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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Priestesses: Not Ordination but Subordination?

What are we to make of St. Paul’s writings about women? Those who reject the inspiration of Scripture do not really care what he has to say. Others will try to distinguish changeable disciplines from doctrines, but not everyone draws the line in the same places. Many conservative voices might make light of hair coverings or even silencing women in churches, but still resist a more gender neutral partnership in marriage and more leadership roles for women in the Church. Are St. Paul’s teachings simply culturally conditioned or does his viewpoint reflect God’s timeless mind about matters.

St. Paul is the source for the major texts on the “subordination” of women. Nevertheless, critics of the status-quo of a male-only priesthood often quote his words about equality in grace found in Galatians. Paul is not schizophrenic. His words must not be forced to say things that he did not intend.

Regarding ministry and marriage, Paul is clear.

“What I want you to understand is that Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ . . . a man . . . is the image of God and reflects God’s glory; but woman is the reflection of man’s glory . . . and man was not created for the sake of woman, but woman was created for the sake of man. . . . However, though woman cannot do without man, neither can man do without woman, in the Lord; woman may come from man, but man is born of woman — both come from God” (1 Cor. 11:3, 7-8, 11-12).

Speaking of the organization of spiritual gifts, he demands:

“Women are to remain quiet at meetings since they have no permission to speak; they must keep in the background as the Law itself lays it down. . . . Anyone who claims to be a prophet or inspired ought to recognize that what I am writing to you is a command from the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:34, 37).

Illustrating his sincerity, he repeats himself to Timothy:

“During instruction a woman should be quiet and respectful. I am not giving permission for a woman to teach or to tell a man what to do. A woman ought not to speak, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin. . . .” (1 Tm. 2:1-14).

St. Paul is regarded as infamous in certain circles for his view of marriage:

“Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything. Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her, to make her holy. . . . In the same way husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself. A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is how Christ treats the Church, because it is his body — and we are its living parts. . . . This mystery has many implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:22-25, 28-32).

Leaving out commentary, I suspect some readers are already angry. These Scripture texts seem to fly in the face of what many know of the contemporary experience. I have known Christian feminists who gave blunt appraisals of St. Paul. They saw him as sexist and utterly patriarchal. I still remember one frustrated woman of WIT (a group at Catholic University called “Women in Theology”) who just admitted angrily, “I hate Paul!” If she could, she would have torn his writings out of her bible. But there is the catch. St. Paul is in the Bible and many of us believe that we must wrestle even with those texts that challenge us and are hard to accept. St. Paul is the great apostle to the Gentiles. The Pauline community and its beliefs will become pivotal to the Church’s understanding of sin and the measure of faith, ministry, the family and the Church.

The analogy of the spousal relationship is directly attached to Christ’s relationship to the Church. It is this analogy that is operative at Mass, wherein the priest signifies Christ, the head of the Church; the congregation is immediately reflective of the rest of the Mystical Body. The priest is one with the divine bridegroom; the assembly, representative of the bride of Christ, is identified with the Church. As I have mentioned before, unless one is going to overlook “sacramental lesbianism,” a woman cannot fulfill the function of priest in such a theological framework.

St. Paul wanted women to know their faith and to hand it on in the domestic setting; however, they were not allowed to offer the official teaching that is associated with the presbyter at liturgy. Paul makes it definitively clear that this prescription is tied up with the God-given order of creation (1 Cor. 11:7; Gn. 2:18-24). He further admits to a specified “command from the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). Although this command is not known to us, it should not be dismissed. Paul is not a liar. Christ is perceived as the ultimate author of a corpus of religious teaching that must be handed on in exact detail and preserved by the teachers of faith (1 Cor. 11:23, 15:1-2; 2 Tm. 1:13). Several times Paul encountered serious assaults upon his person and office (1 Cor. 1:12, 4:3; 2 Cor. 10-12); if he had invented this “command from the Lord” to shore up his arguments, he would quickly have been stripped of his authority and unveiled as a deceiver. Such did not happen.

Will we allow the truths of Christ via St. Paul to speak to us today? I pray it will be so. I only hope it is not too late. As an experiment I read these passages to several fine women in my parish and even the most docile took some offense. How deep is the secular infection in the hearts and minds of believers? How can we recover St. Paul so that traditional values about ministry and the home can be preserved while women might still be empowered and given the respect they deserve?

POPE JOHN PAUL II: “I declare 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” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis).