Why women cannot be priests (3 of 3)

Benjamin Priesthood

– Fr. Benjamin

In Catholic theology there is a wonderful balance between the male and the female in the work of our salvation. In the book of Genesis, God creates both male and female. Both are tempted, both fall into sin, and both bear the curse of that sin in different ways. This double fall requires a double act of redemption, and so in His Wisdom God brings about the work of redemption though a man and a woman. First, He prepares Mary by preserving her free from Original Sin. We know that Mary is not divine. Like us she is a finite human creature with a human father and mother. God makes her perfect, however, preserving her from any flaw or stain, so that she can perfectly respond to God’s infinite love. Her courageous response of “Yes” allows God to enter human history through her womb. This would be the first act of redemption. Jesus, by his Incarnation, elevates our human condition by uniting a human nature to his divine nature, the second moment of redemption. While God comes to us in Jesus, He comes to us through Mary. If we imagine that Jesus is the bridge between Heaven and earth, Mary is the place where that bridge is anchored on our side. So there is a beautiful cooperation of the divine and human, male and female, in this moment of the Incarnation.

Both male and female also cooperate in the sacrifice which completes our salvation. Jesus offers himself on the cross while Mary is actively offering Him and praying constantly for Him. Protestant theology is typically uncomfortable with this portrayal of Mary, because Jesus’s offering alone is sufficient to bring salvation while Mary’s offering alone is not sufficient. Remember, though, that Jesus did not make His offering alone, He made it united spiritually to Mary. While God could have chosen to bring about salvation without Mary, He instead accepted her offering together with the offering of His son, so that the male and female would both contribute to our redemption. Protestantism, by trying to emphasize Christ, unintentionally creates a theology which is primarily masculine, rather than one that is balanced.

As we delve a little deeper into the mystery of salvation, it becomes clear that God “had” to bring salvation about in this way. I say “had” because God could have chosen to work outside or around the created world. Since He chose to work within his creation, He needed to use a human woman. Clearly He could have brought about a man who was immaculately conceived, but this man would still have been completely incapable of welcoming the Word of God into the world. A woman was necessary for that role. Naturally, the mind can imagine that Mary could have conceived and given birth to a daughter, the incarnate Word of God. This girl could have suffered and died on the cross while her mother prayed below. First, we notice that this scenario would completely lack any male presence in the work of our redemption, creating something unbalanced. On a deeper level, however, the masculinity of Jesus was necessary to fully address the effects of sin (this idea comes from Dr. Mary Lemmons at the University of St. Thomas).

Going back to Adam and Eve, we see that their sin not only disrupted their relationship with God, but it also invited sin and evil into the relationship between the sexes. It is sin which turns the harmony of this beautiful diversity into the “battle of the sexes” where men and women compete with each other. As part of the curse of sin, God says to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16) This is an artistic summary of the suffering of women through the centuries. Women are naturally inclined to desire to be loved, and to sacrifice for the people in their life as a way of seeking that love. Consequently they face the temptation of idolizing a man and “offering sacrifices” to him, trying to make him the center of her life. Men, on the other hand, are tempted to control and dominate women, taking advantage of their willingness to sacrifice to turn them into servants. A woman is therefore victimized twice, first by her desire to be loved and to sacrifice for the one who loves her, and second by the vice of men who manipulate this desire for their own selfish ends.

This divide cannot be healed by the woman because of her status as the victim. I won’t get into details, but I think that the sad state of the relations between men and women today is due to a well-intentioned attempt to better the status of women from the woman’s side. This cannot possibly work, because it is the man’s side which is most disordered.

Because Jesus came to rescue woman from the oppression of men, he had to come as a man. Jesus does this in two ways. First, He presents a model of manhood which triumphs over selfishness by offering His own life as a sacrifice for others. Women are naturally willing to sacrifice but men must be taught. The crucified Lord is a constant condemnation of those who resort to violence and a constant reminder that God takes the side of the victim in a disordered relationship. You can see clearly that the image of a woman beaten, bloody and nailed to a crucifix, would do nothing to heal this disorder in men. In fact, it would probably only deepen the disorder. Jesus had to be a man in order to teach men how to love.

Jesus also heals the other side of the division by correcting the desire of women. Jesus is a man who can be loved completely without committing idolatry, because He is God. A woman can therefore place Jesus Christ at the center of her life without doing anything wrong. This presence of Jesus helps women to correct their desire for love which can be so easily manipulated. Young, unmarried women I know are particularly fond of the saying, “A woman should be so hidden in Christ that a man has to seek Him to find her.” When a woman seeks the love of Christ she begins to know true love and is less likely to be deceived by the cheap imitations that abound in this disordered world. Her relationship with Christ also creates a very fruitful tension in her relationship with other men. When a woman is receiving love from Christ, no other man can control her access to love and consequently they lose the power to manipulate her. Once again, if Mary had given birth to a daughter as the embodiment of divine love, it would not have helped women to escape from male domination.

