By SISTER ANNE MARIE WALSH, SOLT
There is a question that still seems to be unsettled in the minds of many ordinary Catholics. The question: Why can’t women be priests?
Many of the responses given to this question seem, in the end, to fall back solely upon authority. Pope Paul VI said that respect for the modern mind requires more than this.
To shed light on the questions of the present, Pope St. John Paul II often led us back to the beginnings, to reflect on God’s creation of man and woman before the fall. It is incontestable that both man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God. Both are equal in dignity because of this.
But this does not make them the same in every other respect. They are two different expressions of the human person, created to live in unity with one another, via a complementarity that assists them to reflect in some respect, the inner life of the persons of the Trinity.
Further, Pope St. John Paul II said, in one of his many engaging teachings on man and woman, that the closer a person comes to God, the more they become either mother or father. This is because God is Father. And both human motherhood and human fatherhood are reflections of God’s fatherhood which is divine.
So, women are meant to be mothers and men fathers. But there is a deep understanding required here. All men and all women are meant to be mothers and fathers, regardless of whether they are married, single, religious or ordained.
This means that a woman is not a mother simply because she has born a child or has a body capable of bearing children. She is called to be a mother because in her spirit she is maternal and the physical realities of her body simply correspond to the deeper spiritual principle of her being.
Likewise, men are not called to be fathers simply because they have bodies capable of begetting children. They are called to be fathers because in their spirits, they are paternal. Their bodies too simply manifest the deeper spiritual principles of their being.
We know that the Catholic Church is a family, God’s family. Mothers and fathers are the essential elements for any family regardless of what the world says in its attempts to redefine family. Unless the paternal meets the maternal, life cannot be conceived, born, nor can it be nurtured to maturity. This is true in both the natural order and in the supernatural order as well.
In the church, this distinction is sometimes referred to as the Petrine and Marian dimensions. St. Peter, the Pope, bishops and priests are called to be spiritual fathers to the whole people of God, and therefore, need to be men.
But mothers are also essential to this order and Mary, religious and all women, fill this role. In fact, the church herself is called mother. It is why the church has been stressing the importance of women so much, speaking about the feminine genius and the need for a greater presence of women and their gifts in the church and in the world. It is the dimension that has not been understood or appreciated as well as it needs to be.
In a beautiful passage, Pope St. John Paul II says, “Mary was not called to the ministerial priesthood, but the mission she received had no less value than a pastoral ministry. Indeed, it was quite superior. She received a maternal mission at the highest level, to be the mother of Jesus Christ and thus, Theotokos, the mother of God. This mission would broaden into motherhood for all men and women in the order of grace, and the same can be said of the mission of motherhood that women accept in the church. They are placed by Christ in the wondrous light of Mary which shines at the summits of the church and creation.”
We must have ultimate respect for the dignity of the ministerial priesthood. But if women truly understood the magnificence and greatness of their own calling – and the urgent need which the world has for their gifts – they would not be interested in trading it for a false equality.
Sister Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT, is a sister of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity and resides at Domus Trinitatis, a mission of the sisters in Willey. These insights are condensed from an article which originally appeared in the South Texas Catholic, diocesan magazine for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas.