Reposted by a reader’s request. Originally posted December 26, 2004.
IT STARTS NOT WITH A “GIVE ME” BUT WITH A “PLEASE TAKE…”
A very dear friend – a true “little brother in Christ” for he is a year younger than me! – is in his first year of Diaconate studies, on a journey to be ordained a Permanent Deacon in the Catholic Church. It has been for him a journey of immense joy and hard work, fear, doubt and wonder, and he seems ever-humbled as he progresses. I am in awe of him.
So I was a little perturbed when he recently shared his feelings and reflections on this treck – small, simple, very grateful thoughts – only to have them stomped on by a woman who received none of the spirit of what he was trying to convey, because she was so busy taking feminist umbrage at the fact that he has this opportunity for Ordination, while it is not an option for her, even though she says she feels “called.”
Perhaps she is, I don’t pretend to know the mind of God. But my “little brother’s” words betrayed a gentle spirit and a transparent thankfulness that is all too rare amongst us these days. As we humans have evolved into relentlessly self-concerned beings, breathing entitlement like dragon fire and embracing secular thought and values – ruling by the world’s measure instead of God’s – it was heartening and inspiring to share in this future-deacon’s experience of excitement and awe as he takes his first formal step toward ordination.
I was sorry and sad to observe this woman’s response, which was simply exhausting.
The response to that simple expression of gratitude and humility was a searing rage, taking umbrage at this man’s seeming insensitivity at not interrupting his own reverie to discourse on women’s ordination.
Has it come to this? Must everyone, at all times, be compelled with every uttered word or written line, no matter how personal, to bring the politics of others into his or her own story, or risk being pierced by a sharp skewer of bitterness by a someone who feels ignored? Are our egos that out of control?
There are other, better, ways this woman could have expressed herself without figuratively urinating on one man’s recollection of a moment of joy. Ways that are more healing and uplifting to all, rather than divisive and bellicose.
As a woman who has looked long and hard at the issue of women in the diaconate, I must say reactions such as this woman’s are why I cannot, at this time, support the idea. Until women can approach the issue of Ordination to the Diaconate without this mindset of entitlement and ego, I fear they will not be as fully productive and pastoral as they might be – and the permanent diaconate is nothing if not a deeply pastoral calling. Foot stomping tantrums, while they might be evidence of a desire, and certainly of a deep frustration, only serve to make one wonder: can a call from God be accompanied by such viciousness?
There are no negatives in Christ; one cannot be in Christ and be resolutely negative, demonstrably bitter and – sadly – mocking. This angry woman’s sentiments seemed to reside in nothing but negatives, which I found deeply troubling. She seemed to me to be using the measurement of the world as her guide to God, and while – again and again – we find that the world and everything in it is ‘good’, the esteem and measure of the world is often what leads us into feelings of envy, anger, bitterness and disquiet.
It doesn’t matter how many degrees one has, or how badly one desires to ’serve full-time in ministry’. An apostolic ordination is more than mere ‘ministry’. Heavens! Anyone can serve in full-time ministry if they really want to – without ever being ordained. I’m thinking of some of the great women of our so-called ’sexist’ church who managed, without ordination, to minister autonomously and so effectively that they renewed the face of the church. Catherine of Siena counseled not only the lay men and women around her but the pope as well – while writing extraordinary treatises. Theresa of Avila managed to reform an order, to build scores of monasteries for both men and women, without waiting around for someone to tell her she could, and without insisting that her own terms be met before she could give her all. It was the same with Hildegard of Bingen, who only wrote music, plays, books on medicine and so much more, in an era where women – at least secular women – didn’t aspire to such things because the secular world was not open to it, as the church was.
And dare I point out – though none of these women spoke from a pulpit, their words still echo and reverberate – their voices were never silent.
While it’s easy to label the church ’sexist’ I am not entirely certain she has earned the name. Since the dawn of Christianity, within the church, women were educating themselves and others, writing books, imagining and then building schools, hospitals, policies and procedures. These were women of unqualified brilliance who understood that their calling – all of our callings – began with ONE calling, the most fundamental: to love, and to – out of love – do that which we can do, humbly and with gratitude.
There are certainly scriptural references to women deacons, but research has indicated that the role of such women at that time was limited and had to do with very precise ministry to other women. There are some reports that the whole issue of Female Ordination, specifially to the Diaconate, is still being looked at by Rome If the diaconate is eventually re-opened to women, I would hope it would not be along those same rather narrow lines. Do I think women have anything to offer in the role? Sure! But I’m content to wait this thing out. I am thinking of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Workers movement, a convert and Benedictine Oblate who by the time of her death had so denuded herself of worldly things or office that she traveled with only her Breviary and her jar of instant coffee (ugh, Dorothy! Instant?) When this woman, who had no problem challenging or couseling the bishops and cardinals around her to “do more, do it better,” was urged to go further, to create something seperate, to “break” with that sometimes-annoying heirarchy, her response was, “I am an obedient daughter of the church.”
I think I am in Dorothy’s court. Before any such movement may be undertaken, those women looking for ordination might consider that Jesus tended to use the most humble of materials to perform his most effective work. Think mud and spittle. Think Bernadette Soubirous (who would have been the first to describe herself as ignorant) or Sister Lucia of Fatima, who never got a degree in anything, much less in theology. Full of ego and hubris, they might have made noise, demanded ordination themselves for having been such very privileged and graced visionaries.
Instead, their egos diminished – they asked nothing earthly for themselves but to “to dwell in the house of the Lord, all my days…”
True service to the Lord begins not with a “give me” but with a “please take.” Ordination cannot be at the service of anger and a seething rage. It must contain a willingness not to scream but to dialogue, not to lecture but to counsel, and it must have a passing acquaintance with, and respect for, the notion of obedience or else it is simply – only – going on about oneself, one’s own desires.
We, all of us, must first respond to the call to love, and serve it with a willing heart and a sublimation of one’s own ego. “Not my will, but yours be done, O Lord.” Everything else comes from that.
I know that’s not a popular sentiment these days. But it was the very prayer Christ himself prayed. Shall we demand more than he?