Thursday, November 11, 2010

An Introduction to the Question of Women's Ordination

Often students will come to me or others here at St. John’s desiring quick answers to questions that demand a more prolonged reflection than expected. The question of women and ordination is one such occasion. As we now live in a world of instant gratification, our inclination is to insist that our needs and concerns be addressed as swiftly as possible, and we miss sight of the fact that speed almost always reduces quality. St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life, “the slow cure is the sure cure.” A quick treatment of what ails us (be it for the body, the mind, or the soul) is frequently an incomplete treatment and seldom a lasting remedy. If we sincerely desire truth, we should yearn for the fullness of its meaning and invest in a deep exploration of it, and we should never permit the transmission of truth to be agitated and compromised by the impatience of others.

That being said, every exploration requires a beginning, so when it comes to the question of why priestly ordination cannot be imparted on women, I offer the following as a humble introduction, with all the brevity I can muster:

I. From the Testimony of Revelation

It is clear from the biblical testimony that Jesus willed that only men be among the body of his apostles. The early church continues this practice and asserts it as a matter faith and respect for Christ’s will. If Christ instituted his priesthood, willing that it be reserved for men alone, the will of the Divine Savior must be echoed in the will of the Church in full purity. In other words, “the Church ‘does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination’” as a matter of simple obedience to Christ’s will and authority. These words, expressed by Pope Paul VI and reiterated in John Paul II’s apostolic letter, ordinatio sacerdotalis, express the fact that the Church’s authority is derived from and depends on unity with Christ’s sovereign authority. As such, the Church simply has no power to autonomously alter what Christ authoritatively institutes. Just as the Church has no authority, right, or power to change the sacramental sign chosen by Christ for baptism from water to rose petals or that of the Eucharist from bread to corn chips, so also the Church enjoys no authority, right, or power to change the sacramental sign chosen by Christ in Holy Orders, that being a human male.

II. From the Humanity of Jesus

This brings us to another level in the Church’s response – the priesthood as a particular “sign” of Christ, liturgically. When God the Son came into the world and assumed a humanity as his own, there were two possible expressions of this humanity – masculinity or femininity. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (john 1:14) and took on our common humanity but as bearing the character of the masculine. On multiple occasions, Jesus then refers to himself as the “bridegroom” (Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29) and offers a parable about himself using a bridegroom as the allegorical representation of himself (Matt 25:1-10). In doing so, he reveals that his fundamental disposition toward the Church is that of a husband toward a bride. Indeed, St. Paul adds in his discourse to the Church in Corinth, “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband” (2 Cor. 11:2) and St. John also continues the image of Jesus as “husband” to the Church and the Church as “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:2, 9; 19:6-8).

The Catholic belief of the priesthood is not that it is a mere occupation but that the grace of ordination imparts a reconfiguration of one’s being, so that “the priest truly acts in the person of Christ (in persona Christi)” as St. Cyprian attested in the 3rd century. The priest then functions as both the “sign” and medium of Jesus’ ministry to the Church as Bridegroom. Just as Christ’ humanity was the “image” of his divinity (Col 1:15), so also the humanity of the priest is the “very image” of Christ’s humanity when Christ exercises his ministry within the sacraments (inter insigniores, n.5). “He [the priest] represents Christ, who acts through him.” As signs must have a natural resemblance to what they are signifying, the masculinity of Christ’s ministry must be represented through a corresponding masculinity, so that the liturgical gestures of the Heavenly Bridegroom become actively represented in the sign of the priestly groom and the Eucharistic sacrifice of the New Adam (1 Cor 15:45-49) are exercised through the sign of another “Adam.” This was not only the intention of Christ but a beautiful drama of salvation, and we are obliged by fidelity to abide by it and preserve it.

