Published September 28, 2006
Sometimes it’s challenging being a Catholic woman. In a society where women can aim at becoming neuroscientists and astronauts, and even run for president, Catholic women may feel like odd ducks.
Because our religion says we cannot become priests.
Unfortunately, people who point fingers at the Catholic—and Orthodox Christian—churches for their refusal to ordain women often are unaware of the theology underpinning this teaching.
The teaching does not exist to make women feel inferior, to tell us God doesn’t love us, or to keep us from serving our congregations.
In fact, women have tremendous dignity by virtue of the veneration shown to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to other female saints such as Mary Magdalene, Joan of Arc, St. Cecilia and Therese of Lisieux.
We can also take great pride in Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, whose ministry to the world’s poor earned her the Nobel Peace Prize.
She accepted her status as a nun with humility and joy and did not seem to think her work was less valued by God because she was not a priest.
Ordination is a theological issue, which means it is not based on the shifting circumstances of the secular world but rather on unchanging Scripture and deeply rooted traditions.
Leaders of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have stated that they cannot change the rule about the priesthood because they didn’t institute it in the first place.
Instead, the priesthood was created by Christ Himself.
Here is the theology in a nutshell: Christ selected as His apostles 12 men, who are seen as the first priests. He obviously had women followers and could have chosen female apostles, but did not.
Some folks, however, don’t like this theology. They claim that Jesus could have chosen women but was afraid to rock society’s boat.
In truth, though, Jesus was God and certainly not afraid to stir things up. After all, He talked to Samaritans, ate with tax collectors and healed people on the Sabbath.
He also claimed divinity, which definitely caused great unrest.
In Catholic and Orthodox Christian teaching, the priest represents Christ during the liturgy, in the confessional and in the administration of other sacraments. Further, the priest acts as spiritual father to the flock, and a father is obviously a male.
Did early leaders of the Church make a mistake by saying that Jesus’ choice of apostles indicated His establishment of a male-only priesthood?
This question overlooks a distinctive Catholic belief, which is that the Church is a divine institution.
Of course, individual clergy are fallible and do make mistakes, but when the pope in union with the world’s bishops makes declarations on faith and morals, the Holy Spirit guides them and thus keeps them from falling into error.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells people that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have eternal life.
These words greatly upset some of Jesus’ followers, who called this teaching a “hard saying” and abandoned Him at that point.
Today, some women may be tempted to leave the Church because they find the teaching on ordination another hard saying.
But in that same Gospel scene, Jesus asked the 12 apostles if they also would leave Him.
“Master, to whom shall we go?” answered Peter. “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6: 67-68).
Many Catholic and Orthodox Christian women feel the same way. We will stick by the Church because Jesus created it, and He speaks through the Church.
And we will stick by Jesus, even if some of His teachings are hard to accept, especially in a world that largely has turned its back on His values.
Jesus said the rich would have a tough time getting into heaven, yet our world envies the wealthy. He advised turning the other cheek, but the world encourages revenge.
As a Catholic woman, would I vote for a female candidate for president? Assuming she was the best candidate, you bet I would.
Am I supportive of women who get advanced degrees? Indeed I am.
I was once angry about the teaching on ordination, because I didn’t understand its origin, but I have come to see that some facts cannot be changed when it comes to Jesus: He appeared among us as God’s Son, and He chose male apostles.
Jesus had His own reasons for this choice, and even if these reasons seem mysterious today, I trust they are part of God’s plan for the world’s redemption. As do millions of women who accept the Church’s traditions.
Jesus Himself, as St. Paul tells us, emptied and humbled himself, even to the point of accepting the cross. He accepted the Father’s will, even when that meant dying a terrible death.
Many women—and men—follow Jesus by humbly embracing the teachings of their beloved Church, even teachings that can at times be hard to accept.
Besides, where else would we go? Jesus truly does have the key to eternal life.
Lorraine Murray’s latest book is “How Shall We Celebrate? Embracing Jesus in Every Season.” Artwork is by her husband, Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com). Lorraine’s e-mail is email@example.com.