A Response to Arguments for Women Priests #6
Dear Miss Wannabe,
Trust the Holy Spirit's Guidance of the Pope & Magisterium
You say or at least intimate that you are not in league with the radical feminists; and yet, your views are largely their views taken to their logical conclusions. Freedom of choice, equal rights in all things, unencumbered self-possession and self-determination, an indeterminate sexual nature, an arrogant presumption of the will of God as identified with their own narcissistic goals, pragmatic reasoning from utility that disregards ontic questions of reality, interchangeable gender, avoidance of or reinterpretation of unsupportive data, anger and belligerence-- all these are elements in their opposition to the status-quo, be it regarding women's ordination or any other topic. Many of these factors also appear in your argumentation, although there may be some contradictory renunciation.
Have you read the Holy Father's book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope? He writes: "I think that a certain contemporary feminism finds its roots in the absence of true respect for woman. Revealed truth teaches us something different. Respect for woman, amazement at the mystery of womanhood, and finally the nuptial love of God Himself and of Christ, as expressed in the Redemption, are all elements that have never been completely absent in the faith and life of the Church. This can be seen in a rich tradition of customs and practices that, regrettably, is nowadays being eroded. In our civilization woman has become, before all else, an object of pleasure" (p. 217). Do you see the irony in all this? Remove the unique significance of gender and its all important difference to our personhood and we begin to make impersonal objects of one another. The radical feminists, by their calculated destruction of structures and customs deemed as sexist, have created a situation in which the truly feminine is disfigured and the woman is knocked from the pedestal of the sacred to be profaned as but a source of transitory pleasure. Objects can be interchangeable, human persons cannot. There was a time when good women called forth what was best in men. Now that things have been reduced to mathematical equality, we are worse off than cattle. We can see the gender differentiation on the level of genitalia but refuse to admit that such distinction goes any deeper. Our technological world has, in a sense, reduced the human to identical mechanical parts. Such runs contrary to the Christian teaching that everyone is irreplaceable and precious. A woman is desired for her flesh, not for her soul. This should not be. To some extent, the same derogation of our nature can be seen in many women's preoccupation with men's bottoms and hairy chests. The radical feminists talk about personhood, but they have essentially redefined it. For them the person is not who you are but what you want. Like yourself, they must displace the marriage analogy of Christ the groom to the Church his bride in both the Mass and in the way we understand ecclesial structure and dynamics. This runs contrary to revelation and tradition. If signifying Christ's full identity, including his maleness, is not important in the Mass then gender is logically qualified as insignificant. This is the contention of moral separatists who acknowledge a role for the two genders in mutual physical "recreational" stimulation; but, who disavow that it signifies any communication of core identity. Capitulation on this issue, allowing women priests, would be the most controversial change in Church teaching since her foundation two millennium ago. More than a new reformation, it would signify the beginning of a new faith and a new cultis.
What is the Mind & Attitude of Christ Regarding Women's Ordination?
Seriously, hold back the urge to spout slogans; removing our personal biases for a moment, what does our Lord reveal to us in the Scriptures? It is crystal clear that he did not call any women into the number of the apostles (Mark 3:13-19). First, this fact alone takes on heightened importance because certain women accompanied the group on their journeys and financed their needs (Luke 8:2-3). None of them were given priesthood. Second, Jesus did not hesitate in dismissing current religious and cultural attitudes in relating to females. He disregarded the hemorrhaging woman's legal impurity (Matthew 9:20f); he allowed the disreputable woman in Simon the Pharisee's house to approach him (Luke 7:37f); he sided with the adulteress (John 8:11); and he undermined the Mosaic law in espousing the equal rights of men and women in marriage, protecting the woman from abandonment in divorce (Mark 10:2f; Matthew 19:3f). Obviously, Jesus could not be coerced by societal prejudices to prohibit women priests; it must have been his own choice. Third, he illustrated in his stories an unheard of empathy with the lives of women as in the parable of the good housewife (Luke 15:8-10) and of the widow before a crooked judge (Luke 18:1-8). It can be assumed that Jesus did not feel that his exclusion of women from orders was any real slight to them. Fourth, as his disciples, many of the women showed a courage greater than that of the apostles, even so far as to stand at the foot of his cross (Mark 15:40-41). Individual qualifications apparently took a backseat to other concerns; perhaps the inability of female humanity to image Christ as the head of the Church? Does not the laity, as feminine, still look upon the cross now transformed into an altar at which the priest renders Christ's sacrifice? Yes. Fifth, they were the first to proclaim the Good News on Easter morning, and to the apostles themselves (Matthew 28:7f; Luke 24:9f; Jn 20:11f). Does this not tell us how much the Lord prizes the laity in the Mystical Body? Maybe the problem is not that we esteem the ordained priesthood too highly, but that we look upon the laity too disdainfully. The bulk of all evangelism is still done by the people in the pews. However, despite all this, the women were not at the Last Supper (Mark 14:17f). Surrounded only by the apostles, this absence is made all the more striking since the Passover is a family meal at which women and children were customarily present (Exodus 12:1-14). In light of this evidence, one can readily conclude that the exclusion of women from priesthood must have been freely and directly willed by Christ.