III. In Respect to Rights and Salvation

In her book, The Catholic Priesthood and Women, Sr. Sarah Butler points out that excluding women from the priesthood cannot be seen to be an injustice in a true sense. Her reasoning is this: exclusion from the priesthood would only be an injustice if the priesthood substantially contributed to the salvation of the one ordained. However, it does not. Whereas baptism is that sacrament that imparts the graces of salvation, with confirmation, eucharast, confession, and anointing as those sacraments oriented toward increasing holiness within the recipient, Holy Orders is not imparted for the salvation or holiness of the priest but for his service toward the salvation and holiness of others. Because the graces of holiness and salvation are available to all through the other sacraments, irrespective of Holy Orders, exclusion from the priesthood cannot be said to be a true injustice on the part of the Church. As she states in her book, “Notwithstanding the fact that baptized members of the Church legitimately claim to participate in her life, no one among them, according to Catholic teaching, has the right to be ordained: ‘to consider the ministerial priesthood as a human right would be to misjudge its nature completely.’” (p.43)

IV. In Respect to Dignity and Worthiness

In their explanations, both Sr. Sarah Butler and John Paul II rely on the testimony of the early Church in relating the question of ordination to the person of Mary. St. Epiphanius asserted in the 4th century, “if women had been directed by God to offer sacrifice or to perform some ecclesiastical office, it would have been more proper to Mary than to anyone else in the New Testament to exercise a priestly role.” Yet, our Lord did no such thing, despite the fact that Mary had the deepest union with our Lord and the most steadfast dedication to him. John Paul II then concludes, “the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-ordination of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them.” (ordinatio sacerdotalis, n.3) If Christ’s restriction of the priesthood from Mary was neither an injustice nor an insult to the dignity of his mother, neither should it be taken as such by his daughters in grace.

“The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints” (inter insigniores, n.6).

Along with the above, I invite you to read Sr. Sarah Butler’s book, The Catholic Priesthood and Women, as well as the Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Priesthood (by the Sacred Congregation for the Defense of the Faith) and John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter on Reserving Priestly Ordination to men Alone.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reawakening Morality

Morality. It is a word that has been dirtied by our society and has suffered a manipulation that has left its meaning disfigured and ugly; for, this one word that should speak peace and hope to the human heart has been left abused and distorted so that seldom does contemporary mankind see this word for what it is but only for what it is misunderstood to be. More often than not, our culture has incited in the souls of our civilization a visceral contempt for this word, “morality,” founded upon the misguided teaching that what this word represents is nothing other than arbitrary restrictions, suppression of freedom, and reduction of the human experience.

In reality, however, “morality” represents something far more profound and elevating to human life, which makes our culture’s belittling of this realm of human activity all the more tragic. Universally, the experience of being the agent of an act one internally deems inappropriate, unloving, destructive – in other words, “immoral” – is that sensation of having done something in which we find ourselves divided against ourselves, by our own hand. We have placed ourselves in opposition to what is true and good and what causes us to genuinely flourish. We have either distorted a good, a quality of life and decency, or deprived ourselves of it. We are torn internally; we feel alienated and even betrayed by our very selves; and our hearts become the battleground of confliction, anxiety, and inner division. This kind of life can never be a satisfying human life, but often it is the life we find ourselves in by abandoning morality and permitting unfettered license to our whims and passions, which eventually lead us to where we would otherwise prefer not to go and to do what we would otherwise prefer to have not done. This is not freedom; it is instead a kind of slavery.

The amnesia of modern culture is that the state of fleeing morality never leads to a more fulfilling human life – it only provides an explosion of pleasure and elation for the present moment which soon dissipates and leaves nothing but a new sensation of absence and discontent. This is because only moral acts cultivate a lasting good in our lives. As John Paul II writes of the rich man who comes to Jesus asking for guidance on eternal life (Mark 10:17-22), “the commandments of which Jesus reminds the young man are meant to safeguard the good of the person, the image of God, by protecting his goods.” (Veritatis Splendor, 13). Whereas most see morality as merely an arbitrary obstruction to our good, morality is an authentic path to the maintenance and defense of human goods. Insomuch as one may only hear in the “thou shalt not” of the moral code the declaration, “Stop, you are not permitted,” one has become deaf to the much louder proclamation, “Go, do and uphold what is good instead.” What appears as a limitation in the restrictions of morality is simply the divine imperative to genuinely preserve the good, threatened by an act that promises a good it can never provide. For such is the nature of sin. As John Paul II also states,

