I’m not laughing, God. This is not funny.
When I finished working the graveyard shift at the convenience store this morning, and then doing the books (so I wouldn’t have to go back later), I sat back in my recliner with a cup of coffee and my iPhone. As I was scrolling through the news line on Facebook, an article that James Martin, SJ, posted caught my eye.
Of course, Jim (yes, that’s the way the best selling author signs email messages I receive from him periodically) always writes intriguing teasers to invite his 11,918 friends to read articles he posts. In this case, a six-word phrase caught my attention: “…calls for the ordination of women.”
Back in the long ago days when I was a 17-year-old college freshman, I was required to take an interest inventory to help me choose a career field. Although I’ve lost the results, they were so striking as to imprint themselves on my memory. Only one career field stood out above the rest — the priesthood.
Everything else was tumbling around on the lower half of the chart. I was apparently ill-suited for anything else. That was not good news for a Catholic woman attending a state university. Becoming an astronaut was more likely.
I suppose if someone other than the school counselor — who suggested her alma mater — had provided guidance during my senior year in high school, I might have attended a Catholic college and entered religious life. But my family learned in September of that year that Mom had cancer, and we lost her less than three months later. In the midst of all that pain, no one had any interest in helping me discern a course for my life.
Thus began a journey that included the black hole of depression, suicide attempts, loneliness, abusive relationships, false starts and life-altering mistakes. So now, even though I have an IQ of 136 and scored a composite of 30 on my ACT with a 36 in math, I work at a convenience store. By the time a truly gifted counselor helped me begin unraveling the inner chaos that prevented me from living a productive life, I had an abysmal track record, and have never been able to overcome that start.
Of course, part of the problem has been a spiritual streak which has been both my nemesis and the saving grace of my life. I have never been able to turn my back on someone in need. In Matthew’s gospel, in speaking about the Last Judgment, Jesus said the righteous would be told, “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you received me in to your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me” (Matt 25:35-36, TEV). He went on to explain, “Whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matt 25:40, TEV).
I can’t say I saw Christ in the recovering drug addict who was trying to discover what it meant to live authentically without using drugs, or the young woman who was raised in an abusive family and didn’t know how to relate to her husband without violence. I can’t say I saw Christ in the young mom who had been raised in foster homes and had three children by three different men in a desperate search for love, or in any of the others I have cared for or mentored over the years. I simply could not see their need without reaching out to help; it is not in me to turn a blind eye to suffering, even if helping others takes an emotional (and sometimes financial) toll.
Fortunately, since returning to the Catholic church nearly two decades ago, I’ve found sustenance in the Eucharist. The grace of the sacrament, receiving the Body of Christ, truly nourishes me in ways that those who are not Catholic probably can never understand. The only analogy I can use is pale by comparison: receiving communion with a heart open to the presence of Christ in the bread is similar to the sense of emotional well-being experienced after spending time with a dear friend or much loved family member.
The fullest experience in life I can imagine is one that priests enjoy each time they celebrate Mass. Through them, as they stand in the person of Christ, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. They truly feed the hungry in ways I will never be allowed, despite my inner need to care for those who are beloved of God.
Ironically, if I were not Catholic, if I did not need the Eucharist in the same way I need the air I breathe, I probably could minister to his people in a more official capacity. A dear, dear friend — who is also a Lutheran pastor — has suggested to me on more than one occasion that I consider entering the ministry. She is not the first to have done so. An Episcopalian priest did so; a couple other Lutheran pastors did so; a Methodist pastor did so. Giving up the Eucharist is simply not an option for me.
So, while efforts to officially serve in some capacity in the Catholic church have come to nothing, and I find I cannot leave the church again to serve in another denomination, I am in the neverland of loving God passionately while finding few opportunities to share this love in ways other than simply serving those who pass through my life. I can’t even chuckle about the irony of discovering at this point in my life that there is a call for the ordination of women as part of an overall metanoia (change of consciousness) in the Church.
I have long believed that women will be ordained in the Catholic church at some point. It wasn’t a fluke that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (my name, too, by the way) before he appeared to any of the men following the Resurrection (John 20:11-18). He didn’t say to her “Go to my brothers and tell them…” (John 20:17, TEV) because he wanted women to remain silent in the church as Paul later asserted (I Cor. 14:34; I Tim. 2:11-12). Rather, he was trying to change the paradigm of religious authority so that among his followers, unlike their Jewish counterparts, the work of the Holy Spirit through women would be on equal footing as the Spirit’s work through men.
However, I have also believed I would not live to see women ordained in the Catholic church. The all-male Magisterium has been circling the wagons in defense against this possibility, which Pope John Paul II attempted to bulwark near the end of his papacy. I could not begin to imagine what would open that closed circle of power.
And yet, this morning, I discovered that 70-year-old Brother Louis DeThomasis, FSC, who has been a Christian Brother for more than 40 years and served as president of St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, Minn., is attempting to do just that with a book called, FLYING IN THE FACE OF TRADITION: LISTENING TO THE LIVED EXPERIENCE OF THE FAITHFUL. According to the review I read, he states, “After listening to the arguments put forth by the institutional church that Jesus would demand anything other than the full, complete and total equality of all persons in his church and finding those arguments completely unpersuasive and often silly, we the faithful believe that the ordination of women not only should take place, but must take place soon.”
It would be just like God to create this opportunity now that I’m too old to be among the first women he calls to the priesthood in the Church. Why he created me with that aptitude while not opening that door is one of those mysteries that will undoubtedly never be explained. After all, “‘My thoughts,’ says the Lord, ‘are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours'” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
(Not funny, God. Do you hear me?)