I’d Make a Great Priest

I’d make a great priest–I really would!  I’m knowledgeable, I’m faithful, I’m an excellent listener, and, boy, can I preach.1  I’d touch hearts in the confessional and set parishes on fire.

It’s not that I wouldn’t be a good priest, it’s that I can’t be a priest.

Look at it this way: those little girls I told you about?  I spend more time with them than their dad ever has.  I flew to Indiana for Megan’s first communion earlier this year; I’d bet money that he doesn’t even know her middle name.  He hasn’t seen them in years; I’m there every summer.  I may be a much better father to them than he is, but I can’t be their father.

I might not be so great at giraffey things like walking on those spindly legs.

Or how about this: I’d be an incredible giraffe.–bear with me here.  I’d be the first singing giraffe ever.  I’d be able to read and write and spell prehensile when blogging about my awesome prehensile tongue.  But I can’t be a giraffe.  It’s not a matter of being good enough–I’m not capable.  I don’t have the giraffeness it takes to be a giraffe, the maleness it takes to be a father, or the essence it takes to be a priest.

What we have to get here is that nobody’s saying women aren’t good enough to be priests.  Nobody loved women more than Jesus.  When he rose from the dead, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene (happy feast day!), and yet he didn’t invite her to the Last Supper.  He honored her above all the apostles but he didn’t make her a priest.  Not because she wasn’t good enough but because it wasn’t possible.

And quit telling me that the Church hates women.  You can’t spend more than 15 minutes around real Catholics without wondering if they don’t maybe worship the Virgin Mary.  You can’t feel the way we do about the blessed Mother and hate women.  So this has to be a matter not of talent but of capability–not of intelligence and piety and compassion but of something innate to men that women don’t possess.

Intrinsic to this whole question is the idea that men and women are essentially different in more than just chromosomes and their biological expression.  That’s what the church is assuming when she says (infallibly, btw) that women can’t be in persona Christi because they aren’t male.2

For a long time, I thought this was stupid.  Do priests then have to be Semitic and have beards and wear sandals?  Don’t be ridiculous.

But those things are all accidents (remember when we talked about substance and accidents?)–they’re characteristics that don’t define a person.  Jesus’ gender, on the other hand, is substance.  It’s essential to who he is.

Think about it this way: if John and Mary pull a Freaky Friday and switch bodies, John doesn’t become a woman.  His maleness is not a mere function of his body–it’s who he is.  We’d say that he was a man trapped in a woman’s body, not that he had become a woman.  He may have long hair, pink fingernails, and great legs, but he’s still a man.

We have to keep this in mind when we’re discussing women’s ordination: the Church has never said that women weren’t good enough to be priests but that they weren’t capable.  Just like my dad would have made a great mom but he can’t be a mom.  He doesn’t have the femaleness required.

So if you’re a Catholic, you accept this because of Scripture (Jesus didn’t ordain women) and Tradition (the Church has never ordained women and has said infallibly that women can’t be ordained).  You can argue all you like that Jesus was restricted by his culture, but then you’re a) ignoring the fact that everything he did flew in the face of cultural norms–prostitutes and tax collectors, anyone? and b) denying the divinity of Christ who would certainly have rejected those customs if he though it necessary, for that time or ours.

But why is this true??  I always got that I had to accept this, but it took a near miracle for me to see why God had designed things this way.  I had to know what there is about “maleness” that is intrinsic to priesthood.  C.S. Lewis (himself an Anglican) explains this brilliantly.  If you’re short on time, definitely read him instead of me.

Lewis doesn’t say much, though, about the argument that really makes sense of all this for me.  He understands that women can’t represent God to men the way that men can, not because they’re not kind or loving or wise enough but because God is masculine in relationship to his people.  God is the initiator, the one who gives to his Bride who receives.  (Forget your personal relationships for a minute and just recognize the significance of the act of sex in terms of what it means to be masculine or feminine.)  So when priests act in persona Christi, they can only do that by fully imaging Christ the Bridegroom.

When he stretched out his arms on the cross, Jesus consummated his marriage with his Bride the Church.  At each Mass, we step outside of time to that one sacrifice.  When the priest takes the host in his hands, he speaks the words of Christ once again, “This is my body, which will be given up for you.”  This moment in the Mass is the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the marital act of Bridegroom and Bride.  It is offered by Christ through the person of the priest.

That’s why the gender of the priest is essential.  The Mass is a marital act, an act of complete self-giving by Christ to his Church.  If a woman were the priest, each Mass would be the image of a homosexual union.  Think what you want about gay marriage in America, it’s pretty clear where the Church has to stand on the issue of the morality of homosexual actions (Rom 1:26-27, 1 Tim 1:10, 1 Cor 6:9).  And the Church’s central act of worship has to be in line with God’s plan for men and women as much as everything else the Church does.

If priesthood were a matter of talent, I’d make a great priest.  If Christianity were entirely reasonable (as Lewis says), it would be appalling to deny holy orders to women.  But when we enter the realm of the divine, we have to accept that there may be some truths that counter contemporary human wisdom.

