What is more important – inhaling or exhaling? Air or water? Men or Women?
Annually, Bishops of the Catholic Church ordain a number of men. In recent years, this number has been declining throughout Europe and North America. Additionally, a number of ordained men decide that it would be better if they were married and raising a family, or perhaps they might have discovered another calling. At the same time, the numbers of the baptized who become actively involved in the liturgical life of the church are dwindling annually. We have a growing number of priests who are moving well into retirement age with fewer replacements, so our bishops look outside of our national boundaries to find younger priests from different cultures to minister.
In many dioceses’s today, parishes are being either merged or closed. In some cases, the bishop will appoint a “lay” administrator and a circuit rider priest-pastor. We have a long history of restricting ordinations to males who also choose celibacy. Tradition and culture have over the years provided a model that worked for a particular time. At times we look to cultural norms as permanent of absolute. For historical reasons, we have decided that priesthood and celibacy are identical and one integral to the other. We also hang on to a time when women were property; their only value was in producing children and served no other purpose. They were bought and sold as property and in some parts of the world, that is still the norm. Women’s role was to serve the man. The woman was purchased by a family and the tradition is still in vogue as the children all inherit the name of the Father, and the Mother (wife) takes the males family name. Today, we live and breathe in a Church in which Celibate Males only are seen as leaders and who have active voice in all decisions. The voice of both women and the married are excluded from all positions of leadership. One other factor is that of age. We still live in a church with a residue of royal privilege and that privilege is mandated by God. It seems that perhaps, we would be able to let go of our feudal territories presided over by feudal lords and to allow the church to become the living body of the Christ, feeding and healing a broken world.
It seems possible that the time has come to re-evaluate our insistence on maintaining these cultural practices. I have a hard time accepting that the decision on any of these questions is closed. The time has come to open the door and the windows and let s one fresh air in. The Holy Spirit is alive and moving through creation coming to be. The church, like life, is no and cannot be static. Life is open to transformation and change; letting the old die so that the new can be born. Respecting the past and the journey or pilgrimage of those who have gone before us, but looking now at the signs of the times for the present moment. I would suggest that celibacy and priesthood are two distinct callings or gifts. They can go together, but not necessarily so.
I would further suggest and the Holy Spirit – that the God that we worship, is neither male nor female, and at the same time, both male and female. We, male and female alike, are created in the image and likeness of God. We are called to actively participate in the ongoing creation of life; caring for our world and for one another. The gift of love is neither male nor female, but it is both. We are all disciples of the risen Jesus, and we are one body; we are no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, but one body in the Lord as Saint Paul so eloquently said. The early disciples were married and they were both men and women; equally living and struggling with faith, proclaiming to all that they met on their journey, the Good News of God’s love and intimate loving relationship with all of Creation.
We each have our own unique gifts, but they are not necessarily tied to race or sex or ethnic/cultural backgrounds. Women have as much right to be lousy preachers as men or as eloquent. Our shared humanity speaks of our common blindness, our deafness, and our limitations – they are all there – just different in each of us. The same is true of our compassion, our kindness, our love. It is time for our community of faith, to begin a process of honest discernment and to be open to the Spirit that leads – that Spirit of Pentecost. Inhaling and Exhaling are both vitally important for life; male and female are both created in the image and likeness of God, participating in creation; Water and Air are both critical for life. Life exists in an both / and world while we seem to be more comfortable existing in an either / or world.
The greatest commandment is to love God with all of your being and the second is like it; to love your neighbor as yourself. A very interesting concept. Who is my neighbor? Who is not my neighbor????