“thou shalt not…are moral rules formulated in terms of prohibitions. These negative precepts express with particular force the ever urgent need to protect life, the communion of persons in marriage, private property, truthfulness and people’s good name…thus the commandment ‘you shall not murder’ becomes a call to an attentive love which protects and promotes the life of one’s neighbor. The precept prohibiting adultery becomes an invitation to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body…the commandments thus represent the basic condition for love of neighbor; at the same time they are proof of that love. They are the first necessary step on the journey toward freedom, its starting point.” (Veritatis Splendor, 13)

Human freedom is not a haphazard attribute of the human person; rather, it is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness (CCC 1731)*. This is why the more one does what is good the more one experiences true freedom (CCC 1733). Morality, therefore, enhances our freedom, rather than diminishing it, because the concentration of morality is fixed upon the preservation of what is good in human life by a self mastery that avoids what endangers the truly good. In the life of one who practices morality, the good is safeguarded, human freedom flourishes, and the human experience is elevated and secured in goodness and excellence. “Man as an individual and as a member of society craves a life that is full, autonomous, and worthy of his nature as a human being”** But this will always remain elusive and incomplete apart from morality.

* CCC stands for “Catechism of the Catholic Church”
** Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, n.9

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Who's More Like God - Angels or Humans

Recently, a group of students asked me about the "image of God" in angels and humans. Since both have a will and an intellect, are they equally the image of God or is one higher?  Additionally, they inquired as to which of the two resembles God more and which is closer to God.  Below is a synopsis of my response:

Philosophically, the more complex a being the less perfect while the simpler, the more perfect. This is because simpler beings (pure spirits) have less capacity for alteration/change, while complex beings (bodily beings) have a proclivity to change and impermanence. So in this regard, angels are higher in nature than humanity, because they have no natural vulnerability to corruption of their nature and less inclined to change, while human nature (body and soul) is in constant phases of change and can suffer the corruption of decay, giving it the character of limited permanence. This is why the author to the Hebrews states that "we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels." (2:9) By taking a humanity, he bound himself to a nature that was inferior to the nature of the angels, in terms of degrees of perfection.


Nevertheless, Thomas Aquinas points out that while the angels are higher than humans in their nature (in regards to their essence more precisely resembling the permanence and immaterial qualities of God), humans are higher than the angels in respect to reflecting God's relational behavior. Angels cannot in their nature emulate the fruitfulness of the inner-Trinitarian life of God. Whereas human nature is oriented toward an interpersonal communion that utilizes the whole being (body and soul) in sexuality, producing the "fruit" of a new person, angels are incapable of this. Because human nature is inclined toward persons "proceeding" from persons, much like the spiration of the Holy Spirit from the interpersonal communion of the Father and the Son, Aquinas concludes that humans reflect God's relational qualities more deeply than the angels, even though the angels reflect God's immaterial essence more intensely.

Christ, then, brings this human dignity to a higher level in that now that God the Son has become man, human nature has the capacity to participate in the divine nature bodily (2 Pet 1:4). Unlike the angels who experience the glory of God in their nature solely as their nature being an exemplary participation in God's immutability, incorruptibility, as well as perfection of Goodness by grace, Human nature can now participate in God's divinity bodily, through an infusion of God's Spirit. Because God never became an angel, the angelic nature doesn't "partake" of the divine nature in the same manner that humanity does, whereby one joined to Christ can become "divinized" and commune with the Son through a common nature sacramentally. This is why St. Peter writes that the gospel announces "things into which angels long to look." (1 Pet 1:12) Angels can never experience being "clothed with Christ" in baptism (Gal 3:27) or "bear[ing] the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor 15:49), being a member of Christ bodily (1 Cor 6:15), or being the "temple of God/Holy Spirit" within one's nature (1 Cor 3:16, 6:19). The word became flesh, not angelic, and because of this humanity is offered a deeper communion with God's nature than even the angels. This is why the Church professes that "Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and men to a place second only to her Son." (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n.66)

So then, do both humans and angels have an intellect and will? Yes, and so both are a kind of "image" of God in that regard. However, angelic intellect and will are more acutely reflections of God's intellect and will in that the intellect and will of the angels more perfectly resemble God's will and intellect by remaining unhindered by emotions and not limited by the body. The intellect of the angels enjoy a deeper freedom and fluidity, and thus "image God" more perfectly than ours. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, angels are by nature incapable of "imaging" the relational qualities of Trinitarian life to the degree that human nature is able, making humanity a higher "image" in terms of divine relationship.




