We live in an age of the battle of the sexes. Women are expected to be like men and men are expected to be like women. This is the form of equality we are spoon-fed from infancy by our culture. Either that, or we are taught that men and women are in a battle for power all the while arguing that the other sex should not dominate the other. What this does is create ever widening gaps between men and women that play-out in most areas of our lives, even within the Church.
We see this debate mostly clearly within the Church in the call for women’s ordination. The argument is largely based on power. Women want power within the Church. This is the exact opposite of what Christ calls His priests to. He calls them to serve as He serves, which is at the high altar of the Cross. To seek to pour one’s self out in self-emptying love for the sake of Christ’s flock. This radical call of being configured to Christ is what we are all called to at baptism, but it takes on a much deeper dimension within the priesthood, which is why any desire for worldly power is in direct opposition to the priesthood. The ontological and scriptural arguments aside, any ambition on our part as women to grasp at worldly power through a call to women’s ordination is to misunderstand our own calling, as well as the priesthood.
Women have tremendous gifts to offer to the Church. We cannot serve in the manner we are called to if we are overly concerned with worldly power and honor. If our primary objective is to seize power from men then we have bought the lie of the Enemy and the world that men are somehow our enemy or our rival. This has been a problem since the Fall.
Women are not called to serve the Church as priests and spiritual fathers. Christ Himself was a man and He instituted an all male priesthood. We are called, however, to serve as sisters in Christ and spiritual mothers. The Church needs the unique gifts that come from women, but they must be given in a spirit of service, rather than an aspiration for power or honor.
The clergy sex abuse scandals demonstrate a very real need for women and men to embrace the complementarity of the sexes, not just within marriage, but in our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ. Women have an indispensable role to play in the healing and renewal of the Church. Women love in a uniquely feminine way and often are able to endure deep suffering for the sake of love of God and others. The spiritual love of women is meant to draw out the spiritual love of men and vice versa. This is true within marriage, but it is also true in our relationships with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, spiritual fathers and spiritual daughters, and spiritual mothers and spiritual sons.
Women suffering in love
The Way of the Cross is filled with the holiness of women who loved Christ enough to stand by Him in His agony. St. John is the only Apostle to stay at the foot of the Cross and St. Simon the Cyrenian is “compelled” into carrying the Cross. The rest of the Passion narratives are filled with women who minister to Christ in His need. The call for women to minister to Christ in His agony is just as true today as it was then, albeit in different forms. One of these forms is through the clergy sex abuse scandals.
Part of the frustration for many in the handling of the sex abuse scandals is the apparent lack of real concern and compassion for the victims; the cover-ups being the most disturbing in this regard. How is it that so many members of the hierarchy ignored the deep agony of the victims? How is it that at times all we hear from our shepherds are letters filled with legal jargon and PR marketing slogans? Part of the answer is that people still avoid the Cross today. Like the Apostles before them, many of our shepherds have fled from the Cross and some have betrayed Our Lord.
As women, one of the gifts we can offer to the Church during this time of great pain and confusion is our willingness to endure in love at the foot of the Cross and to call our priests and bishops to do the same through prayer and repentance. Women are often willing to enter into suffering when men run because they can’t fix the problem. This is not to disparage men, rather, it is to point out how women—through our role as spiritual mothers and sisters in Christ—can help draw men into the depths of God’s love on the Cross in all of its horror and agony. There are times when all of the protocols in the world will not fix a wound, instead, the only answer is to embrace the Cross in all of its horror, pain, and fear.
We ourselves cannot embrace the Cross and grow in deeper love of Christ if we are not women of deep prayer. It is from this prayer that Christ and Our Lady will show us where we can best serve to bring healing and renewal to the Church. Some women may be called to lead our bishops and priests to embrace the Cross and to shepherd with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Some will be called to a hidden life of prayer and reparations for the sins of the hierarchy. Like St. Mary Magdalene, some may be called to bring the news of the Resurrection to those men in the hierarchy who are dejected because of the pain and fear of the Cross. Some women will raise up priests within their families. None of this can be done in a spirit of pride, competition, ambition, or a thirst for power. It must be done in a spirit of authentic love born from a humble merciful feminine heart that seeks to draw others into a deeper love of Christ. Our example is Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. Women cannot help bring about renewal if we lord over those who have failed us and hurt us.
The need for mercy.
The other aspect of the Cross besides love that we must offer is mercy. We must learn to forgive our leaders who have failed us and to seek to draw them back into a deeper communion with God and with the flock entrusted to their care. St. Mary Magdalene does not berate and belittle the Apostles for their cowardice; instead, she invites them in joy and love to see the Risen Christ. She forgives as Christ forgives. She is merciful towards them despite their weakness and abandonment of Christ—as well as her—during that ultimate agony. Christ isn’t done with any of us. Those same Apostles who fled gave their lives as martyrs.
Women have a unique role to play in the renewal of the Church. We cannot live that role if we are overly concerned with worldly desires for power and the battle of the sexes. Women are not called to be priests, nor are we called to lord over others in our parishes. We are called to love and serve in a manner that utilizes the unique gifts we possess as women, including our capacity for suffering, love, and mercy in a feminine way. As we approach the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, let us consider the great love of the women on the Way of the Cross and seek to love and minister to our priests and bishops in the same manner that those holy women ministered to Our Lord.