Does Not the Apostolic Tradition Support the Male-only Priesthood?
Yes, it ratifies it at every turn. The early Christian community kept faith with the practice of Jesus in depending entirely on male priests.
Although the Virgin Mary occupied an honored status among them (Acts 1:14), there was never any hint that she should replace Judas as one of the twelve (Acts 1:15-26). Further, on Pentecost, despite the universal showering of the Holy Spirit upon the infant Church (Acts 1:13-14), it was left to "Peter and the Eleven" to take on the initial preaching of the Gospel (Acts 2:1, 14). Looking to St. Paul, it is evident that he relied heavily upon the help of women, maybe even more than Jesus did. Paul makes known Phoebe who served the Church in Cenchreae and also many other women who assisted him in his labors (Romans 16:1-16). He counted Priscilla and her husband Aquila among his friends (Romans 16:3), even entrusting to them the completion of his instruction of Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 18:26). Paul, who said some formidable things about the place of women, is left speechless when Lydia insists that he receive her hospitality at Philippi (Acts 16:14f). The great apostle takes it for granted that men and women alike will pray and prophesy when the community gathers for public worship (1 Cor. 11:4-5, 13). Yet, even in the face of all this, he insisted that the leadership in the community and the official teaching come from male office-bearers. I mention all this because sometimes certain feminists caricature the early Church as a woman-haters' club. Far from it, the Apostolic community was in many ways more liberating for its women than pagan society; however, women were still not ordained. They felt the very real need to perpetuate the model of ministry established by Christ.
Not Women's Ordination But Subordination
St. Paul is the source for the major texts on the "subordination" of women. Nevertheless, critics of the status-quo often quote his words about equality in grace found in Galatians. Paul is not schizophrenic. His words must not be forced to say things that he did not intend. Regarding ministry and marriage, Paul is clear. "What I want you to understand is that Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ. . . a man . . . is the image of God and reflects God's glory; but woman is the reflection of man's glory . . . and man was not created for the sake of woman, but woman was created for the sake of man. . . . However, though woman cannot do without man, neither can man do without woman, in the Lord; woman may come from man, but man is born of woman -- both come from God" (1 Cor. 11:3, 7-8, 11-12). Speaking of the organization of spiritual gifts, he demands: "Women are to remain quiet at meetings since they have no permission to speak; they must keep in the background as the Law itself lays it down. . . . Anyone who claims to be a prophet or inspired ought to recognize that what I am writing to you is a command from the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:34, 37). Illustrating his sincerity, he repeats himself to Timothy: "During instruction a woman should be quiet and respectful. I am not giving permission for a woman to teach or to tell a man what to do. A woman ought not to speak, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin. . . ." (1 Tm. 2:1-14). Similarly, when writing upon marriage, Paul asserts: "Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything. Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her, to make her holy. . . . In the same way husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself. A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is how Christ treats the Church, because it is his body -- and we are its living parts. . . . This mystery has many implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:22-25, 28-32). It is this analogy that is operative at Mass, wherein the priest signifies Christ, the head of the Church, and the congregation, the Mystical Body. The priest is one with the divine bridegroom and the assembly, representative of the bride of Christ, the Church. As I have mentioned before, unless one is going to overlook sacramental lesbianism, a woman cannot fulfill the function of priest in such a setting. Paul wanted women to know their faith and to hand it on in the domestic setting; however, they were not allowed to offer the official teaching that is associated with the presbyter at liturgy. Paul makes it definitively clear that this prescription is tied up with the God-given order of creation (1 Cor. 11:7; Gn. 2:18-24). He further admits to a specified "command from the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37). Although this command is not known to us, it should not be dismissed. Paul is not a liar. Christ is perceived as the ultimate author of a corpus of religious teaching that must be handed on in exact detail and preserved by the teachers of faith (1 Cor. 11:23, 15:1-2; 2 Tm. 1:13). Several times Paul encountered serious assaults upon his person and office (1 Cor. 1:12, 4:3; 2 Cor. 10-12); if he had invented this "command from the Lord" to shore up his arguments, he would quickly have been stripped of his authority and unveiled as a deceiver. Such did not happen. Will we allow the truths of Christ via Paul to speak to us today? I pray it will be so. I only hope it is not too late. As an experiment I read these passages to several fine women in my parish and even the most docile took some offense. How deep is the secular infection in the hearts and minds of believers?
The Ultimate Revolution: Can Women Become Men?