I write this, not so much as an argument, but as reflection on the mystery of how God heals and saves. Priesthood, because it continues the ministry of Jesus in a concrete and visible way, continues this mission of reconciling men and women. The priest is first challenged as a man to receive the love of Jesus and to imitate that sacrificial love. He then challenges both men and women to find their need for love in Jesus and to live in a self-sacrificing way. Since the masculinity of Jesus was an essential element of God’s plan of salvation, it is also essential that priests be male. The necessity for priesthood to be a male presence does not mitigate the contribution of women, just as the necessity of Christ as our savior does not reduce the contribution of Mary. In Catholic life there is a wonderful balance between the male and female. Reserving priesthood to men does not create an imbalance, but maintains this beautiful balance.

Why women cannot be priests (2 of 3)

Benjamin Priesthood

– Fr. Benjamin

In my previous post I showed that we know with the certainty of faith that women cannot be Catholic priests. I want to emphasize again that this is a process which involves the whole Church. Most of the Protestant churches which decided to ordain women made this decision by an educated elite, who went ahead with their personal opinions despite the objections of the faithful in the pews and the opposition of centuries of tradition.

Now, the conversation gets really interesting because we believe that God is a reasonable God, and so He does not make decisions arbitrarily but according to a plan which, to some extent, we can understand. Why would God, who gives many gifts and talents to women, not invite them to be priests?

To ask why women cannot be priests makes the assumption that women (for the most part) can do everything men can do. This is true in most careers. It does not really matter whether a woman or man is flying the airplane, answering the phone, filing your taxes, etc. Either can accomplish the necessary set of tasks.

However, gender is not interchangeable in personal relationships. A woman cannot be a father. She could accomplish all the necessary tasks, like taking her sons hunting or teaching them to throw a football, but there is more to fatherhood than doing something. A woman cannot be a father, because fatherhood requires a masculine presence. The same is true on the other side. Although a man can be very tender, nurturing, and caring he cannot fill the role of a mother. “Mother” is not something you do, but it is someone you become. Only a woman can become a mother.

If Catholic priesthood were about fulfilling certain tasks, like preaching and teaching, signing checks, opening the church doors and leading the singing, then it could be filled just as competently by a woman. However, being a priest is not the same as doing certain things.

A woman cannot be a priest, because Catholic priesthood is a personal relationship which requires a masculine presence.
In Catholic theology, we believe that there is only one true priest of the new and eternal covenant. To be eternal, the covenant must be perfect, but all men are imperfect and their sacrifices are imperfect. Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice of his own body and blood. Just as that one true sacrifice is made present throughout the world in the miracle of the Eucharist, the one true priest is made present through the world in the miracle of priesthood. To be a priest is to be a sacrament of the presence of Christ.

This presence must be a masculine presence because the relationship of Christ to his Church is a spousal relationship. St. Paul tells us that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians Chapter 5). The sacrifice of Christ is a sacrifice of intimate love, the same way that a husband offers his own body to his wife. To be a priest is to represent Jesus Christ, not only as prophet, king and teacher, but as bridegroom.

This reality of bridegroom, if lived generously as God intended, naturally gives rise to spiritual fatherhood. This is why priests are traditionally referred to as “Father” in the Catholic tradition (1 Cor. 4:15).

Does this reality exclude women? No, because the priest is not ordained for his own sake. He is ordained as a gift to the people. This is especially obvious when the priest is celibate, and his life is clearly one of personal sacrifice for the sake of the people. Just as queens in the ancient world were attended by eunuchs, the Catholic Church is served by celibate men. This speaks volumes about the dignity of women in God’s eyes. I therefore believe that, far from excluding women, the Catholic priesthood actually elevates the dignity of women to new heights.

Why women cannot be priests (1 of 3)

Benjamin Priesthood

– Fr. Benjamin

At the end of youth group this week, one of the girls asked why women cannot be Catholic priests. After all it isn’t fair. I told them I would answer the question next week, which will be our first official, “Awkward Question Night.”

After reflecting for a while on Catholic priesthood I believe there there are three main reasons to explain why the priesthood is not open to women. I will deal with the second and third in subsequent posts.

The Church must always remain faithful to Christ and he did not chose women as priests.

