I just finished reading the book Woman Priest: A Personal Odyssey written by Alla Bozarth-Campbell – herself a womanpriest. I spent approximately three days reading it right between my vacant schedules. I was intrigued when I found the book in the shelf, with an interesting title and an interesting cover which shows the picture of a beautiful womanpriest extending her hands on the altar.
The book is not a theological treatise on women ordination, rather it is a biography which tells about the struggles, pains, and courage of a woman who desired to answer God’s calling in the arena which has long been dominated by men – and dominated by men for a reason which is beyond our reasoning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Catholic and I stand squarely with my church with regards to this issue – that the Catholic Church has no authority to ordain women to the priesthood as defined by Pope John Paul II in his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. By the way, the womanpriest I’ve mentioned is not a Catholic priest, but a priest of the Episcopal Church of the USA.
The issue of woman ordination has once again sprung into the spotlight with the ever fervent feminists who are fighting for equality not only in the political sphere but ecclesiastical as well. From being a purely religious matter, it was gradually associated with the civil rights movement thereby giving the impression that woman ordination is not just a spiritual right but one of the fundamental human rights. And I must admit, tackling issues which involve the fundamental rights of an individual is very delicate and full of sensibilities. No matter how religious your reason is, you cannot go against it without being branded a religious bigot. This is more so, since the issue that pains most women in the Christian feminist movement today is discrimination against women and the “seeming” neglect of the institutional Church to the religious aspirations of its female members. To them, answering God’s call is so universal a theme to be confined only to the male sex.
And this particular calling is not just the calling to religious life but more specifically to the priestly life. Many women today feel a growing inclination to serve God in the altar; not just an altar server but the one who celebrates the Mass and consecrates the Host. This agitation for women ordination has stirred not only the Anglican Communion but the Catholic Church as well. Different feminist groups have sent their petition to the Pope to open the debate about women ordination. This issue has been circulating inside the Church and culminated in the issuance of the decree Ordinatio Sacerdotalis which affirmed that the Catholic Church does not ordain women not because she does not want to but because she doesn’t have the authority to do so. Biblical revelation and apostolic tradition have always been consistent that ordination is only reserved for men.
However, despite this papal definition the issue still continues to circulate in some circles. In fact, a group of women dared to stir the water and pushed through with ordaining their female colleagues. The ordination was done not in the solemn canopy of a cathedral but on a ferryboat in the river Danube in 2002. They in turn organized a group and called it Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests – a designation which the Roman Catholic Church has nothing to do about. Consequently, they were declared to have incurred latae sententiae excommunication (i.e they were automatically excommunicated by virtue of the act they have done.), and their ordination null and void from the beginning.
Aside from ordination, first and foremost they want the Church to recognize that femininity should not be something that would bar them and place them outside the realm of the Church’s language and expressions. Accordingly, the Church is very masculine in her language. In the book I’ve mentioned earlier, Rev. Alla shared an experience while attending a church service in the Episcopal Church,
“I heard from the scriptures that God our Father cares for the needs of men; I heard that we must love our brothers; and I heard that it is a wonderful thing to become a son of God…”
Notice something with the highlighted words? They are all masculine. If women feel estranged because of the language formulation, then I offer them my sympathy. But honestly, I believe that the problem only exists in our language but never in the eyes of God. You know, language is just our way of putting into words that truth which is very above and beyond us. The love of God is so immense and so vast a truth to be put exactly into words and sometimes when we express it using language we cannot cover all its depths because we are limited by the grammatical structure, word usage and syntax of the language with which we express it. But despite that, God remains a loving God who loves us all. Besides, if we express the previous experience mentioned above in another language, say Cebuano, all the seeming disparity would subside.
“Akong nadungog gikan sa kasulatan nga ang Dios Amahan adunay pagtagad alang sa panginahanglan sa iyang katawhan (means human race not just men); akong nadungog nga kinahanglan atong higugmaon ang atong mga kaigsoonan (the word is gender inclusive, the Cebuano language does not have a specific language for brother or sister instead it uses a gender inclusive word igsoon); ug akong nadungog nga usa ka maanindot nga butang ang mahimong anak (a gender inclusive word, the Cebuano language does not have a specific language for brother or sister) sa Dios.”
So while other languages could be limiting, the Cebuano language is primarily a gender inclusive language. While American women may find it disheartening to hear their pastors talk only about men or brothers, or sons, Cebuano women do not have the same problem when it comes to language. So the language is only secondary, the basic truth of all is that God loves us men and women alike.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love…” (Jeremiah 31:3)
Now that’s a you, and the word you covers all regardless of the sexes.
Actually, we cannot question the motives of the women who want to seek ordination especially the women in the Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement. They may have acted in good faith and with a real desire to serve God. But motives do not excuse someone from an act which is uncanonical. The Church ordains only men not because she intends to discriminate against women but because she is safeguarding sacred traditions handed on to her since apostolic times. This reason may be hard to swallow for some but it really is the fact. While Jesus had many disciples, he chose only twelve fishermen as his apostles. After Judas hanged himself and one apostolic seat became vacant, the one who filled up the position was also a man and the apostles and presbyters which were chosen for every city in New Testament times were men. But even though women were not ordained we cannot say that they are discriminated. Women have become an important part of the history of the Church. The apostle Paul had to thank several women who helped the Church during New Testament times. He had to thank a certain Tryphaena and Tryphosa, a friend Persis – who works hard for the Lord, Priscilla, Nympha, and others. Many saints of the Church are women, and many of them have even been declared Doctors of the Church – St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese of Lisieux is a nun, but she is the patroness of all missionaries including priests. Mary Magdalene – the first missionary was a woman. Most of all, the first among the saints is a woman, no other than the Blessed Virgin Mary. They may not be priests but they certainly are big figures in the Church. In fact, it is said that the Church would collapse without women.
Everyone, ordained or not is called by God to work in his vineyard. Women though they may not be priests share the equal calling to evangelize the world and many of them did change the face of the world in the like of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We cannot look down on their contributions moreso ignore the fact that women helped the Church survive through this turbulent times.
“In speaking about participation in the apostolic mission of the Church, there is no doubt that in virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, a woman-as well as a man-is made a sharer in the threefold mission of Jesus Christ, Priest, Prophet and King, and is thereby charged and given the ability to fulfill the fundamental apostolate of the Church: evangelization. However, a woman is called to put to work in this apostolate the “gifts” which are properly hers: first of all, the gift that is her very dignity as a person exercised in word and testimony of life, gifts therefore connected with her vocation as a woman.” Christifideles Laici #51
And lastly, as what Paul VI had said, “We cannot change what our Lord did, nor his call to women; but we can recognize and promote the role of women in the mission of evangelization and in the life of the Christian community.”