We must teach more by example than by word – St. Mary MacKillop
This past July in Australian life was full of headlines trumpeting the agreement on the equal dignity of men and women in the local Catholic Church, and understandably, what greeted these headlines were hopes of swift changes in the Universal Church.
The Plenary Council of bishops set out to discern what the Holy Spirit was saying to the Church in the Land Down Under. Catholics watched closely the process lurch along. The decrees of the plenary council go to the Holy See for a recognitio by the pope. Plenary Council president, the Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe, admitted that it was a challenging moment. “It is clear from the Plenary Council journey that the Church, the People of God, is committed to understanding the proper role of women.”
Pushing more women into decision-making roles within Catholic Church is also the result of the works of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council which recommended “reforms to its clerical, gendered, hierarchical culture and its governance structures.”
Which brings us to the diaconate: There are two modes of exercising this ministry in the Catholic Church – transitional who are students in the last phase of training for the Catholic priesthood, and permanent especially those who are married men ordained to an office in the Catholic Church who normally have no intention or desire of becoming priests and have secular jobs to support their families.
Australian women are already carrying out the key functions of the service diaconate, still a contentious issue, which are ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity, especially in communities in remote and rural parishes that rarely have a priest in residence, However, some of them, believing that Australian Catholic women have gotten the rough end of the pineapple when it comes to a say or governance within the Catholic Church, are motivated by a deep desire for collars, vestments and the pulpit. As the Italians say ‘L’appetito vien mangiando’ – The appetite comes while you are eating…
Sadly many people still fail to understand that the Church is not an institution or organization founded by a men, for religious, educational or social purposes. Having a formal earthly structure, it is subject to the authority of Christ and remains under His protection. ”…and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”(Matthew 16:18) The Church which exists by the will of God is the continuing manifestation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ”As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross.”(CCC, 766) It is the Holy Spirit who rules, instructs and sanctifies His people through His Church. Therefore, it should always distance itself from any ideological and cultural influence.
Jesus gave Peter and the apostles the power and authority to carry out His work, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”(Matthew 16:19; 18:18) I must emphatically ask who, more than the Mother of God, merited the grace to wear the vestments, preach the Word and celebrate the Eucharist ?
Yet, the absolutely free God calls, whenever and whomever He wills. In this context, as stated in Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Marian Pope, St. John Paul II explains “the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe.”
Proponents of this highly controversial issue claim that “Restoring the tradition of women deacons will allow women to preach a homily at Mass.” This argument simply cannot hold water, for women as “deaconesses” in the Eastern Church (also occasionally in the West) almost invariably were either widows or celibates, and not deacons in the ordained sense; they carried out charitable works, assisted in the baptisms of adult women, and sometimes helped priests at the liturgy, but never preached at Mass. They vanished from both of the Churches during the Middle Ages, when the office of “deacon,” became a formal part of Holy Orders and thus open only to men. Only the Armenian Church continued to ordain deaconesses to serve at the altar, up through the early twentieth century. But it is the exception that proves the rule. After all, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus constitutes about 8% of the apostles; what is shrouded in the great mystery of evil and human freedom.
All the great reformers of the Church: St. Benedict (†547), St. Francis of Assisi (†1226), St. Catherine of Siena (†1380), St. Ignatius Loyola (†1556), St. Philip Neri (†1595), St. Teresa of Ávila (†1582) who appeared when crises were prevalent, proclaimed absolute fidelity to the hierarchic Church and to Holy Tradition. The notion of female ordination into pastoral ministry did not cross their minds since intuitively, they sensed that it would be against a plan ascribed to the wisdom of God. United with God, imitating Saint Paul, they could say: “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me;….” (Gal 2:20)
Hence, there is nothing unusual about St. John Paul II declaring “that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
“It is based above all on the long tradition of the Catholic Church that a woman cannot have a vocation as deacon or priest” said Fr. Dr. Jerzy Szyran OFMConv “Today some people seem to believe that Jesus has changed his mind on this matter. […] Man is trying to impose on God his own will”, added the Franciscan.
Advocates of irreversible changes often forget that Jesus did not denounce all traditions; he condemned only erroneous traditions which undermined Christian truths. The rest, as the apostles preached, were to be obeyed. (1 Corinthians 11:2), (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
From the very beginning man and woman have played pivotal role in God’s story of redemption. Woman was exalted by God in sheltering human beings within herself which is a unique experience of collaboration with God the Father. “God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28) Without the great treasure of motherhood, a man could not be born to become later a deacon or a priest.
