Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Role with the Punches

I share an office with a guy who plays music on his computer every day during our lunch period. Unfortunately, the only songs he has come from a novelty album that he plays repeatedly. Today, we listened to Mr. Custer, a comical song about a reluctant soldier worried about losing his scalp as he heads into battle with the legendary General. Those familiar with Larry Verne’s record probably remember the tag line, “Please Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go.” It was number one on the Billboard charts in 1960.

These days as a Catholic, I sometimes feel like that soldier. Mention being Catholic and you better be prepared to dodge the arrows that will come flying your way. The Church is under attack, not only because of the sexual abuse crisis, but also for maintaining a stand on moral issues that secular society considers intrusive. I was watching the news Sunday evening when they mentioned Pope Benedict canonizing six new saints, including Mary MacKillop, the first saint from Australia. The entire story of the six saints didn’t last more than twenty seconds, but the newscaster found time to say MacKillop was once excommunicated for reporting a sexually abusive priest. No other details were provided.

There is more to the story, of course. The Josephite order to which Mary MacKillop belonged was already at odds with the local clergy over educational matters. During this time members of the Josephites reported allegations of sexual abuse by a parish priest who was ultimately sent back to Ireland. A colleague of the accused priest was angered by his removal and took it out on the Josephites by convincing the local bishop to change the Joesphite’s constitution. MacKillop apparently opposed the bishop’s order and was excommunicated for insubordination. Eventually, she was completely exonerated and the excommunication was lifted.

We can expect the secular media to paint the Church in a bad light whenever possible, but public criticism is even more painful when leveled by Catholics themselves. Our local newspaper recently published a piece on the editorial page written by a retired lawyer who calls himself a “committed Catholic.” The heading read, “Outdated views on women stunt Catholic Church.” This self-proclaimed “committed Catholic” advocates the ordination of women priests and criticizes the ongoing Vatican Commission investigations of women’s religious orders.

Catholics publicly expressing disdain for magisterial authority is particularly disheartening. I would think a lawyer would have an insightful appreciation for authority. On the other hand, those accustomed to seeking loopholes may carry that inclination beyond the boundaries of their legal profession. This particular lawyer views Catholic women as downtrodden by a remotely connected Vatican hierarchy.

He lauds Pope John XXIII saying he “led a brief Vatican movement when our leaders concluded that ‘we’ are the church and that we can form our own conscience if we are conscientious in our research and seek prudent counsel.” This is the typical liberal spin applied to Vatican II whereby many Catholics thought they could justify most any behavior if their conscience was clear. The key here is determining what constitutes “prudent counsel.” Orthodox Catholic theologians who are faithful to Church teaching are prudent counselors, but that is not what many people want. The tendency among Vatican II liberals is to satisfy their consciences by seeking affirmation for their own self-serving beliefs. Doing this requires venturing outside the boundaries of orthodoxy, seeking heterodox theologians or secular counselors who profess what people want to hear.

The ideas professed by this lawyer and others like him are shortsighted. First and foremost is his lack of respect for the infallible teaching authority of the Church that has existed for two thousand years. The all-male priesthood has been infallibly defined and is therefore unchangeable. Either he does not understand this, or he denies the existence of infallible teaching.

Men and women may be equal, but they are different. We have different roles despite what contemporary society may tell us. We are not all equipped for the same things. God designed us that way on purpose. The lawyer states that “women are smarter and more steeped in common sense and virtues like compassion, humility and care than we men are.” That may be true. The point is that we are not the same.

The role of the priest is to act in persona Christi, that is, in the person of Christ, and Scripture tells us the Church is the Bride of Christ. We have the priest as Father and Holy Mother, the Church. A woman cannot take on the role of Father for Holy Mother, the Church. You would not have a woman in the role of General Custer in a movie about the Battle of Little Big Horn, and a woman cannot act in persona Christi in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

It is easy for us simple-minded folks to sit back and think a woman could stand up there at the altar and do the same things a man does, say the same words, probably give a better homily, and look better in an alb, but theological reasons for the male priesthood are deeply rooted, and should not be dismissed as inconsequential. At some point, Catholics need to acknowledge that, lacking years of study, we do not always understand why things have to be the way they are. We need to trust in the wisdom of our bishops who have been guided by the Holy Spirit. To do so brings great comfort and peace of mind.

Our modern social values seem very confused at times. We preach equality and diversity at the same time. Everyone is equal, but we have to accept differences. I have worked in industrial maintenance for nearly thirty-eight years. The job requires a degree, technical know-how, and is at times, physically demanding. Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of men, and probably fewer than a dozen women. Why so few? That’s a good question. Women are certainly capable of acquiring the same educational background. The position is a union job, meaning it goes to the highest qualified bidder without discrimination. Everyone works under the exact same pay scale regardless of productivity. The opportunity is there for any woman that wants it. Out of about sixteen people currently in the department, the number of women is zero.

The fact is that women are just different from men. This type of job requires a certain savvy that the average woman does not have. Of course there are exceptions, but they are few. Of those women who have tried, none have lasted more than a few years. If you are thinking the men probably made life miserable for them, I would say you are wrong. We have a pretty good group of guys who are generally helpful and accepting. Does this mean women are inferior to men in some way? Not at all. They are not inferior, just different.

I remember reading a column where someone asked why scientists, composers, CEOs and so forth were mostly men when the average intelligence of both sexes is equal. The answer given was that while the average intelligence is equal, the standard deviation among men is much greater. In other words, while the most intelligent people are men, the dumbest people in the world are also men!

What does this have to do with the all male priesthood? The point is that God made men and women for different roles. We are His instruments, put on this earth for a purpose. Our mission should be to conform to His will and not let envy twist us into something we are not. There. I said it. Now, let the arrows fly.