Yesterday I spoke about how some people view the Church as being anti-women, and I focused on their charge that the Church’s ban on birth control was somehow aimed at the oppression of women. In other words, this is a two part article, so if you want to read the first, Click Here.
Moving on, the second great issue for those who hold this view, is that since the Church “refuses” to ordain women to the priesthood, it is clearly sexist, chauvinistic, and morally corrupt.
At first blush, I can see their point. It does strike one as odd doesn’t it, that the Church would decide somehow that women are not fit to the task? I think a dang good answer as to why this is the Church’s teaching is in order, and it better be a really, really good answer. Anything less would seem to prove their point entirely. In fact, I almost wonder if there IS an answer good enough to do this accusation justice. Those opposed to the Church have raised a truly dangerous issue, and we had better not shirk it if we are to keep our dignity not only as religious, but as egalitarian, freedom loving human beings.
Let me spell out their position as I see it, and I must admit, it is not an unfair assessment. It is not just about women having the ability to preside at Sacraments, although that is certainly part of it. It is really about authority. How can the Church completely deny women leadership in the Church? Look at Vatican II, and what you see is a room full of men. Sure, they might have had a few prominent women in the background as advisers, but let’s face it, Vatican II and every council before it has been dominated by men. Every diocese is headed by a man, every parish by a man. Sure you may have women here and there in leadership roles, but they all answer directly to a man.
A couple of hundred years ago, this might have seemed entirely natural, but in the modern world, the Church is the most patriarchal institution in existence. Sure, I know there have been women who have really shaken things up, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Joan of Arc and Therese of Lisieux come to mind, but in honesty, these women were flashes of femininity in a masculine world. They are by no means the norm.
Holy Spirit guide me, as I am walking on shaky ground.
I cannot pretend to have all the answers here. I cannot even promise that I will give good answers. All I can do is share what I have found to be true, and hope that it all makes sense when put together. I see three main issues with the ordination of women; complementarity, sociology, and divine mandate.
What the heck is complementarity? Is that even a word? Well, let me try to say what I mean. Men and women are different. Well, not just that, I also mean we are the same. That makes no sense, I know, but bear with me. Men and women are equal in dignity, but different in nature or kind. We are totally equal, men are not better then women, and women (excluding my wife) are not better than men. We are completely equal. All of our traits have value that the world cannot live without. We are not however, the same. (surprise, right?)
Let me explain. When my first daughter was born, I was downright jealous. The whole pregnancy I just felt uninvolved. Yes, I helped pick the crib, and painted the nursury till the odd hours of the morning. Yes, I would sit there while my wife was sleeping and feel my baby kick inside her, and would sing her my favorite jazz standards in hopes that she would know my voice. In the end though, it was all her. I had no hormones to help me along, I just felt isolated. I am glad to be a man, but I would have loved to have had that closeness to my child.
It got no better when she was born. My wife loved her immediately, like she knew her. All I could see was a slimy blueish purple thing. I cooed and tickled and held my child all night, but it was never the same as when my wife would hold my child to her breast and feed her. I wanted that, but that’s just not what I am. I’m not a mother. I can’t be, I have other roles I must fill.
I have little doubt that my wife feels the same when I throw my kids in the air, and tickle them till they can’t stand it. When I pick them up and throw them in the pool, she knows that’s just not who she is. That’s my job. I know my wife knows the difference, as she often tells my children, “You just wait till your father gets home!”
We are different, and this difference carries on throughout our lives. We have natural roles we fill, and while they are not the same, they complement each other. Yes, they overlap. I can be nurturing, and she can be firm. I can wash dishes, and she can bring home the bacon. But the biology is ever present.
That brings me to sociology. Most women don’t want to be the leader, it’s not really all that feminine. I can feel you getting your rotten eggs and tomatoes ready to throw at me, but hear me out, I swear it’s true. I’m not saying that women aren’t leaders, they often are in many areas of their lives, but in the end, a woman feels safest and most secure with a man who values her person and opinion in charge.
Again, my marriage. My wife is extremely capable. She doesn’t need me any more than she needs her computer. Sure, it’s nice to have around, but it isn’t necessary. A little extra cash is hardly worth the trouble of putting up with a stinky, hairy man. She can hold a job, take care of the kids, cross stitch a masterpiece and cook dinner all at the same time. A man like me must seem like a useless appendage. Except I’m not. Not only that, but she defers to me. Don’t get me wrong, she makes most of the day to day decisions, but when the going gets tough, she wants me to listen, be the one to make the choice, and take the responsibility. It’s just more comfortable for her.
