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Ma’am you should be a priest.

September 21st, 2012by Emily Macke

A few years ago I was volunteering at a local pro-life event, when a Catholic acquaintance approached me to say hello.  She asked what I was doing these days.  At my reply that I am studying for a master’s in theology, she grumbled, “It’s a shame you’re into that Theology of the Body, or else you could be a priest.”

 Shocked, I attempted to collect my composure being answering. 

 I have had a handful of Protestants ask if my goal was to be a minister upon graduation.  Despite my insistence to the contrary, middle-aged Brenda, from whom I purchased my car a few years ago, eagerly told her mother that I was going to be a minister.  The mother ran out of the house, arms flailing in excitement at the revelation that I would be preaching the Good News in such a capacity.  My protests were met with wagging fingers and amused expressions as they told me that “God surprises us sometimes.”

 Yet I think my run-in at the pro-life event was my first encounter with a Catholic who thought that I should be a priest.  She had no interest in my words that the priesthood isn’t about power, but about service.  “Tell that to the priests,” she quipped.

 My reminder that the Blessed Mother was not a priest but enjoyed an incredibly privileged role in the Church, was met with, “That’s true, but that was 2,000 years ago.” 

She mentioned the necessity of equality, to which I replied that equality is not identical to sameness.  She disagreed and added that the Church must offer “equal opportunity for Sacraments.”

It’s interesting how much we let our culture’s ideas color our views of the Church.  Society espouses that there is no difference between male and female.   They are the same.

The fact that only one can be a mother, and only one can be a father apparently makes no difference. 

Ephesians 5, which is typically used to discuss the meaning of marriage, is just as valuable in the discussion of male priesthood.  Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.  Priests stand in the person of Christ, in relation to His Bride, the Church.  How, then, could a woman be a priest?  How could a woman, a potential mother, “marry” Mother Church?

The male-only priesthood isn’t an exclusive club of cigar-smoking men in black who chuckle at their ability to fool women into believing they can’t join.  Rather, it’s an invitation to service – an opportunity for men to “wash the feet” and sacrifice their lives for their beloved Bride, the Church.

This doesn’t make women sighing, whimpering, fragile creatures whose sole role in life is to be catered to by men.  Rather, only women can be mothers.  Only they can nurture life in such a way that two or more heartbeats can palpitate in their bodies at the same time.  Only a mother can give birth to a priest.  One can say that without women there would be no priests.

It’s all a matter of seeing the beauty of God’s plan – the unity that can occur because of the diversity in creation.  Each of us exists as a man or as a woman.  Neither is deficient or lesser than the other.  But the fact that each is created in God’s image and likeness does not mean that they exist as the same.  Rather in the difference they reflect something of God.  It is because they are different, yet both with absolute dignity, that they are able to love in a way that can include a total and unique gift of self, resulting in the possibility of new life.  And this union points us to the love of God that exists in the Trinity. 

There is a particularly poignant scene in the film Pope John Paul II: The Movie, in which the Holy Father is driving through a group of angry, protesting women, holding signs advocating women priests and abortion on demand.  Jon Voight, playing John Paul II says, “How can I tell them how much God loves women?  His intention from the beginning, equality, balance, perfection.”

I don’t think these words were taken as a direct quote from the late Holy Father, but I think they certainly capture the essence of his love for women, and therefore his frustration that so many failed to receive his tender words.

Anyone who disbelieves the dignity with which the Church treats women should pick up John Paul’s “Letter to Women” or “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.”  There they will find his careful treatment of the “genius of women” and their unique call to love.

John Paul II’s enthusiasm is apparent, for example, in the conclusion of “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women”: “During the Marian Year the Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the ‘mystery of woman’ and for every woman – for that which constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the ‘great works of God,’ which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her.  After all, was it not in and through her that the greatest event in human history – the incarnation of God himself – was accomplished?” (#31). 

When viewed through this lens, as opposed to the culture’s, we can see that the Church’s understanding of priesthood is a loving way of preserving the unique dignity of both men and women.  And in the end, this guarantees that we will be truly happy. 

I’ll take that over being called “Father” any day. 

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/musical photo man

Emily Macke

Emily Macke serves as Theology of the Body Education Coordinator at Ruah Woods (www.RuahWoods.org). She received her Master's in Theology from the John Paul II Institute and enjoys speaking and writing about the gift of the faith. She blogs at Unshakeable Hope www.UnshakeableHope.blogspot.com