Remember that we are not saved alone and individually, we are saved by being united to the Church. The Church is the family of God (Mark 3:35) and the Body of Christ (Romans 7:4, Ephesians 4:12). Just like the family brings life and learning to its members, and the body brings blood and nutrients to its members, the Church is the supernatural reality which brings God’s Divine Life to us. This life comes through the sacraments, especially the Body and Blood of Christ that flows to us, and through a sharing in the Holy Spirit.

The problem is, that where two or three are gathered together, there will be an argument. Jesus needed to establish clearly who was in charge, to ensure unity. So he formed the twelve Apostles and ordained them to the triple leadership of teaching, worshiping, and guiding the Church, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Truth” (John 16:13). The assistance of the Holy Spirit is what guarantees that the Church will not succumb to human weakness and betray the Gospel, but will continue in fidelity to Christ until the end of time.

Some argue that Jesus, limited by the prejudices of his time, didn’t realize women could or should be Apostles, but this is absurd. He used the woman at the well (John 4) to teach the town that he was the Messiah. It is clear from the Gospel that Jesus made a deliberate choice to call men to this mission and only men.

The Apostles ordained bishops and priests to continue this mission from one generation to the next. Just as the Apostles were all men, so the Church has always believed that this mission was given particularly to men (not to all men, only those chosen by the Holy Spirit for this particular work). By the Church, I do not mean simply that the bishops and priests refused to allow women “into the club”, I mean that women and men, educated and poor, saints and sinners in every age up to the present moment have maintained the belief that priesthood was a role given to men. This enduring character is testimony to the truth.

Some will argue that the Holy Spirit is doing something different now, and calling women to priesthood. This is a possibility, since the Holy Spirit frequently does new things. Who gets to decide if the Spirit is doing this? It is the responsibility of the Church to discern if this is TRULY coming from the Holy Spirit (again, the Church is not only the Bishops but the theologians and the people in the pews). Here is the beauty of being Catholic. Each individual Christian does not bear the burden weighing these issues and trying to come to a personal conclusion. The burden of coming to a conclusion is a burden carried by the whole Church and especially by the Bishops.

After careful reflection, the Church has discerned that it is not God’s will to extend the priesthood to women. Pope John Paul II declared the fruit of this discernment in his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. So, we are now free from having to worry about whether or not to ordain women. However, this opens up the question, for our careful investigation, why God would only chose men as priests. I’ll discuss some reflections as to why this may be in another post.

Secrets of a happy life

Benjamin Human Relationships

– Fr. Benjamin

I just recently read a very thoughtful article looking at the failures of Tiger Woods through Plato’s characterization of the soul. Basically put, Plato looks at the human soul as made up of three parts, one desiring food and physical pleasure, another desiring victory and honor, and the third which seeks knowledge of the good. The third part is reason, and according to Plato its desire should rule the soul but rarely does. A quote from the entry is well worth reading:

“In much of American entertainment, advertising, and commentary we find the suggestion that human happiness is to be won through “success,” understood as the attainment of high status conventionally understood, and pleasure, understood as bodily satisfactions. Tiger Woods, however, achieved more status, and experienced more bodily pleasures, than probably any other living person. If extreme pursuit of, and extreme success in winning, these kinds of pleasures could not make him happy, why should we think they will make any of us happy?”

Very true. Tiger Woods had what most television commercials tell us we need. Tiger Woods was not happy. If we want to be happy, we need to look somewhere else.

This morning I had a pleasant conversation with an old gentleman who never had the success of Tiger Woods, nor did he ever enjoy the kind of pleasure that Tiger enjoyed. He spent much of his life working on a farm, but his true accomplishment was being married for 71 years.

The last few years were difficult on him, since his wife could no longer care for herself, but in our conversation this morning I could see how proud he is of his life and how much joy there is in his heart over the good times they all enjoyed. I think a great burden was lifted off his heart once his wife passed away. While he cannot articulate his thoughts like Plato can, he knows what it takes to make a good life and he could teach Tiger Woods a lot about the secrets of happiness and succcess.

What are those secrets? From this conversation, I would give you two tips.
1) Care for the the people in your life instead of caring for money, fame, or possessions.
Money, fame and possessions have a way of leaving you empty and unsatisfied, and this is a fact that Tiger Woods apparently discovered. All his fame and sports success did not satisfy his hunger, but his spirit was still unsatisfied. You might notice he had a lot of women in his life, but they were in his life in the capacity of possessions not as people.

2) Do what you know to be right, no matter how you feel or what you would rather do.
Forming the habit of consistently doing the right thing brings enormous peace to life, and avoids headaches and stress that are unnecessary. It also avoids regrets. The gentleman told me one story, in which the priest at the parish announced he was leaving the priesthood.
“Well, I ‘m better than you,” he told the priest, “because I’m still married to my wife.” He knew what was right, and he did it, and that is the secret to a happy life.