Friday, September 17, 2010

Freedom from Want?

When we visit my wife’s family, reproductions of Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” hang above the bed in the room in which we stay. I have always admired these images, but I have been as equally perplexed by the assumption of one of them. Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Tyranny, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom from Want. Freedom from Want? Can such a thing even be attained in this life? Furthermore, should we necessarily flee from want? Is “want” exclusively an evil with no shadow of merit? I would argue to the contrary.

“Want” is what secures in us a temperate understanding of ourselves. In want we understand that we are creatures with needs that we cannot always provide ourselves. In want we perceive our nature as fragile and limited, in need of a Guardian. In want we conceive that we are not the crafters of our own destiny, autonomous and complete on our own. And often, in want, we discover the desire for prayer, which we perhaps have allowed the demands of the world to muffle and silence. Whether in want of material necessities or in want of a more intimate unity with the All Glorious Lord, our want is often what presses us to prayer, reflecting on the truth of ourselves and hoping in the Truth of God. This is why Benedict XVI calls prayer “the school of Hope” (Spe Salvi, n.32). In this life, when we want we are compelled interiorly to reflect not only upon our predicament but upon our very selves – our nature, our being, our personhood – and by this we more firmly understand ourselves and our place in the cosmos with humility.

This is not to say that the state of want is the ideal – far from it. We want because we find ourselves in a state of imperfection, of incompletion. But neither do we merely endure want as just a burden of human life, because want can possess a meaning and purpose of its own, a catalyst that directs us toward some good, a glimmer of light within a dark cloud like a flash of lightning in a storm. Someday want will be no more, for “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Rev 21:4) But this we still hope for and in the life that is to come. For now, we still want. But let us approach want in patience and temperance, permitting it to be the instrument it can be, so that good may flow forth even from where there seems an absence.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Discovering Others

Last year,I gave a presentation to our student SJCNC leaders on holistic spiritual development, and due to time restraints was forced to truncate a concept that I ended up reducing to mumblings of something of little consequence. What makes this so unfortunate is the reality that the subject is at the heart of our understanding of ourselves and our relationship with others. What I had intended to communicate and managed to do quite poorly was a reflection on the human person as a kind of mystery. Certainly, if the human person is the image of God, who is in His very being the definition of mystery, then the human person is a reflection of that Supreme mystery and a kind of mystery in miniature. As St, Basil Stated in the 4th century, “do not despise the wonder that is in you. For you are small in your own reckoning, but the Word will disclose that you are great…from this small work of construction, I understand the great Fashioner.” (Discourse 1 on the Origin of Humanity, n.2)


Nevertheless, we do not act as if we were aware of this. Others are seldom perceived as unique mysteries to be discovered, when in reality each individual possesses a depth of meaning that could not be plumbed in ten lifetimes. Every other should be seen as a tiny mystery of their own, a small glimpse into God’s own mystery, and a unique treasury of unexplored purpose and life. We should be fascinated with every other person we meet, for every other person is a trove of discovery and significance. There is a profundity to every person that ought to captivate us in awe and invigorate us to delve into a passionate investigation of the mystery of the other. However, what is more common to the human experience is to arbitrarily draw lines of completion, barriers of which we have superficially determined we need not tread beyond in the search of the mystery of the other. Often these are drawn to defend ourselves from hurt and misunderstanding, drawn after retreating from such an incident to the mystery of one person with which we feel most comfortable – ourselves.