Just a few years ago, many Europeans celebrated the anniversary of the French Revolution. The Church was heavily criticized for not taking an active part in the festivities. Why did the Church refuse to join in the memorial of an uprising that espoused, "liberty-equality-fraternity"? Well, the answer went deeper than the religiosity of the fallen crown. Liberty for some meant persecution and death for others. Catholic priests were murdered by the thousands. Church properties were confiscated. The faith was mocked. No, the revolution might have been a watershed in French history, but it was also a tragedy of man's inhumanity to man. What does the Church have to show for this revolution? Less than 18% of the French go to Sunday Mass. The cathedrals are empty. Their over-emphasis upon individual freedom found its way into existentialist philosophy. Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her book, The Second Sex, that she envisioned young girls as "thwarted boys, that is, children that a re not permitted to be boys," and defined the adult female as an "abortive man." Akin to our radical feminists, although they deny it, she concludes that women can only achieve true emancipation by liberating themselves from their femininity. This changes the question, "Can women become priests?" to "Can women become men?" This is not a ridiculous question. The rectory cook tells me there was a talk-show just the other day that hosted a panel of women who through hormonal treatments and drugs had undergone sex changes. Men are also confused about gender and sexuality. Doctors are seriously considering experiments with the implantation of embryos into the stomach linings of homosexual men. Yes, they want to be mothers! It is in this context of gender confusion that the question of women priests arises. Many like yourself proceed with the untenuated assumption that sexual differentiation is primarily a sociological matter. Minimizing the underlying biology, the social roles a re interpreted as interchangeable. Feminist theology, analyzed within a Marxist matrix, is one of the contemporary liberation theologies. Its ultimate end is an androgynous utopia in which there is full "mathematical" equality between the expectations and assignments of the sexes. This is in contrast to the Christian goal of a state of holiness and the acquisition of the greatest good, God. This end is achieved by the grace of God and through the complementary (but not always identical) instrumentation of gender-differentiated human beings. I sometimes have to wonder if even in regard to their official feminist stratagem, if radical feminists are honest; is it really equality they want or superiority? How does the old song from a musical go? Ah, yes, "Anything you can do, I can do better than you!" I suspect this is part of their not so well disguised agenda.
Capacity for Ordination: Another Difference Between the Sexes
Do you know that there is no single cell in the human body (with the exception of gametes for reproduction) which is not sexually imprinted as either male or female? I will not go into an elementary lecture on the structural differences between the sexes or the differing roles in the marital act. Although a few contest it, there are differences in the characteristics of mind and spirit, too. Women seem to have a heightened receptivity and religious sense. Their powers of intuition and emotion also seem more pronounced over the male's analytical approach to life and ideas. These kinds of distinctions must be considered in any debate regarding women minsters, and even more so, about the possibility of women priests. It is my view that the differences between the sexes and the subordination of women does not imply inferiority and is ultimately the will of the Creator.
I am among the school holding that Pope Pius XI's encyclical on marriage, Casti Connubii, fulfills the requirements for infallibility of the universal ordinary Magisterium. All the world bishops were consulted and it was received everywhere, by the shepherds and laity alike. Dr. William May and Dr. Germain Grisez are also of one mind about this. The encyclical condemned artificial contraception. But, what is more, it corrected the modern view about the "equality of rights" of the spouses. The Holy Father wrote, ". . . there must be a certain inequality . . . which is demanded by the good of the family and the right ordering and unity and stability of home life" (paragraph 77). This "hierarchical" ordering of marriage implied not denigration of women, "for if the man is the head, the woman is the heart" of the family (paragraph 27f). Similarly, Pius XII emphasized that the particular qualities of the sexes had to be given recognition, especially the social leadership of men and the maternal traits of women. The voice of the true Vatican II, not the nebulous and often contradictory "spirit of" remarks that the differences between the sexes be acknowledged and nurtured. In the Declaration on Christian Education, we read, ". . . pay due regard in every educational activity to sexual differences and to the special role which divine Providence allots to each sex in family life and in society" (#8). I digress into all this to stress that the sexes are not the same. Further, the Church and her tradition puts much weight on the marriage analogy in understanding ecclesial identity and its expression in the Mass. Seen in this light, it appears that the ordination of women is counter to female human nature as it arises from the creative providence of God.
I do not know how the Holy Father can make things plainer. Look at what he says: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of the ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk. 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." Some critics have remarked that the difference between this and an infallible definition is only a matter of splitting hairs. For all intensive purposes, it is the same thing. It is a definition to remove ALL DOUBT and taught from the fullness of the PETRINE MINISTRY to be DEFINITIVELY held by ALL THE FAITHFUL. It is not that the Church does not want to do it; it is a simply she CANNOT DO IT. The only options left to you are assent or abandoning the Church. No room is left for debate; the matter is closed. This is the final word.
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Joseph A. Jenkins
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Revised on April 30, 1998.