Recently a local friend told me of her upcoming ordination to deacon in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, as well as her ordination to priesthood next year. She asked me for any words of encouragement or advice. She, and all other women who follow their conscience believing they are responding to Jesus’ call, believe they are and remain christian and catholic. Who is to say they are anything else? The Roman version of christianity will declare her to be excommunicated. While this threatened sanction has nowhere near the impact it once had, it is still something to be reckoned with, either by knuckling under or by standing courageously in truth to one’s conscience.
What can I possibly say to her in the face of her profound personal courage? I feel humbled even to be in her presence. I have been a priest for a few years, but, then, I am of the accepted gender, while she is not. The accepted gender has been determined solely by others of the same gender, who claim to be acting “after the example of Christ, and at his command”*. Other than the minions of the accepted gender’s managers, few folks these days believe the institution’s stated excuses for not allowing women to be ordained. Yet, with the emotional investment of the institution and its religious police, taking such a step is an act of courageous faith.
Her choosing to be ordained, based on her belief that Jesus is calling her to be a priest, is proclaimed by the institution to be a “grave delict”, a serious sin. In my opinion, a sin against God, no. A sin against the institution’s efforts to preserve its male oriented power and influence, yes. Since the institution’s managers claim to be the only ones who can speak or act in the name of Jesus, any challenge to their prerogative is a challenge to God. And so they would claim that this courageous woman, and others who walk with her, is a challenge to God.
I think she is following Jesus’ words to us that, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross every day and follow me”. She, and other such priests before her, display courage, no doubt of that. She will be subject to threats, name-calling, vitriol, and undoubtedly “christ-like paternal concern” from management. She has a tough road ahead of her, made even more difficult by those claiming to be acting in Jesus’ name, doing things and having attitudes that Jesus didn’t have or do. The “Catholic Taliban” is alive and well.
She has a solid prayer life, no doubt of that. She will need it on her journey. She will have the support of a Eucharistic Community, even though institutional management will vehemently deny folks who support and agree with her the right to use these words. But the Eucharistic Reality will still surround them. When Jesus said “wherever two or more gather in my name I am with them” he didn’t say anything about getting anybody’s permission or authorization, what words to use or clothes to wear.
I wish her courageous firmness, and perhaps a bit humility, on her journey. She will need it. Jesus’ followers are not always the kindest or most charitable folks. She will learn as she celebrates Eucharist the power and reality of Jesus’ words – all of them. Hopefully she will come to “recognize and know what she does, and imitate what she handles”**. Perhaps she will come to recognize Jesus present in the most unexpected folks, relationships, and situations, and realize that grace has brought her to where she is needed, and grace is always powerfully real.
Ultimately she may come to realize it is not about her, her call, or her response. It is about her living in a prayerful and practical relationship with Jesus that leads her to be open to however he calls her. Perhaps she will learn continually to beg the courage to do whatever he calls her to do. Undoubtedly she will beg the grace not only to love whomever Jesus brings into her life, but to care, really care for and about, too.
*from Eucharistic Prayer IV for Various Occasions.
** paraphrase of the ordination rite.
Just sayin . . .