Second wave feminism taught us that equality meant sameness, that if men and women were equal it meant that they were interchangeable.  What makes humanity so beautiful, though, is the difference between and complementarity of the sexes.  And I think the great downfall of second wave feminism, even from a secular perspective, is that it tries so hard to champion the value of women while telling women they have to be men.

Gloria Steinem didn’t argue in favor of respect for the feminine genius, as did John Paul II; she declared that women, being as good as men, were just like men.  So instead of earning the dignity we always deserved while embracing our femininity, we were told to want sex as much as men (and as indiscriminately as boys who are unworthy of the name “men”), to be as unemotional as men (without being bitches), and to work harder than men (since deep down we all know that women aren’t really as smart as men), all while looking hot.

Believe, me, I’m a feminist.  You are, too.  But I understand that to be a good woman, I don’t have to be a man.  I can be as athletic or emotional or nurturing or intelligent as is natural to me without comparing myself to anyone else’s ideal.  I can wear spike heels or Converse, work 10 hour days at the office or 16 hour days at home or never work a day in my life.  I can be girly or tough or quiet or nerdy or all of the above.  I’ve never let my culture define who I am because my self worth doesn’t lie in what I do but in who I am: I am His.

I’ve had people ask me in the past if it’s hard to be a woman in the Catholic Church.  My Episcopalian grandmother tells me every time I see her that it’s a shame I can’t be a priest.  But, having been blessed to accept this teaching, I’ve found that I love the Church all the more because of it.  I would never want to be a member of a church whose doctrine is swayed by the sensibilities of the world.  I feel so blessed to take refuge in a bastion of truth that stands firm in the face of onslaughts from every side.

I did feel a little sorry for myself for a while until I began to understand the beauty of being a woman in the Church.  Sure, men can be priests, but most aren’t.  Every woman, though, can be pursued by divine love in a way that speaks particularly to a woman’s heart.  Every woman can picture herself in the arms of Christ in a way that’s meaningless (or disturbing) to most men.  No, I can’t say Mass, and nothing will ever change that.  But I can read the Song of Songs as a love letter to me.  I can hear the voice of my lover crying out to me in the Eucharist, be lost in the romance of his embrace, and live as a princess in his kingdom.

And I wouldn’t trade that for a sham priesthood.  Not for anything.

  1. Please excuse the bragging here–I’m making a point. []
  2. If you haven’t yet read my most recent post on priesthood, please do. This post won’t make much sense if you don’t have that background. []

About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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11 Responses to I’d Make a Great Priest

  1. Rae says:

    I am not disagreeing with the Church, but I am always confused by reasoning such as what you put forth here (which I think goes beyond what the Church has ever actually said, right?).

    What confuses me is that the priest also has to act in persona Ecclesiae as much as he does in persona Christi. This is true for all of the sacraments, and is part of the source of the fight over which direction the priest should face when celebrating Mass. (here is the first link that popped up for me, though obviously the Church teaches this much more extensively elsewhere http://www.catechism.org/deacon/cdfsacrament.shtml)

    It seems to me that if this sort of reasoning were correct, then men could not be priests because they could not act as the (feminine) Church. And we know that isn’t true.

    The other troubling thing is that if one insists so very much on the import of the essential masculinity of Christ, then how can women be saved? As you know, “that which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02055a.htm

    Anyway, I would love it if these arguments made sense to me as it would make everything so much simpler. And I will once again re-state that I am not disagreeing with the Church on anything, only asking for clarification of areas in which the arguments put forth in this blog post have always struck me as unsatisfactory.

    Thanks!

    • Meg says:

      Rae-

      Great questions! And thanks especially for phrasing it so gently. You’re right that this is just my way of trying to understand the issue. I’m extrapolating from what is official Church teaching:
      1. Only men are capable of Holy Orders
      2. Priests are in persona Christi
      3. As such, they are married to the Church.

      When it clicked for me, it made sense that 2 and 3 necessitated 1, but the matter of being in persona Ecclesiae does complicate things. Let me give you what makes sense to me, although I’ve got little beyond my gut to support me on this.

      I think you’re right that priests play both roles, particularly in the Mass (Lewis mentions this). When they are consecrating, however, or absolving, they are not representing the Church but Christ. These are the moments that require that bridal imagery which, to my mind, means they have to be men.

      I can’t say that I get exactly why you have to be male to image Christ but both male and female can image the Church except to say that Scripture’s clear about it. Only the Apostles are priests but the Church is clearly male and female. I suppose I’d also say that strictly it is consecrated women who are in persona Ecclesiae in the sense of truly being wed as individuals to Christ. The rest of us form a body that is mystically feminine but each individual is not (strictly) a bride of Christ. Your personal prayer might tend toward that imagery, but theologically it’s just imagery. For consecrated women, it’s fact. This is why there are no male consecrated virgins–they can’t marry Christ.

