One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is that she is a loving mother, always nurturing her children. I am quite active in the Church, working on my Master’s in Ministry for the Laity. What will this allow me to do? Many things: pastoral associate/minister, college/high school chaplain, hospital/prison chaplain (with additional studies); I can work (again with more studies) as a Canon lawyer in a diocesan tribunal or even as a judge; I could be employed as a college president or parish DRE or in other areas as well. Even though the Church does not have ordained ministry for women I am very happy. You see, the Church is very correct when she claims that she cannot allow for women’s ordination. It is not because she does not want to but simply because she can’t. There is no war on women in the Church.
According to one of my favorite authors, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, there is no such thing as women priests: “a religion with priestesses would be a different religion (italics his) and would implicitly signify a different God…It is…a fact that Jews alone of ancient peoples had no priestesses. For priestesses represent goddesses and priests represent gods” (Catholic Christianity p. 367). It is true that Jesus did elevate the status of women in terms of dignity, but he did not ordain them as priests. Women were allowed in his company and they did provide for him and his apostles from their means — among them Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Chuza, Suzanna (see Lk. 8:1-3) but this does not make them priests, either.
But what of women priests in other denominations? First, only the Roman Catholic Church and the various Eastern Orthodox churches have a valid priesthood. Priests are ordained for sacrifice but Protestants took this part out of their ordination rites some time ago. Additionally they are not in communion with the Pope. Neither are the Orthodox, but because of their valid apostolic succession the Catholic Church recognizes all seven of the Mysteries/Sacraments of their churches, including priesthood. Women “priests” in other denominations do not serve at the altar. They are actually ministers—roughly equivalent to that of the Church’s order of permanent deacons.
Women in the Early Church
In Jesus’ time there were four “sects” within Judaism: Pharisees and Sadducees (see Mt. 3:7) as well as Essenes (a branch of Pharisees, see here) and the Zealots (Mt. 10:4). None of these allowed for women to be members of their groups. When the new sect of Christianity (initially it was another sect within Judaism) formed and allowed for women to join as part of the new Church the Greek philosophical societies of the time were astounded at this idea. It was totally breath-taking! Women could join! The Christian leaders saw Baptism into Jesus as the great equalizer: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is neither male and female…” (Gal. 3:8).
When Paul traveled to the city of Thyatira and was preaching they came upon a woman named Lydia who was a very rich businesswoman (those who worked with purple dyes were wealthy because the color came from a particular kind of seashell that was hard to extract) who, along with her household was baptized and invited Paul and his retinue to stay with her. It was her business, her household, her home…and Paul agreed to stay with her. In the Gospel of John the apostles were “astonished that Jesus was speaking with a woman”—and a Samaritan woman at that—(4:27) but Jesus never entered into the house of a woman. He did, however, allow for a woman (Mary Magdalene) to be the first to see him after his resurrection (Jn 20:11-16) and he sent her to bring the good news of his resurrection to the apostles (v. 17)….the “apostle to the apostles”; the Greek term apostoloz/apostolos means one who is sent.
Yet even Hollywood would like you to believe that Mary called Magdalene was somehow one of The Twelve in its depiction of her in Roma Downey’s movie, The Son of God. She was just always there in nearly every scene. I got annoyed with that.
No pope, or priest or holy saint ranks as highly as does the Virgin Mary. All of the great men of the Church look to her as the very model of openness and humility. All of the great men view the Holy Catholic Church as the splendid and spotless bride of Christ.
Mary’s “Yes” to the Father
When Mary pronounced her Fiat to the Father through the angel Gabriel—”Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” she fulfilled herself to the highest degree. She submitted herself to the word of God and accepted her role as mother of the Word incarnate. In his book Jesus: A Historical Portrait the (late) Jesuit author Daniel J. Harrington said of Mary that in the various prophecies in the gospels she is “described as one who accepts the word of God”…and “believes that it is being fulfilled in her” (p. 54). Following this great event of the Annunciation in her life, Mary continued to adhere to the words of the angel—even when they now came to her through Joseph. There was no self-righteous indignation in Mary. No talk about “rights”. Imagine if she had scolded Joseph and asked “Why does this angel now come to you?” Or if she had refused to go to the temple in Jerusalem to be ritually purified on the 40th day after giving birth to a male child (See Lev. 12:1-4)? In all things Mary submitted herself graciously to the Law and the Word. She never held to her own agenda or used her status as mother of the redeemer to exempt herself from anything.
