Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The "P" Word & Catholic Clergy

Catholic Women Still Press for Ordination

Back before I was a Catholic growing up in the AME church in Jersey, there was a woman minister that came to our church and preached a sermon. Now I realize that I was just a teenager but I have to say that what she preached on didn’t make one bit of sense to me. She just ranted and raved punctuating everything with “praise the lord,” “get right with God” and “HALLELUJAHH!!!!” She wasn’t shrill. She just didn’t make a logical argument for her scriptural interpretation. And everybody thought she was great. I was appalled. I kind of resented her for it. I’m not sure why.

I know it’s not fair, but that really turned me off on women in the clergy. I think maybe subconsciously a male only clergy is part of what attracted me to Catholicism, although it certainly wasn’t the deciding factor. In fact for a long time I sided with the male only ideology for that reason. I still do to be honest. But I’m trying to stay open minded.

I can’t help but think that one bad apple shouldn’t spoil things for everyone. And what if the passionate insistence of the women who champion this cause is a direct reflection of their receiving “the call” to priesthood.

And then I counter my own argument with, “well isn’t that what becoming a nun is for?” Maybe these women should be lobbying for an expansion in reach of the cloistered calling. But of course there’s a fundamental difference between priests and nuns that I’m smart enough to realize but not educated enough to define. Basically I suspected that it came down to the “p” word… POWER. (What did you think I was gonna say?) I figured that nuns are kind of like monks. Living a holy life within the church serving the people yet separate. Whereas a priest is the pastor of the flock. Making decisions that effect the people individually and as a whole. That was my guess. But really I didn’t know. So I wondered what the heck IS the difference? I looked it up. Here’s what I found on the online Pocket Catholic Dictionary (a wealth of knowledge faster than you can make the Sign of the Cross). It turns out I was pretty much on the mark with my guess.

Priest: An authorized mediator who offers a true sacrifice in acknowledgment of God's supreme dominion over human beings and in expiation for their sins. A priest's mediation is the reverse of that of a prophet, who communicates from God to the people. A priest mediates from the people to God.
Christ, who is God and man, is the first, last, and greatest priest of the New Law. He is the eternal high priest who offered himself once and for all on the Cross, a victim of infinite value, and he continually renews that sacrifice on the altar through the ministry of the Church.
Within the Church are men who are specially ordained as priests to consecrate and offer the body and blood of Christ in the Mass. The Apostles were the first ordained priests, when on Holy Thursday night Christ told them to do in his memory what he had just done at the Last Supper. All priests and bishops trace their ordination to the Apostles. Their second essential priestly power, to forgive sins, was conferred by Christ on Easter Sunday, when he told the Apostles, "For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained" (John 20-22, 23).
All the Christian faithful, however, also share in the priesthood by their baptismal character. They are enabled to offer themselves in sacrifice with Christ through the Eucharistic liturgy. They offer the Mass in the sense that they internally unite themselves with the outward offering made by the ordained priest alone.

(Notice that at first they say “authorized mediator” in other words ordained but later they say “all the Christian faithful” “share in the priesthood.” Gosh, my guy-only argument is feeling a bit shaky. )

Friar: A brother. Originally a form of address in general use among the Christian faithful, as is clear from the frequent references to “brother” and “brethren” in the New Testament writings. Later the term came to be used more exclusively by members of religious orders, and finally, since the thirteenth century, it referred to those who belonged to one of the mendicant orders, mainly the Franciscans and Dominicans, although extended to others in the monastic tradition. Strictly speaking, however, a friar differs from a monk in that his ministry engages him in work outside the monastery, whereas traditionally the prayer and labors of a monk are identified within the monastery to which he belongs. (Etym. Old French frère, freire, brother; Latin frater, brother)

Monk: Originally a hermit or anchorite, but already in the early Church applied to men living a community life in a monastery, under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, according to a specific rule, such as that of St. Basil or St. Benedict. (Etym. Greek monachos, living alone, solitary.)

I also found this definition of monk: “a monk is one called to seek God…. Many monks are ordained to the priesthood, which means they can celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments. They are addressed by the title of Father. But there are also many monks that while feeling called to a monastic life do not experience the call to priesthood. They are addressed by the title of Brother. Some brothers eventually become priests, but it is not uncommon for a monk to remain a brother for his entire religious life.”

Nun: In general, a member of a religious institute of women, living in a community under the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. More accurately, nuns are religious women under solemn vows living a cloistered, contemplative life in a monastery

Notice how long the definition is for Priest compared to Nun, Monk and Friar. In fact NUN is the shortest definition of all. Basically they are called to contemplate, that's it. "Jesus loves you, now just sit there and think about it, Sister." Sure they serve the community. But the sacraments are the power source. And the sacraments still belong in the testosterone zone. But God, Himself (or Herself) claims to be “no respecter of persons”, i.e. we’re all the same. So now it starts to get a little fuzzy. I mean who are we to deny a God given calling? And since a man doesn’t have to become a monk to be a priest, then the logical conclusion is that a woman should not have to become a nun to be a priestess.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the sacrament givers are the top power brokers. So basically women’s equality in the church boils down to exactly what it boils down to in the secular world, P-O-W-E-R. Like it or not women are going to interpret things differently. I suspect the first brick to crack in the Catholic doctrine wall would be birth control. And if that happens what’s gonna go next? Could the crown jewel of anti-abortion be in jeopardy? (That would be a long shot, but I’m sure our boys at the Vatican don’t want to take any chances.)

Personally I get it. I really do. We should be brave enough as a church to let God’s call land where ever God aims it instead of deflecting it with fears of the theological and doctrinal ramifications. But I don’t know if we are there yet. Or maybe we are and we just don’t like it one bit. Is it stubbornness that makes me want to ignore my own logic? Or is it some spiritual instinct that's directing me to stay faithful to current church doctrine? I wish I knew myself better. I wish I knew God better.

I think a better battle to wage should be in favor of married priests. I am totally for that. We need more of them. It’s biblically sound and it’s got precedence in church history, so what’s the big deal? It sure would help take the “edge” off for some of our stressed out (read: horny) priests. And maybe not make us so desperate for clergy that we’d actually harbor pedophiles in our midst. And if they are worried about the distraction factor, then why not limit their career aspirations to something like bishop or archbishop. You could restrict them from remarriage in the case of divorce (which would be a given, I think). But at least it would allow married men to answer their calling. And in today’s world a priest who has that kind of relationship experience could provide a lot of insight.

I’d love to know what you other folks think about it. Convince me. Or at least give me something else to think about.

1 comment:

Dex2177 said...

I'm sure you likely have but you might want to read:

The Woman With The Alabaster Jar, Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail
by Margaret Starbird

and the infamous fictional but researched

Da Vinci Code

You'll likely find them enlightening as to the true story of the church before the Catholic power structure came into being.