Everyone knew what to expect years ago at Catholic Biblical Association Eucharists when, during the Prayer of the Faithful, the presider actually asked for petitions from the faithful. Notre Dame’s Josephine Massingbyrd Ford’s prayer was always memorable: “I echo the prayer of the wronged widow in Luke’s gospel. Let women in our church be treated justly! We pray to the Lord!”
One day, long before I began attending CBA meetings, we were studying an article written by a “J. Massingbyrd Ford” in one of my Scripture classes. The student making the presentation consistently referred to the author as “he.” Only at the end of the class did our professor mention, “By the way, the ‘J.’ in the author’s name stands for ‘Josephine.’” He then informed us that, for a long time, Josephine, had sent exegetical articles to various well-know biblical publications, always under the name Josephine Ford. The editors rejected all of them.
She eventually not only began to incorporate her mother’s maiden name into her signature, but also to abbreviate Josephine to “J.” The same editors who had sent those rejection slips to “her,” suddenly began to publish “his” articles, including some they had originally rejected!
Of course, not everyone can overcome injustices by a name-change. I presume we’ll always have children of God petitioning unjust judges for a just decision. In its biblical definition, a “just” person is someone who treats others as God treats them. Our Christian history proves it take humans a long time to figure out how to imitate God’s all-embracing personality. As I’ve mentioned before, it took years before Jewish followers of Jesus began to treat Gentiles as they treated their fellow Jews; more than a millennium and a half before slaves were put on the same level as the free. And as Josephine Massingbyrd Ford reminded us Scripture people, we’re still working on the men/women thing. Lord knows, literally, where God’s justice is leading us.
During times of injustice the insight in our II Timothy passage becomes relevant: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness...
Anyone, with even the slightest bit of faith-experience, knows petitioning prayer isn’t as simple as the Exodus author’s narrative about Moses’” raised arms.” Neither can one, like Luke’s widow, always succeed by just badgering God. That’s why Jesus’ closing question is so significant: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Scripture’s a book of faith. It wasn’t created to teach history, science, or biology. Its authors were interested only in the faith of their readers. They were successful when they helped their communities surface a dimension of faith they’ never noticed before.
Perhaps the dimension most needed today is perseverance in that faith, even when it appears there’s little hope for justice. All lovers of Scripture are driven by the words of the II Timothy author, “Proclaim the word: be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”
During a retired priests retreat in Peoria two years ago, Fr. John Dietzen rallied the spirits of all the participants. Responding to the fears of some that their years of Vatican II reform ministry were being rejected in many areas of today’s church, Jack said, “I don’t worry about that happening. I have hope. As long as the Scriptures are proclaimed every weekend in the vernacular, someone, someday, is going to actually hear that word of God and change his or her life because of it.”