In today’s Gospel, we hear about the women who accompanied Jesus in His three-year ministry to bring the Good News to the world and to call the faithful to Discipleship. As many of you know, I am a convert to the Catholic Christian faith (more than 13 years now) and it did not occur to me until I began discerning the priesthood that women or anyone for that matter was “less” in the eyes of God. I say this because not too long into my discernment, I met some very good and influential women along the way who were somewhat critical of the Church’s reservation of ordination to the priesthood to men. I mention my own experience because these past 13 years have helped me to come to understand many things about discipleship. My reflection today is not an opinion or position on Church teaching.
My conversion experience and the deepening of my Christian faith, expressing myself as a Catholic Christian was deeply and profoundly influenced by men and women. My desire to become Catholic grew the closer I came to knowing God through Jesus Christ. As with many of our parish churches, my community and my RCIA team was largely made up of faithful and loving Christian women. As a catechumen, then as a neophyte, my faith deepened with the help of many of the Lord’s Disciples. As I sought to live a holy life; there were many people who influenced that and their gender had little to do with any of that. My parish priests played an important part in the formation of my faith, but no more than anyone else. When I began to hear the call to discern priesthood, it came from the same community of Disciples and others in my community as well as the clergy. This was perhaps why I discerned joyfully a vocation to priesthood because I had the support of a community working together as Disciples.
When I was early on in my discernment, I was blessed to have a religious sister who became a good and wise friend of mine,. She explained something to me that impacted my life and eventually my own priesthood. She had almost fifty years in vows as a woman religious. She told me of many of the great things she had seen, but she also shared with me many of the experiences she had of hurtful experiences with priests and bishops who were condescending towards her, who treated women religious and women in general as lesser people. This was not a negative person or someone who was not aware of all the good work she and other women religious were able to do, but she said something key: “somehow, somewhere along the way, we have lost our way as Christians”. She taught me as a man not to presume to tell women how to feel or what to think. She taught me to see all people as equal, that a healthy single celibate must have a deep and meaningful respect for all people. I have reflected on the many things she shared with me over the years, and I have incorporated these things into any talk I’ve ever given about priesthood and why (as children often ask), “can’t girls be priests”. I have no intention of answering that question here or trying to; the Church, her theologians and many ecclesial documents can speak better to that than I can.
My reflection is on respect. Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost respect for one another. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten Jesus called us all to Discipleship, men and women and He loved, respected and treated all with dignity and equality. When it comes to the Priesthood, sometimes we forget that the “power and authority” that is very real in the Holy Priesthood, is not a power or authority to be lorded over others. It’s a power to do something that is not attached to me or to any man, but is acting in the person of Jesus. What I do for Jesus is a privilege but not something I deserve or have a right to as a man, but is part of my vocation which is every bit as important as what everyone else is called to do for our Lord. Our Lady, Mary Magdalene, multitudes of amazing women who faithfully serve the Lord have been role models for me, as I’m sure they are for all of us.