      As regards salvation, I guess it seems to me (do you like my weak language here?) that gender isn’t essential to salvation, while it is to marriage. So Christ saves all mankind by being man because we fell as a race, not as a gender. Sin is not particular to one gender or the other, nor was the Passion of Christ something that was inherently masculine (except as it relates to his marriage with the Church). Jesus died a human death, one that all could share in, but in doing so, he consummated a mystical marriage. To die with him, we need only be human; marriage, on the other hand, is gender-specific, so those who seek to unite themselves with him in marrying the Church must be male.

      I don’t know if that helps at all. It makes sense to me, but I admit that I might not be convinced by these arguments intellectually if I hadn’t first been convicted spiritually. Have you heard any better arguments?

  2. Colleen says:

    This post was beautiful! And humbly, I ask for your prayers.

    I wear a braclet with a quote from the Song of Songs….I am my Beloved and my Beloved is mine…written in Hebrew.

    I also say the prayer in Hebrew…or try at least, again from the Song of Songs…”Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm…..etc

    I am nothing without the love of Jesus

    God bless you!!!!!!

  3. Mary says:

    Some questions, Meg:

    How many men did Jesus ordain? I don’t just mean commission as disciples, but actually ordain by laying his hands on them, and thus making an indelible mark on their souls.

    Also, you mentioned in the first article that we just have to accept church teaching – because if the church is wrong about anything, it’s wrong about everything. How do you square this up with the change in attitude to towards Gallileo and his understanding that the world wasn’t flat?

    • Meg says:

      Generally, it’s understood that the 12 were ordained at the Last Supper (Jn 17:17). Mt and Mk both say it’s the Twelve. Lk and Jn are less specific, but they only name known apostles. There might be more details that would support this, but it’s late and I’m skimming. Certainly there are no women mentioned as being present.

      In Acts, only the Apostles fulfill the roles of priest until they lay hands on someone else. No women are ever mentioned in this role and Paul’s guidelines for priests presuppose that they’re men (talking about their wives, which is another matter entirely).

      The second question is material for a whole new post, which I’m hoping to write this week. Short answer: the Church is infallible on matters of faith and reason, not science or what’s called “prudential judgment.” The latter just means that the Church can err as to a fact but not a truth of faith and morals. So the Pope can say infallibly that divorce is impossible but he can’t say infallibly that two people are in fact married since he isn’t omniscient. But more on that later–thanks for the topic :)

  4. Rene says:

    You speak with a special gift. I can’t tell you how much your words touch my heart and fire me up. BTW, if you become a nun will you either start a new order that wears a habit or revive an old one? Be a real nun, aka pre VII. Please? So my kids can see that nuns are alive and real and not museum relics?

  5. Katie says:

    Meg,

    I had a quick question about your post. I attended a catechetical seminar once on women’s ordination. The speaker explained, much as you do, about women’s inability to be priests and the Pope’s ruling on it, which made it no longer up for discussion. He then went on to ask a really interesting question. The teaching said nothing on preventing women from being deacons, and I believe the Bible even mentions female deacons, so why doesn’t anyone push for that? It seems like a valid question. Why isn’t anyone trying for women to become deacons?

  6. Ryan M. says:

    I ma very edified by the amount of charity that is present while discussin and drawing deeper to the truth which is Him. I am a seminarian and close to ordination (God willing). This topic became very clear for me when I heard the following distinction. Between “that” and “why.” To uphold that only men can be priest (a terrible way to phrase it) we need to prove “that” Jesus chose men for such a role. “Why” he did can have numerous theologies all working at once and all true. But to see “that” he did it is simple to read the gospels. Men were given that role. Now if women were to be given that role the best priest would have been Blessed Virgin, but she had another role to play (much more important in one sense), but if not BVM then what other women would have been good? Mary Magdeln who expierenced the power and mercy of Christ casting out demons, stayed with him at the cross and first saw the resurrection and preached it to the twelve, but her role was not priest either. One final objection, Jesus was working within culture, well he over turned most gender based cultural norms of his day, but in teh gospels he still chose the twelve men. So it si cleat “that” he did. “Why?” Well use theology of the body and speak of bridegroom images, use the title Father in pauls letters, whatever theology you want. This is helpful to me and hopefully you.

    May He give you peace

    Ryan

  7. Pingback: The Church of England: A Brief (Catholic) History | Held By His Pierced HandsHeld By His Pierced Hands

  8. Genny says:

    It’s irrelevant what sex a priest is; in the end they are equally stupid and meaningless.

  9. Genny says:

    How can you give an abstract concept like “The Church” or “God” a gender? Besides, nuns are also technically “married” to the church so I guess they are flaming lesbians just as much as female priests. And homosexuals should be welcomed by any true Christians since God is supposed to accept EVERYONE.

    The reason why the Virgin Mary is worshipped is because she is the ideal version of a woman; a virgin yet a mother. This is impossible for women to achieve (without the “unnatural” artificial insemination) and yet it is the contradictory standard that all women are supposed to follow. It makes perfect sense for Catholics (including Catholic women) to worship Mary and hate women.

    All of this priests-must-be-male rhetoric is just an excuse to carry on a misogynistic tradition in the Catholic church. Not a single argument made any logical sense. The fact that you call yourself a feminist is honestly disgusting to me.

    Also, just because this is a tradition, it doesn’t make it right.

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