Great Women Saints
Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, Claire of Assisi, Hidegard of Bingen, Jane Frances de Chantal, Mother Theresa of Calcutta and countless other women saints submitted themselves to the authority of the Church and her teachings. It was Teresa of Avila who persuaded the monk, John of the Cross to undertake the reform of the male Carmelite order, while she reformed the women’s. Though John was much younger she went to him as her spiritual director. Catherine of Siena was an advisor to bishops and Popes and at times scolded them in her countless letters to them. It was she who convinced Pope Gregory XI to bring the papacy from Avignon, France back to Rome after the papacy had been in exile there from 1309-1378. Yet none of them fought for their “rights” to be priests. It should be noted here that even men do not have any “right” to priesthood—priesthood is a gift and must be discerned in the Church.
The Role of Language in the Church
Having learned French as my first language, I do not get caught up in inclusive language in the Church. Most of the time when the Church uses the word “man” it means “human being” from the Latin, “homo”. The male of the human species is “vir”. In Greek the word for “human being” is anthropos/anqropoz while aner/aner is for the male of the human species. Nothing irks me more at Mass when a priest changes the words of the Creed from “became man” to “became one like us”. Jesus became homo/anthropos AND vir/aner. As far as God creating woman (Gen. 2:18) as a help-mate (“ezer kenegdo”, in Hebrew) she is not in an inferior role. She is different but complimentary. She is a compatible helper…one who can call him out (firmly but charitably) in his faults and build him up in his strengths. The idea of inclusive language is strictly American and Western European and wrought about by radical feminists.
Moral Life in the Modern World
What role (if any) do Catholic bishops have in hot-button topics such as contraception, abortion, in-vitro fertilization, gay marriage and other issues? What parent would not speak out against such dangers as playing in the street, or playing with matches or inhaling helium for the quick high or the myriads of other lurking dangers? Bishops are spiritual fathers and as such they must constantly speak out against dangers of the flesh. No-one has ever done more—or even as much—to protect, defend and safe-guard the dignity of women in the Church and in society as the Catholic Church. Obviously they’re not in it for popularity’s sake but as loving fathers they must put their foot down and say no to today’s fads, whims, fancies, and hullabaloo—even when as sulking, petulant children we say, “Everyone else is doing it!”
Children have a right to be born of an intimate loving union. Contraception and other means of artificial birth control allow for women to become as chattel—as objects. It allows men and women to close themselves off and to say “no” to God’s gift/initiative of children to them. It also allows for illegitimate sex outside of marriage which is procreating children who are made “in the image and likeness of God” without the sacred covenant of marriage that allows for this to happen. Read my previous essay on Marriage here for more on this. In-vitro fertilization has nothing to do with God’s will but that of the couple who insists that it has the “right” to have a child; however, the child is not conceived in love but in a petri dish in a well-lit sterile back room.
Gay “marriage” does not allow for the transmission of any new life and is only for one’s immediate pleasure — sexual relations between a man and a woman is life-giving…literally. It is other oriented. Abortion is the legitimate killing of one’s own child in the womb. Unlike the Holocaust of the 1940’s whereby the systematic killing of millions of Jews was ordered by the government, abortion rights advocates take this “new holocaust” to a demoralizing height by encouraging women to offer up/kill their own unborn child for the sake of a more “convenient” lifestyle. Women deserve better than abortion. It is not about their mantra of “It’s my body” because the life they take is not their own. The cunning serpent is once again at play…convincing today’s women to partake of the “fruit” of disobedience. Yet the fruit — while pleasing and desirous — is poisonous and can only lead to spiritual death. The true antidote for these grave actions is a contrite spirit, reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist and time spent in Adoration.
Here Holy Mother Church and her Bishops are very rich in mercy. And that truth will set them free.