Thursday, August 26, 2010

Peach Pie

It eventually comes up, this question from Protestants.  Usually a woman, often with whiskers atremble, will pose it, but sometimes, as in this case, a man.  And sometimes, to my surprise, it comes from a Catholic.

It seems to this simple convert's mind that the issue has been settled in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which  John Paul II stated the church has no authority to ordain women as priests.  Without authority, in the Catholic Church, it doesn't happen no matter how "good" the idea might seem.  it seems pretty definitive to me.  Rome seems to have spoken clearly and the matter is settled.  In other words, the authority of the the Church has said that it is an impossibility for women to be priests, or bishops--that the Church has no authority to make that happen.  It's over.  There will not be a change.  

That is something different about the Catholic faith--the clergy are charged with keeping hold of the faith as they received and passing it along unchanged in the deposit of faith.  That means that in matters of faith and morals (not discipline) the Truth is unchanging--the Church cannot decide that Truth today contradicts Truth as previously understood.  Only the Catholic faith has done this and continues to hold fast.  But there's something about the modern mind (especially the modern feminist mind) that simply refuses to accept this particular concept when it comes to women and the priesthood.  

How does the idea that the Truth does not change, and the concept that Church's authority has limits fit into the discussion of women priests? Some  suggest that the stance of the Church implies that God thinks women are less capable.  This is a typical modern (and Protestant)  perspective--that priesthood is somehow a "job" that one is "qualified" for.  Looking at the priesthood that way, it would indeed make some sense that women might be priests.  After all, women have entered the ranks of nearly every other male-only profession.  

Not that it has always turned out well.  I remember being told in medical school that it was foolish to have so many women in medicine because they didn't practice as long as men, and the investment--in time and in money--was lost.  

I remember being outraged, but guess what?  The professors I disdained were right.  In my class, fewer of us women are still using our medical degrees, and the average time and intensity of practice overall is much less.  Prejudice or good sense to anticipate that?  My desire to "be" something isn't just tied up in what fulfills me--it has something to do with the world at large as well...I did not realize that at 24.  I do now. Becoming a physician was not just about my desires to be intellectually fulfilled, or to make a good living  It was also about my willingness to sacrifice my life for the care of others and to be a good steward of the gift of education that was given me.  I could have done better.  Almost all of my male counterparts have.

The Church views life in general and the priesthood in particular differently than the world at large, or even our Protestant brethren.  This is a matter of sacramental suitability not ability to lead.  Unlike Protestant ecclesial bodies, the Church sees Holy Orders  as a sacrament.  Remember, Catholics: a sacrament is something ordained by Christ as a means to convey a particular grace to His people for their benefit.The priesthood is a sacrament, not a job.  And a sacrament  cannot be validly redefined (or created) by mankind.  

And the "job" of the priest is not to lead his people (though that happens) but to bring them the sacraments that require a priest: the Eucharist, Confession, Anointing of the sick, Holy Orders and Confirmation.  THAT, not just  "leading the church" is the real role of the clergy.  To an outsider, the leadership roles look important because they match with secular roles, but to a Catholic, the sacraments are the essential part of the priesthood  No priests, no sacraments.  No sacraments, no Church.  

To have a valid sacrament, one needs the proper matter as well as the proper form--in other words, we need the proper "stuff" and the proper format invoking the sacrament.  For example--in  Baptism, the proper substance is an unbaptized person and water, poured over the head of the individual either from a cup or by immersion.  The form is the Trinitarian baptism (In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with the same meaning as the Church intends).  Hence, baptism of an already baptized person or  baptism that doesn't cover the head or uses milk instead of water or isn't in the Trinitarian formula isn't valid because the form or the matter is lacking. 

Similarly, the Eucharist requires not only a priest to confect it, it requires bread and wine, not coke and potato chips.  Proper matter.

