Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: The twin command of Jesus to clergy is important to consider in any decision regarding ordination.

Thursday of the 6th Week of Easter 2015

Joy of the Gospel

This is one of those liturgical days that is a little schizophrenic. In the historical Church, it is forty days after the Resurrection, so it is Ascension Thursday, as it was for almost two thousand years. But May 14 is the Feast of St. Matthias, the apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot among the Twelve. So when Ascension is moved to next Sunday, as it is in the Ordinary Form in the U.S., St. Matthias comes back up. To make things even more interesting, in the Extraordinary Form usage, today is still Ascension Day all over the U.S. So I’ll be back here this evening for the Latin Mass at 7. That is, if I actually remember what day it is by supper time.

Two realities end today’s Gospel. The words are “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.” The Twelve who were chosen by Jesus as His key disciples, and His first priests and bishops, did not choose themselves. Jesus chose them, and appointed them to bear lasting fruit. That fruit is right here–the sheep of Christ’s flock. What priests ask the Father as they stand in the place of Jesus are two things: reconciliation of us from our sins, and changing the bread and wine of the Mass into the true Body and Blood of Jesus. Those are the functions of the priest: reconciliation and sacrifice.

That brings us to the Holy Father’s thoughts on the reservation of the priesthood to male Catholics. It comes up in his encyclical right after his vigorous defense of the role of women in the world and in the Church: ‘Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”.[73] The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others. In the Church, functions “do not favor the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others”.[74] Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, it must be remembered that “it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”.[75] Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people. This presents a great challenge for pastors and theologians, who are in a position to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.’

I said last time that the role of women in the Church is so vital, that if I–and I suspect any other priest or deacon or bishop–were forced to decide whether to keep women in their roles in the Church, or to keep deacons in their roles, the deacons would lose. Women are vital; deacons are expendable, more like conveniences that free up priests for the critical ministries of confession and Eucharist. Indeed, prior to Vatican II, there were no permanent deacons. And the Church survived and thrived. We do add a dimension of service to the clergy that is important. The role of women, even apart from their vital family roles, in the Church is critical.

If anyone challenges you about belonging to a communion that “won’t allow women to be ordained,” there are two responses. The infallible one is that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women. That usually falls flat, but it’s quite true. The humorous one is that we don’t want to subject women to the abuse that falls to Catholic clergy. The practical one is that in many Protestant denominations who ordain women, men no longer see that ministry as one to which they aspire, and women are gradually assuming the whole of ministry. You are free to add your own personal reasons as you wish.

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