Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Women and the Priesthood

Women and the Priesthood
By Kristine Cranley

After writing my blog post on Edith Stein and the War on Women, in which I noted that St. Edith Stein believes “woman can [not] be excluded from any secular profession” the obvious question which I left unaddressed was of course “why then does the Church not ordain women priests”?  If woman can do all the same physical things a man can do, what is to bar her from ecclesial office?  Can she not read the prayer of consecration, speak the words of absolution, lift the chalice, and proclaim the word of God as capably as any man?  Is she not, given her ‘maternal gift’, perhaps even uniquely suited to counsel those seeking pastoral guidance, exhort the fainthearted, comfort the sorrowful, and expound upon the spiritual riches of the word of God?  Is she not a vital and essential part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?


A woman is capable of doing any of the above.  Indeed, the closer she binds her life to Christ, the more He will send her out to do His own work, with the same exhortation He addressed to His apostles: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:8).  In one of her speeches recorded in the compilation of her work entitled Woman Stein remarks that for women as well as men:

“Surrender to God is simultaneously a loving abandonment and a compliant obedience.  It means to walk in service to the Lord.  This could be to act as His proxy, to command, to teach, to direct in His name.  To make God’s teachings one’s own is not only to win a share of His love; it also means that one fights against His enemies for His kingdom.  All of this corresponds to the masculine nature; and insofar as this is also realized in the life of the womJackan consecrated to God, it can be said of her as well that she seems like the male species or transcends the limits of her own.” (p. 117)

A woman who allows the power of Christ’s grace to radiate through her via total self surrender to Him will be made a sharer in His own divine Nature.  The Holy Spirit will transform her into love through union with the God whom Scripture tells us, IS Love. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)  This love cannot be contained but will radiate out to all those she encounters.  “Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water - will flow from within him” (and her!) (John 7:38)

And yet, if Edith Stein is correct that our very souls are masculine or feminine, then the way we ‘incarnate’ this Divine Love is going to be ‘informed’ (given form) by our masculinity or femininity.  According to Stein’s anthropology, the love of God radiating through woman is manifest as ‘bridal’ and ‘maternal’ in her.  This is not a weakness or a defect, but is rather a strength; one which Satan himself fears.  As quoted in the original postGod combats evil through the power of woman’s maternal love.  That power exists independently of woman’s marital status and should be extended to all persons with whom she comes into contact”.  Our Lady wears combat boots.  So do her daughters. 

Masculine Giftedness

Men therefore have a corresponding unique capacity to incarnate God’s love as ‘bridegroom’ and ‘father’.  Regarding the characteristics of these two capacities, I have found no thinker more clear and insightful than John Paul II.  According to him, the love of the bridegroom is characterized by the initiation of love.  In Mulieris Dignitatem 29 he writes “The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return”.  Regarding the nature of fatherhood, the character Adam in his play The Radiation of Fatherhood wrestles with the call of every man to “allow the radiation of [God’s] Fatherhood to enter him so that he can refract is as a prism refracts light”(p. 3).  Adam recognizes that this call to radiate fatherhood requires being conformed to Christ Crucified, who definitively proclaimed “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  Adam therefore has to struggle with his preference for loneliness rather than the cruciform vulnerability which the radiation of the Father’s Love requires of him.   

It is this same Crucified Bridegroom who has chosen that his sacramental representatives on this earth be spiritual bridegrooms and fathers, in his image. 

Mulieris Dignitatem 25 states: Christ is the Bridegroom. This expresses the truth about the love of God who "first loved us" (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and who, with the gift generated by this spousal love for man, has exceeded all human expectations: "He loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1). The Bridegroom - the Son consubstantial with the Father as God - became the son of Mary; he became the "son of man", true man, a male. The symbol of the Bridegroom is masculine. This masculine symbol represents the human aspect of the divine love which God has for Israel, for the Church, and for all people. (emphasis original)

Thus, the reservation of the priesthood to men is not about what men can do but who they are.  They are males called to mediate Christ’s love as ‘Bridegroom of the Church’ and ‘perfect image of the Father’.  While woman can do the same works as a man, she can never be what a priest is called to be; a spiritual father.  Her glory is not in fatherhood but motherhood, a different yet no less vital incarnation of the Love of God.  Motherhood and fatherhood are not the same. 

The holiest creature in the universe, Mary of Nazareth, the New Eve, Mother of God, Sovereign over Angels, Terror of Demons was created by virtue of her femininity, not in the image of the Bridegroom, but rather the glorious Bride Church.  She reveals the proper posture of every creature toward the Father, who alone is the ‘origin’ and ‘initiator’ of love.  While the male stands in the image of what he is ultimately not (God the Father, the origin of Love), woman in turn reveals to both male and female creatures that we are all ‘bride’ in relation to Christ.  The Church consists of those who have “received” the love of Christ through His sacraments “in order to love in return”.  Through imitating Our Lady’s active receptivity toward this Divine love, we become fruitful for the life of the world, and capable of imaging to one another the Divine Love which both ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ us toward eternal life.

One Body with Many Members

On a personal note, when I was discerning Religious Life, people would often come up to me and lament that it was too bad I couldn’t be a priest.  Despite their good intentions, I always found it rather insulting: as if the unique gift I gave as ‘spiritual mother’ was of no value in their eyes compared to the spiritual paternity of the priest.  Truly the priesthood is an unfathomable gift of grace to the Church; indeed the very “love of the heart of Christ ” (St. John Vianney).   Jesus has not left us orphans.  He has given us his own sacramental representatives so that we may continue to encounter His spousal and fathering love through the Sacraments.  But no less vital is the spiritual maternity through which God helps nourish the seeds He plants through His sacramental grace in the life of His children.  I believe the more we come to recognize and affirm the importance of a woman’s spiritual ‘companion’ and ‘maternal’ gifts within the Church, the less insulted women will feel at being refused the priesthood.  A fatherless Church, like a fatherless society, ends in chaos and disintegration.  But does that fact negate the need for mothers? 

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single organ, where would the body be?... The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you” … on the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable”.  1 Corinthians 12:12, 18-19, 21, 22

God Himself has chosen our place in the body of Christ, and fitted us for it with gifts of grace and of nature.  Each gift has its specific glory; its reflection of Divine Beauty and Love.  Each is absolutely essential for the healthy functioning of the body.  And each has its own crosses.  If it is concern for public recognition which moves some to oppose the Church’s practice of an all male priesthood, it is perhaps good to remember that the only public honor Jesus promised his followers was to be treated in the same way that He was: “No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20)  It is anything but culturally fashionable to be a Catholic Priest today!  Sirach 2 warns us that “when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials”.  Yet serve we must, in whatever way He asks us to, for it is our joy.  Communion with Jesus is Life itself for us.  Let us thank Him therefore, for the many spiritual fathers and mothers through which His love has been ‘incarnated’ in our own lives, so that we might be drawn into this communion with Him which is the Church.

**Why Can't Women Be Priests

1 comment:

VMel said...

To the "Finite Infinity" be all glory and adoration and honor.

Thank you, sister.