. Andrew said, “I at least do not believe the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas.” Then Peter said, “Did Jesus speak with a woman in private without our knowing about it? Are we to turn around and listen to her?” How disheartening this must have been for Mary!

But one of the men stood up for her. Levi spoke to Peter saying, “Peter, you have always been a wrathful person. Now I see you contending against the woman like the Adversaries. For if the Savior made her worthy, who are you then for your part to reject her? Assuredly the Savior’s knowledge of her is completely reliable. That is why he loved her more than us.” Levi was an ally. He did something many of us are too afraid to do—stand up for those who are the recipients of discrimination.

I am the daughter of a Roman Catholic priest. While other kids grew up saying, “My dad played football,” “My dad went to Harvard,” “My dad met the President,” I could say my dad turned bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus! (Beat that one!) It broke my heart when my parents had to explain to me that my father’s choice to marry my mother and eventually to have a child (me) meant he could no longer be priest. Nevertheless, my parents raised me to love my faith, teaching me to sing songs like “Immaculate Mary,” and putting prayer cards in my lunch box so that I felt like the saints were my very own friends whom I could pray to for help. From the time I was small, my father told me I would make a great theology major one day. I said I would never do it. Yet, after my freshman year at Fordham, I found myself declaring theology as my second major.

My theological studies eventually led me to feminist theology. Not everyone was happy about this development and the fact that although I remained devoted to Catholicism, I often questioned some of the Church’s teachings. Some family members and friends deleted me on Facebook, priests at church gave me dirty looks, and if I had a penny for every time I heard “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph help us!” after talking about my work, I would not have needed any financial aid to get through school. Yet, my dad was never afraid to tell people my work was important, that women’s voices needed to be heard in the church and the academy. He even happily told one of the bishops that condemned Elizabeth Johnson’s book Quest for the Living God that I was working with her at Fordham, and was on my way to becoming a feminist theologian and that he was extremely proud of me. Like Levi, he was not afraid to disagree with his friends. Furthermore, he was not afraid to encourage me to continue my studies and express myself, even though we did not always see eye to eye on every issue.

Like Mary, many of us have and will continue to encounter people who will want to silence us because of our gender, race, political views, sexual orientation, religion, etc. I certainly do not mean to say that Mary’s words are only valid because of Levi, or that she “needed” a man to stand up for her. In the same way, I do not necessarily “need” a man to affirm I am an intelligent woman made in the image of God. However, we are all human. Having a friend, an ally, who stands up for us when we are silenced by others can really help.

This gives us a challenge today. Are we going to stand up for those who are silenced, even if we are not part of that particular group? Levi shows us that women’s dignity and equality should not just be a concern of women, but also of men. Likewise, Catholics should care about how Muslims are treated, and Muslims about Catholics and Jews. Heterosexuals should care about the treatment of LGBT persons. Where can we be a Levi?

So, thanks Dad for being a Levi, and for standing up for me. I am proud of you too. Happy Father’s Day.

  • Parts of this blog were taken from a reflection I gave at Harvard Divinity School on the Gospel of Mary in 2013.
  • To read the Gospel of Mary in its entirety online, I recommend http://gnosis.org/library/marygosp.htm. Also, check out Dr. Karen King’s book The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (Polebridge Press, 2013).

Categories: Essays

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4 replies

  1. Go Kate! Jesus was really ahead of his time in reaching out to women, including those on the fringe of Jewish society. I’m reading “The Meaning of MARY MAGDALENE DISCOVERING THE WOMAN AT THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY” by CYNTHIA BOURGEAULT. A fascinating book to be read with an open mind. We Catholics should learn to be inclusive, as Jesus was. Best wishes, Chris

  2. I needed to read this…thank you for it has set me free. I was an unworthy women but Jesus has made me worthy. I rejoice for the voices I have heard for a long time have told me I am unworthy…but you reminded me that Jesus made me worthy. Thank you

  3. In my youth (a very long time ago) I had the stupidity to write and essay “Jesus was the First Feminist”. Thank you for reminding me of the graces that are found in the body and life of Christ. I’m proud that you are bringing the voice of women into the World.

  4. From the 1st time I remember hearing the Easter story, I knew that a woman was the 1st to bring the gospel, that great good news, to the world! My strong dad stood with me. Now I stand with those who lost their lives at Mother Emmanuel, their families and the wider family of our sisters and brothers whose skin is darker than mine. Jesus’ life makes clear that we are community, we stand together. We are lucky to have amazing fathers. Mine is with God but I remember him daily. Happy Dad’s Day to yours!

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