Man was entrusted with the task of proclaiming the Word of God, providing the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Vocations to the priesthood or deaconate are more than our choice – it is God Who calls. In the Scriptures we come across passages where we see Jesus praying, choosing and calling others “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message”(Mk 3:14). It is a positive response to the Lord’s call, the call to become unique instruments in bringing God to people.
No wonder, priests and expectant women are constantly under spiritual attack from the devil.
We can never ignore the fact that Christ is a man, likewise the Apostles and the seven deacons who were “full of the Holy Ghost and therefore able partially to represent them in more important matters referring to the spiritual life.” (Acts 6: 1-7), “This does not stem from any personal superiority of the latter in the order of values, but only from a difference of fact on the level of functions and service.” (Declaration – Inter Insigniores)
Another argument against women in the diaconate is that numerous persons and organizations openly hostile or averse to the Catholic Church, enthusiastically support women’s ordination. ”And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him.”(Mark 3:26) Is the Holy Spirit acting in them? There is no doubt, it is a spirit but not necessarily the Holy One. The same forces in this beautiful country are promoting radical equality and inclusion.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, likewise some of today’s women, had a lofty aspiration to be a priest. “I feel the vocation of a Priest! With what love, my Jesus, would I bear You in my hands, when my words brought You down from Heaven! With what love would I give You to souls! … I would travel to every land to preach Your name.”
Nonetheless, it was clear that she could not be ordained a priest. Driven by her seemingly endless desire to work for the Church, with the humility of St. Francis of Assisi, Thérèse eventually found even more sublime vocation which embraces all other vocations in the Church: “In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be LOVE!” She regarded her vocation as “higher than that of the spoken word [being a missionary priest].
Ordaining women as deacons and priests will not remedy the church’s institutional problems. The perfect antidote to them lies in words uttered by St. Josemaría Escrivá – “Personal sanctity is a remedy for everything.” History is replete with examples of men and women whose personal holiness attracted so many people to the service of the Church.
At the end of 1930s as many as 1800 young men came every year to the Niepokalanów Friary founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe to ask for admission to the Order, only 100 of them were accepted. With the outbreak of war, it was home to nearly 600 friars and 122 boys of the minor seminary, and deemed the largest Catholic religious community that time in the world.
In the present circumstances of the Church in the Land Down Under, a profound spiritual discernment is needed, which does not always comes with age, but can be obtained through countless hours spent before the Blessed Sacrament, fasting, and the daily rosary prayer. It seems that those who misunderstand this matter are given too much leeway. Instead of strengthening the means of Episcopal authority, hazardous concessions are made to a secular “democratic” model of governance.
Personally I think the ordination of women as deacons will be another nail in the coffin for the Church in Australia. So called “reformers” should realize what an infernal Pandora’s box they are unleashing; it would become a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood and making lay women an invisible linchpin in Catholic ministry.
I would advise the dear Ladies living in Australia and overseas, wishing to become deacons or priests, for various reasons, to become acquainted with these descriptive passages. In particular I address them to Sr. Elizabeth Young who wrote in her blog “From the age of seven, I felt a call, or an urging, or a dream to become a priest.”
Then, the words of Saint Francis de Sales:
“Do you think, dear Philothea, that it is suitable for a Bishop to desire to live the life of a hermit like a Carthusian monk? If people with a family were to want to be like the Capuchins not acquiring any property, if a workman spent a great deal of time in church like the member of a religious order, and if a religious was always subject to being disturbed in all sorts of ways for the service of his neighbor like a Bishop, would not such devotion be ridiculous, disorderly and intolerable? However, this sort of fault is very common. The world, which does not distinguish or does not want to distinguish between devotion and the indiscretion of those who consider themselves devout, complains and finds fault with devotion which is in no way responsible for such disorders.
Indeed, Philothea, devotion in no way spoils anything if it be true, rather it makes everything perfect. When it conflicts with any person’s legitimate occupation, it is without doubt false. The bee,” says Aristotle, sucks honey from flowers without damaging them,” leaving them as whole and fresh as it found them. But true devotion does even better. Not only does it not spoil any sort of life-situation or occupation, but on the contrary enriches it and makes it attractive. All sorts of precious stones when immersed in honey have a greater brilliance, each according to its colour. Similarly, everyone becomes more pleasant in one’s state of life by joining it with devotion. Devotion makes the care of the family peaceful, the love of husband and wife more sincere, the service of the ruler more loyal, and every sort of occupation more pleasant and more loveable.” (St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life)