Marriage requires two people, free to marry, of opposite sex (proper matter) and witness by the Church of their vows (proper form).  The issue of gay "marriage" also touches on this issue of sacramental suitability, and for the same reasons, cannot be endorsed by the Church.  Two people of the same sex, no matter how committed to each other they are, do not constitute the proper matter.

Similarly, Holy Orders requires proper matter.  If we go back to the institution of the priesthood, ONLY men were ordained (the Last Supper).  Christ had women who followed Him and who provided for Him and His ministry, but He did not elect to consecrate them priests.  Since He did not, the Church  cannot.  The proper matter of Holy Orders is a man.  

By discipline in the Roman Catholic Church, this is an unmarried man, but in other rites of the Catholic faith, the man may be married--celibacy is a matter of discipline, not of form or matter.  Will we see married priests as a matter of custom rather than exception in the Roman rite?  Maybe.  But it is not a certainty, and the discipline of celibacy has good reasons for its existence.

The modern argument tends to be that if Christ were coming on earth today he'd ordain women too, because today women have a more equal role than in the first century.  The thinking is that He did what He did only because of the conventions of the time.  My response is: balderdash.  

First, it takes great hubris to decide one knows what  Christ "would have done."  God knew when the first priests were ordained that women would have the status they do in this day and age--and Christ still chose to ordain only men.  I find great arrogance in that position, especially since it is given at the remove of 2000 years.  Those who were the actual compatriots of Christ, however, carried on by ordaining only men, and, it seems,  are bound to keep the practice as it was handed to them.

Second, Christ had no difficulty overturning all kinds of established norms (even permitting women into full discipleship--see the story of Mary and Martha).  If He wanted women priests, it's fair to suppose (invoking that same interior knowledge of Christ's mind that I just derided), knowing that He would ask that the faith be passed on unchanged--He would have ordained them.  He didn't.  

The idea that women are somehow  "capable" is a modern one, and not  not relevant to the discussion from the perspective of the Catholic faith.  It is a very secular/Protestant idea.  This idea of capability implies an unfettered right to any "job" one wants and that is not God's design.  He has vocations for us all, but that's HIS call, not  OUR right.  Jesus for His own reasons chose to ordain only men, and chose to come to Earth as a man, and to tell us to call God Father--all for a reason. 

Quite frankly, I don't have a better idea than God.  God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (which is how God relates to us)--- not Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier (which only describes what He does for us and is a much shallower idea.  I can create a work of great art, but I wouldn't die for it....)

This isn't just a matter of blind obedience,  it's a matter, in some ways, of giving up the idea that WE get to define how we relate to God and to each other.  It is a matter of humility, of recognizing our right relationship to God and the limits of our capabilities.

Think of it this way.  If I want to make an apple pie, only apples will do.  Peaches are lovely, fine and in no way inferior to apples, but make a pie with them and it's not an apple pie any more.  Priests are intended to be men.  When I get right down to it, I an not sure why, but it is clear from the Apostolic teaching as well as from history, and now from the Pope himself,  that such is the case.  So, from the Catholic perspective, that's it.  

Women have other vocations and roles, but not the priesthood.  Men have the priesthood but not motherhood (the first Christian vocation and one of the most exalted)  It's not a matter of "capability" in terms of skills and gifts, or a matter of fairness, it's a matter of design.  

We recognize that kind of design when it is physical.  Men simply cannot be biological mothers--does that make them "incapable" in the sense that defenders of women's ordination raise it--or just different and suited for other things?  Why is it so difficult to believe that there may be spiritual differences that we may not see that make women just as unsuited for priesthood?  Men and women are equal in their dignity before God and before each other but they are DIFFERENT, and called to different vocations both individually and as a group.

I need to understand that my life is not just about me personally--it's about my corporate role in the Church and in the plan of salvation--and that call comes from without, not within.  What seems a really great idea to man (inclusively speaking) may not seem so good to God, who knows better than we do.  

For which I am ever thankful.

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