Every other Tuesday I get to talk, laugh, pray and study with seven of my friends. Although we call it “Bible Study,” it's a lot more. It's a chance to share our lives and grow together in our faith. We all love the Church and want to become holier women. We all accept Catholic teachings. But, as I realized one recent Tuesday, accepting those teachings doesn't necessarily mean liking them.
Heading into Advent, I think the realization — and the reactions it elicited — are worth reflecting on.
Our text had broached the subject of the all-male priesthood. Suddenly a diversity of feeling and opinion emerged in our group. Without demanding women's ordination, several of my friends expressed confusion and frustration about the Church's teaching on the priesthood. I had also wrestled with this, and had investigated the reasons for the Church's stance. So I began to explain the theological foundations of the teaching.
But I soon saw that the problem wasn't a theological one. Explaining that the priest must be male because he stands in persona Christi didn't alleviate the tension in the room. Pointing out that Jesus regularly broke social norms and yet never ordained women failed to satisfy my friends. Discussing the bridal imagery of the Church and the sacramental significance of a male bridegroom made their eyes glaze over. Even my favorite argument about the “priestly” sacrifice of childbearing — where a mother offers her body and blood to give life to another — wasn't the answer we needed. None of these logical explanations resolved the problem.
I realized we were dealing with an emotional issue of feeling bad, overlooked, undervalued, unworthy and unhappy.
Many women battle these feelings on a regular basis. Low self-esteem is too common among females of all ages.
Ever since the Fall, women have yearned for the approval of men. This ingrained longing has a multitude of manifestations. What's an underlying reason why so many a modern woman sins against chastity? Because she feels affirmed when a man desires her sexually. Why are so many young women victims of a degrading fashion industry? Because those styles promise attention from men.
Given the desire for male affirmation, it's not hard to understand why even faithful Catholic women may struggle (deep down) with the Church's teaching on ordination: It feels like rejection by men. We could list the reasons why the all-male-priesthood isn't a rejection of women and how it actually affirms them, but that wouldn't be enough.
Women need to experience the priesthood as an expression of God's love for them. That experience doesn't come through arguments or syllogisms. It comes through the charity of individual priests, to be sure. But more than that, it comes through trusting in God, our loving Father. A woman (indeed, anyone) who believes in the benevolent fatherhood of God is freed to rejoice in the goodness of the Church's teachings, which God gave us because he loves us.
The best way to embrace the teachings of the Church — regarding the priesthood, divorce, contraception or any other “tough” issue — is to embrace God: to trust him, knowing his foolishness is greater than our wisdom. This humble surrender helps us to live the Church's teachings. And to love them, too.
Now there's a Bible-study lesson to chew on for Advent.
Gina Giambrone writes from Covington, Kentucky.
- November 27-December 3, 2005