There are many things a Vocation Director looks for in a candidate for priesthood, but few things more important than what a man thinks and how he acts towards women. For so many reasons, its important for me to understand how men who are considering the priesthood think of women.
Many years ago, I worked with a religious sister who shared with me some of her experiences over a lifetime, nearly 50 years as a religious sister including the many times she had been demeaned, condescended to, disrespected, marginalized or made to feel less important in dignity by priests and sadly even bishops. She WAS NOT (and is not) an angry woman and I was glad she shared that with me. It raised my own awareness, as a seminarian then, that we men have work to do.
It can be a great challenge for a great many people to be a part of (our) Church that seems to be dominated by men, as we have an all-male clergy. I know that there are many people who struggle with this. I know that as a priest, the single-most asked question in the classroom by students is “why can’t girls (women) be priests?” My answers are often long and theological with reference to Scripture and Tradition, and they are often, I’m sure, unsatisfying to the inquirer. I also consider my friend’s experience and I add to it that we priests need to be aware that we have often distorted and at times have disrespected the office we hold as Priests and Bishops. What I offer people is that Priests and Bishops were never supposed to treat women as anything less than equal and the power and authority given by ordination is meant to bring salvation and a deeper encounter with our Lord and Saviour, rather than to be lorded over people or used to control or exert power. I admit we’ve come a long way in understanding that, but we have a long way to go. As Pope Francis says “there’s no Church without women” and while women can’t be priests, “[women] cannot be limited in the role and importance; the part they play” in bringing Jesus Christ and the Glory of God through the Church to the world.
And who better to cite as the most powerful example of this than Mary Most Holy? To look and reflect upon the life of Mary, Mother of God, is to realize that God has made women to be great! She was given a vocation, a role, a part to play for all eternity that no one else could do – and she was given this role as a woman of faith. No one in all of human history was closer to God than she was. No one has the prayer power (the ability to intercede in prayer) for us that she does. Mary wasn’t an Apostle, nor was she a priest or a bishop. But if there was an Apostle or disciple who might have considered treating Our Lady with less than the fullest dignity she deserved, we could only imagine what Our Lord Himself would have had to say about that!
As a Vocation Director, it is of prime importance to look for men who understand this or are capable of seeing things in this way. Our future priests must have a deep respect for women already lived out and obvious in their lives. They must value equally and without exception women. A priest who wants to be “with the boys” and not spend his life with good female friends as well is problematic and hopefully we are all becoming more discerning and realistic in helping anyone who thinks this way with the issues that have led them to this way of thinking.
The role for women in the Church, in the world, as Christians witnessing to us IS GREAT and we celebrate that today as we celebrate the life of one of the greatest woman, Mary the Mother of God.