Now that Pope Francis has made it clear there will never be women priests, it comes as a letdown for many. It seems that we think that in order to have equality, women have to be able to do the exact same thing as men and vice versa. The problem is, men still can’t breastfeed or bear children, and women cannot insert sperm.
There is a reason that the genders are still separated for many Olympic events – because it is widely recognized that our bodies were built differently with many different strengths. And since a priest is in the image of Christ the bridegroom and the Church is his bride, it would confuse the nuptial meaning of the body to allow women to be priests. This does not, however, mean that the Church doesn’t respect women. She is simply following the example of her founder and Savior, Jesus, who only chose men to be priests while still respecting women in a greater way than the culture of his time.
“In all of Jesus teaching, as well as in his behavior, one can find nothing which reflects the discrimination against women prevalent in his day. On the contrary, his words and works always express the respect and honour due to women.” (Mulieris Dignitatem- On the Dignity of Women 13)
Unfortunately, the modern movement of feminism and gender equality has become more about making women into men instead of valuing therr unique contributions to society. Don’t get me wrong – a woman and a man doing the same job should be paid the same thing for it. But there is no longer room for the idea of complementarity – that they can still be equals even if their roles are different.
“One must speak of an essential ‘equality,’ since both of them – the woman as much as the man – are created in the image and likeness of God. . . This unity does not cancel out diversity. “ (MD 16
What does it say if we undervalue women’s unique role while assuming all value goes to the highest paying, well-recognized, and powerful positions? What are we saying about women if we say the only way for them to be equal is to be like men?
“In the name of liberation from male ‘domination’, women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine ‘originality.’ There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not ‘reach fulfillment,’ but instead will deform and lose what constitute their essential richness. It is indeed an enormous richness.” (MD 10)
So, what are these riches that a women should treasure and find fulfillment in? First of all, our maternity. Women have lost a great deal of our richness with the idea that abortion will liberate us. The ability to create life in our womb, to give birth to it, to raise a future generation is a big deal!
Secondly, there is the richness of our beauty and mystery as a reflection of the image of God. There was a vote recently in Boulder, CO about whether women should be able to go topless in public. Men can go without wearing their shirts, right? But women represent beauty. Beauty that is not meant to be exploited, but treasured. Where are your most valuable treasures, documents, and money? Usually hidden in a safe or a vault. In the same way, women cover up because of the value of their bodies, not to be ashamed of it. In this way, there is mystery and the invitation for men to give a gift of themselves in union with this beauty.
Lastly, some of the other qualities of the feminine genius are a unique spiritual intuition, sensitivity to suffering, and the ability to love selflessly. These reveal the richness of the feminine gift that women have to offer to the world. Woman, in the story of Genesis, was created from man’s rib, which protects the heart and lungs, the very same lungs that were filled with God’s breath and spirit. So woman was created as man’s helpmate to call man to love and to remind him of God’s presence, being a source of spiritual strength for him.
The woman, “flesh of his flesh”, i.e., his counterpart, his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a “helpmate”; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. - CCC 1605.
Women are here to remind men that power isn’t everything. I think about some of the most influential, widely recognized women and their goal was to strive for humility. Mother Teresa – spoke in front of numerous dignitaries and one of the most known figures of our time – her goal was to care for each individual dying on the streets of Calcutta. St. Therese of Lisieux, a Doctor of the Church, is known for her little way, doing each small thing with love instead of striving to do great things with recognition and power. Mary, known for her humility in submission to God’s will, is the Queen of heaven and earth. In fact, God put Mary at the forefront of his saving mission, establishing the new and final covenant beginning with her giving birth to the Savior.
In short, to think that the only way a women could be valuable in the Church is through ordination greatly undermines the incredible role that women already play in the Church, It makes the assumption that authority and power are the only ways to be valuable and equal. Have you ever looked at the staff of a parish? Often times it is women. Do you know who usually cleans the Church and changes the candles and beautifully decorates for each liturgical season? Women. While theirs is a more hidden role, just because they are not on the altar does not mean that their contributions are not vital to the mission of the Church.
“In our own days too the Church is constantly enriched by the witness of the many women who fulfill their vocation to holiness. Holy women are an incarnation of the feminine ideal; they are also a model for all Christians, a model of the ‘sequela Christi,’ an example of how the Bride must respond with love to the love of the Bridegroom.” (MD 27)
Exercise: Think about any holy women you know in your own life, and how they are a model of the feminine ideal. Write down any qualities that you admire about them, and appreciate the richness these qualities contribute to your life, society, and the Church
(Cover picture: St. Catherine of Siena's statue in Rome. St. Catherine is a Doctor of the Church.)