I remember when I was 11 years old and I was one of the first two young ladies who were trained to be altar servers at St. Michael’s in Flushing, New York. Ironically, the parish still had servers vesting like seminarians, in cassock and surplice.(Interesting sign value!) It was quite the honor, not only to be among the first co-ed group of servers, but also to be chosen as one of the first two young ladies to assist at the altar. After mass, my mother took a few photos, and the smile on my face was a reflex smile. I couldn’t relax my cheeks, because I felt so joyful and honored.
Last night, the feeling in my heart was an anamnesis of that Sunday morning in December of 1994. I was joyful to the point of the reflex smile. The leader of the Roman Catholic church was finally ready to open the discussion of ordaining women to the diaconate. He did not say yes. He did not say no. He opened the discussion. I felt relieved. This was not a rumor. This is not FOX News. This was not a radical feminist nun writing an article for Ms. magazine. This was not a Joan Chittester article in NCR. This was not some back-room discussion amongst some progressive Cardinals over Bombay Sapphire and tonic. This was not a local ordinary being relegated to CELAM’s island of misfit mitres for doing what he thought was the right thing in land where there were so few ordained priests and so many among the priesthood of the baptized. This was neither a dutch uncle or Dutch Dominican. This was the man who was chosen by his peers to be the leader of the Roman Catholic institutional Church.
This was the Pope encouraging an informed decision. This was the pope genuinely acknowledging that the call to serve the marginalized beyond the chancery walls often takes precedence over the marginalization of some of our most valuable servants.
Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with a family to chat about baptism. I talked a little about our call in baptism to be priest, prophet and kings. Whenever I get to that passage in the rite, I feel empowered and yet a little awkward. I start talking about the priesthood of the baptized- the call of all baptized Christians to lead others to God-and then I distinguish it from the ordained priesthood. Yesterday, before I even heard the news of Pope Francis’ proposed study, my tongue slipped.
“The ordained priesthood is for men who feel called to make it their life’s work to lead others in prayer to God,” I explained, and then continued, “For now we only admit men to the ordained priesthood, but maybe that will change someday…”
I felt so strange to even admit that it could change someday. Until yesterday, I didn’t even realize how much I was living in equidistant proximity to both a rock and a hard place. It seems that within the culture of Roman Catholic thought, you are either “very liberal,” “crazy,” “progressive,” or a “priest wannabe,” if you bring up the thought of women with faculties. You can’t talk about it if you want to keep your job simply because you lack the same positional security as the ordained. Until yesterday, I never would have blogged about this topic. Thankyouverymuch Francis.
Today, it’s no longer a taboo to talk about Phoebe who was the administrator of the church in Cenchrae. It’s no longer taboo to acknowledge that a rite for the ordination of women to the diaconate existed in the Apostolic Tradition and it was nearly identical to that for the ordination of men. It’s no longer a taboo to admit that my economically challenged compadre Lazarus and I are having such a great conversation that he forgets his lines in the staging of his eponymous parable.
It’s no longer a taboo to point out that the Council of Chalcedon declared that women could not be ordained to the diaconate until they were 40 years old. In other words, the ordination of women in the early church was not a should. The ordination of women was a practice that existed long enough for church leaders to implement norms that would guide the discernment process.
After our baptism prep meeting, as I was writing my notes, I was imagining what must be like to administer the sacrament of baptism regularly. I was imagining how it would shape our relationship with God to hear a woman preach a homily. I was imagining that I would be a pretty decent homilist with a little coaching, and that it stinks sometimes because my words are often limited to the four people who read my blog. I was imagining what it would be like if we preached and evangelized with common sense. I was imagining…
We talked about intercessory prayer in our baptism meeting. We talked about saints, who are like good friends who know how to talk to car dealers so that you get a better deal when your lease is up. We talked about Mary, and how she can talk to God on our behalf also. We talked about how, when my parents were young co-parents trying to communicate, my mom would call my dad’s mom because sometimes he would respond faster that way.
Speaking of moms…
If we need an example of a woman who were called to such a life, called to a life to offer sacrifice to God, called to lead others in prayer, look at the original woman who was ordered for such a life. Look at the woman who, for nine months was physically, visibly full of the original sacrament. Look at the woman full of grace. Behold your Mother.
Ultimately, Pope Francis did not make any definitive moves. He simply opened the issue for study. The victory here is not that any decisions were made. The victory is that it’s no longer a scandal or offense to think that women could receive the same sacramental grace as men receive to aid them in ministry. The victory is that our church is taking a step to learn from her past, improve her present, and plan for her future.
One small step for women. One giant leap for the Body of Christ.