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Truth beyond gender

| Thursday, March 27, 2014

With contemporary culture constantly fixated on the concept of equality, it can be all too easy to strive for this principle at the expense of some deeper truths. Equality is, for the most part, a positive ideal in society, but taken to its extreme it can deny the fundamental truth that people are, by nature, different. These differences, like the difference between men and women, are beautiful because they complement each other and allow society to flourish. The fact that women are not allowed to enter the priesthood does not indicate Church doctrine denies equality.

It is necessary to remember that priests are supposed to be successors of the apostles and representative of the person of Jesus Himself. It is an undeniable fact that Jesus and all of His apostles were male. Therefore, it follows that those carrying on the work of the apostles should also be male.

A common response to this argument is that Jesus could not choose women to be his apostles due to the historical context of His time.  However, Jesus was in no way bound to the times; in fact, He often blatantly opposed the customs of His day.  For example, on several instances He disregarded the fact that the Sabbath was a day of rest in order to cure people. Jesus had friends who were women and treated them with equal dignity despite the fact that He did not choose them to be His apostles.

As the Son of God, Jesus is omnipotent and omniscient. If Jesus had wanted to make women His apostles, He would have done so regardless of the societal norms of the time, because He has the power to do anything.  Because Jesus is omniscient, we must assume, in His infinite wisdom, He had some greater reason for making only men His apostles, even if we cannot understand that reason today.

It has been Church doctrine for centuries that not even the Pope has the authority to change the Sacraments. It does not matter what we deem the most fundamental aspects of a Sacrament — no one has the power to alter them. This is not a matter of personal preference, but of the truth of age-old Church doctrine.

Some argue that the Church changed its teaching on the Assumption and should therefore be able to modify the Sacrament of Holy Orders. First, the Church never changed its teaching on the Assumption; it simply proclaimed the truth that Mary was taken body and soul into Heaven. The Church never denied the fact of the Assumption — it simply was not made explicit Church doctrine. Second, the teaching of the Assumption is not a Sacrament and therefore not analogous to Holy Orders.

The Church teaching on the priesthood has its roots in the fundamental difference between men and women. Jesus created a role for women — a role not lesser than that of men, but simply different. Women have always played an important role in the Church — it was the women who found the empty tomb of the Risen Christ, and many women have become important saints. Jesus granted women the role of spreading the Truth, just not through teaching at Mass but rather through action and prayer. Women can become sisters and be a tremendous force for good in the name of Jesus through either service or living the cloistered, prayerful life.

God has granted women special privileges He has not granted to men, most notably the ability to bring new life into the world. This role is extremely influential in the Church because women are charged with the primary task of nurturing children in the light of Church doctrine. As St. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12:5-29, we are all members of the Body of Christ, the Church, but as parts of this Body, we each have different roles.

Men are not dominating women simply because they hold leadership roles in the hierarchical Church. Through these roles, men are called to proclaim the truth of God. In this way, men attest to the pre-existing truth of the Risen Christ. As Catholics, we believe the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and the bishops and cardinals are merely proclaiming the Truth. They themselves are not deciding the course of the Church and therefore not dominating women in any way.

Common arguments for allowing women to enter the priesthood cite personal “feeling” as important in deciding a vocation. Some women may feel they want to enter the priesthood, but are not permitted to do so because of Church doctrine. However, this idea of vocation is flawed. As Catholics, we believe we are called by God to a vocation that will bring us to our ultimate flourishing. In this view, vocation is not about personal feeling, but more about an obligation to serve God in the way He is calling us.

No one, man or woman, is entitled to the priesthood. Rather, it is a gift and calling bestowed on some by God. If you really listen to what God is calling you to do, it is easy to realize vocation is not a matter of feeling, but rather of truth. We are each called to be witnesses to the truth through our vocations, and the best way to obtain this truth is by following the teachings of the Church.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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