Friday, August 23, 2013

More Important Than Priests (Hurray!)

Ana Fereira:
…I would like to know, since yesterday you spoke to the Brazilian bishops about the participation of women in our Church...  I would like to understand better, what this participation of us women in the Church would be like.  Also, what do you think of women’s ordination?  What should our position in the Church be like?

Pope Francis:
I would like to explain a bit more what I said about women’s participation in the Church.  It can’t just be about their acting as altar servers, heads of Caritas, catechists… No!  They have to be more, profoundly more, even mystically more, along with everything I said about the theology of womanhood.  And, as far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Church has spoken and said: “No”.  John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. 

That door is closed, but on this issue I want to tell you something.  I have said it, but I repeat it.  Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the Apostles, than bishops and deacons and priests.  Women, in the Church, are more important than bishops and priests; how, this is something we have to try to explain better, because I believe that we lack a theological explanation of this.  Thank you.
Press conference on plane returning from WYD Rio

Reflection – Another day, more controversy! The Pope certainly didn’t back off from one second from any of these difficult and painful issues. He is a man without fear and without guile, it seems to me.
A few days ago I blogged about his statement that the Church needed a theology of woman, and threw out some of my ideas about what that could mean, ideas based on the writings of Joseph Ratzinger. I don’t really have anything to add to what I wrote there, at least not at this point.

So here we have the specific question of woman and priesthood. Pope Francis reiterates the definitive teaching of the Church, clarified by Pope John Paul II: that door is closed. But with God, doors are not closed unless other doors are open. God never says no unless there is a deeper, better yes on offer. I think the controversy over the ordination of women has been ultimately a distraction preventing us from articulating this deeper yes, this deeper vision, this deeper (as the Pope says, even mystical) theology of womanhood.

It is not unlike the controversy over same sex marriage (just in case I haven’t made everyone mad at me this week yet). Now, to affirm the goodness and dignity of gay and lesbian people, we are told we must affirm their right to get married to their partners. I believe, firmly and passionately, that there is a deeper goodness and dignity, a positive vision of holiness and beauty, in calling the LGBT community to chastity and continence, that this is a deep and total ‘yes’ to their personal dignity and God-given vocation. But that is a voice that goes unheard these days, and in fact is bizarrely and illogically characterized as ‘hate speech’.

However, that is an aside. Let’s talk about this rather strong statement that ‘women, in the Church, are more important than bishops and priests.’ Hurray! I love this kind of thing. If we take this seriously, grant that the Pope means this and is not just saying it to make women feel better or some such nonsense, then it is a radical statement.

We live in a world obsessed with power: who has it, who doesn’t, how to get it, how to keep it. The most important thing imaginable is to be the boss, the one pulling the strings, whether being the boss occurs through accumulating money, occupying this or that position, or manipulating others through one’s personal gifts and abilities. The subtle hegemony of Marxist thought is evident is our unquestioning assumption that life is nothing but a power struggle and the only relevant concern is who wins, who loses.

By saying that office in the Church (which is the ‘power’ structure in Catholicism) is not as important as this mysterious something else represented by ‘woman’, the Pope is radically overturning the whole model of life-as-power-struggle, the core good of life being the accruing of power to oneself.

As I said a few days ago, I believe this theology of woman is a theology of the primacy of radical receptivity, radical responsivity, radical relationality, radical and total and all-encompassing passivity which paradoxically draws us into the total activity of God’s Spirit in the world. Mary is the great icon of this, but the icon is reproduced in every woman in her very physicality and the psycho-sociological modes and structures woman brings into every situation.

I know it’s more complicated than that, and a blog post can only go so far in addressing those complexities. But don’t forget, I live in a mixed community of men and women, and the feminine genius and gift in the Church and the world is not a remote abstraction to me. I see it at work every day, in a multiplicity of beautiful ways: my MH sisters.

This is actually so important to me (I believe MH in many ways can serve as a model of Church life in this male-female, lay-priest dynamic) that I want to come back to it tomorrow. This post is long enough (and it’s time for me to go to prayers!). Tomorrow I want to talk more about the specific statement ‘women are more important than priests.’ (Hurray!) A demain.