This is natural femininity. I’m sorry, but you just don’t see this kind of femininity present in female CEOs or world leaders. I’m not saying they are not competent, I’m just saying they are not a fair representation of what the normal, feminine woman is. In fact, you will often see these women dehumanized in the media for this very reason, their femininity is outside normal levels. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t vote for them, I have, and if they are the best candidate, I will again. All I’m saying is that is not the norm. If you need proof, walk into any non-Catholic church, and you will probably see a man as pastor, because that is just comfortable socially. I can think of very few female pastored churches with a sizable congregation, it just isn’t as comfortable for the normal human being.
Let me repeat, I am not saying that women are incompetent, or should stay at home barefoot and pregnant. I am simply saying that natural femininity is fundamentally giving and nurturing, and that is by nature most important in a more private sphere, within a community and most importantly, a family. This is a great thing. We have this really nasty tendency as humans to think that the guy up front is the most important, the one who has the greatest impact on the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. The values instilled one on one are always greater than a speech given to many. Men are designed to affect many people in a small way, women are design to affect a few people in a way so massive, that it reaches down through the generations. Femininity may be more behind the scenes, but it’s also way more powerful.
I am getting long winded, forgive me, but I want to do this justice.
Lastly, and most important, we have a divine mandate. We often think that the Church just made up this idea that we should not have women priests, and that is that. We couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Church is stuck with what it is given. Some belief systems can change with the times, the Mormons for example decided that they can no longer have polygamous marriages, so voila, now it is so, and multiple wives are out of the question. For Catholics, we received what we call a “deposit of faith” from the apostles, and those things cannot be changed. Now not all of our practices are part of the deposit of faith, a celibate priesthood is not, for example. The core teachings of Jesus that he taught the apostles are to be held dear though, and at all costs. We can never back down from this wellspring that is our faith. To back down on one singular teaching is to back down on them all, and means complete separation from our roots. Trees without roots are dead, and praise the Lord, we are still alive.
One of these teachings, albeit minor in comparison to something like the Trinity, is the reality of a male priesthood. Jesus was revolutionary towards women. He treated them differently then any man before Him. He treated them with honor and respect at all times, even if the woman He was speaking to was a prostitute or a Samaritan. Christ brought along the first feminist revolution, and it rocked the world. In fact, many of the early churches were houses, funded, and primarily occupied with women. Many of Jesus’ closest and dearest friends were women. His own ministry was entirely funded by woman, and you better believe feeding twelve grown men for three years wasn’t cheap. Heck, the most important woman ever to grace the planet was His own mother. He knew her as no other did, walked by her side, and knew she would not only outlive Him, but would personally mother the entire Church as it grew.
But he did not make any one of them apostles, even His most perfect mother. It was simply not something He decided to do. I don’t know why, I’m not Jesus. I would guess all the reasons I have written above, but I’m not really sure. Maybe he felt women were too holy to be bishops? After all, in His kingdom, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Maybe He was elevating them in some way, I have no idea.
That is however, what He did, and we can’t change that just because times have changed. If He who had the ultimate foresight chose not to do so, then neither can we. All of our reasons pale in comparison to this basic fact.
If Jesus didn’t do it, then we can’t argue.
So we are left with a challenge. In this male run Church Christ gave us, how can we ever bring the feminine perspective to the fore? How can we make sure that the feminine, nurturing, holistic values of women are ever present in our faith and its teaching? Well, I have to openly admit that many leaders in the Church through the centuries have not always met this task well, there is little doubt that the Church is an imperfect, human institution. I will also say that through the grace of the Holy Spirit, it has continued to make these feminine values a core part of its teaching despite its male structure.
There is a reason that it is called Mother Church!
I have one last thought. There is one woman who can model all of this in a way that is absolutely perfect. The Blessed Virgin was not boastful, never got on a soapbox, never tried to change the world. She did just what she was made for, and that was to teach her Son, to love him, and to support Him throughout His life with her love and her fidelity. All of her life she lived to do one thing, and that was point to her Son. Because of this perfection, she is Mary most Holy, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the one true and perfect thing that God ever made. It is she who is the Queen of Heaven, and Mother of the Church. No one can teach mankind how to love better than a woman, and there is nothing more important to learn. It is not taught best from a pulpit, it is taught best in the loving itself.
Femininity is very powerful indeed.