Our mystery becomes the most real and the most significant, and we slowly lose sight of the mystery of the other vanishing in the distance we have created. An even deeper travesty, and probably a more widespread one, is when the “other” whose mystery we hold aloof is God. Almost more easily than forgetting the immensity of the mystery of every human person do we forget the magnitude of the mystery of God, arbitrarily determining we have completed our journey into the deep canons of Divine mystery when we have barely stepped into the mouth of the cave. In both occasions what eludes us in the understanding that there will always be more to discover in relation to another person, for persons are vast, mysterious, and irreducible. I have known four sets of twins in my lifetime, and despite their similarities it is their distinctions with which I marvel, for each does not stand as a replica of the other but as a unique mystery of their own. May we never lose sight of the marvelousness of the mystery of every person and never tire of investing ourselves in a fuller discovery of that mystery, whether human or Divine.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Love and Sacrifice

When my son was much younger, he loved for me to be his “horsey.” The majority of early every night was spent with me on my hands and knees while he rode about, entertained and content. At the time we lived an apartment with hardwood floors, and I felt like an 80 year old man with arthritis after every episode of “daddy-back” riding. In fact, I could almost feel my knees wince as my little boy toddled up to me on my arrival home, sure to request a horsy ride. Still, I did it nonetheless, for he is dear to me. I accepted the pain upon my knees and repressed my desire to indulge in more entertaining things for myself because his needs were paramount to me. Indeed, in love his needs became my needs, and it became a particular opportunity for me to show Christ to my son and carry a cross of love as did our savior. John Paul II reminds us of this aspect of suffering in his apostolic letter salvifici doloris that suffering has the potential of becoming a vehicle of love. In other words, often we find “the truth of love through the truth of suffering.” (salvifici doloris, n.18) I have the blessing of exercising this with three families – my family by birth, my family by marriage, and the family of students and staff at SJCNC. I must admit that over the years there have been times when a student has dropped into my office at just the time that I had designated to catch up on some urgent matters and I hesitated in being welcoming. But then, through them, I recalled the face of my little boy just wanting quality time with his daddy, and I eagerly took up that familiar cross again. Yet it was not for a son I now found myself doing this but for my spiritual siblings, my little brothers and sisters in Christ which all our students are to me. I sacrificed the time that I had intended to use otherwise and made their needs my needs. Despite the pain of my knees as my son rode on my back all those years ago, every one of those moments was a moment of sheer joy. So also it was that every time a student needed to talk at a time I was not entirely prepared for, it was an occasion of unexpected joy and fraternity. For every true sacrifice of self is but a prelude to joy, and every cross the path to resurrected life.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

What Does It Mean to Be Redeemed?

Last night we held our first night of Truth and Lies, a weekly occasion to delve more deeply into the mystery of Christ and his Church through discussion of aspects of the faith that often provoke questions and need for clarification. As is always the case when I speak, I had far less time to express all that my heart longed to proclaim, and so I find it bursting with joy, spilling over into this blog. During our discussion, I asked the question, “what does to mean to be redeemed?” Christians often speak of being redeemed, but I find that few can explain what this really means. Obviously it indicates a difference, a change in the person, but what kind of change?

Quite literally, redemption means a “reclaiming.” Something has been lost or captured, and when it is redeemed it has been restored, recovered, reclaimed. Our redemption, then, is a restoration, a reclaiming of some spiritual good – namely, the full expression of our humanity as the image of God. When Christians use the word “redemption” we are principally speaking of something that has to do with sin, because sin, in its very nature, is a corruption of human dignity and a diminishing of the image of God within us. When God created mankind, he created us to have life and to have our humanity a living reflection of His divine goodness, glory, and holiness. The sin of Adam and Eve (and all our subsequent sins) mutilated that image leaving it weakened and broken. But Christ proclaims, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Because Christ is “the Word Made flesh,” God made man, in whom “the fullness of deity dwells bodily,” Christ redeems our humanity. In joining His divinity to our humanity by making it His own as well, he restores that image of God in its most pristine of expressions – His humanity, united permanently to His divinity, becomes the paradigm restoration of that likeness of God which was disfigured since the first sin. He has reclaimed it from corruption and redeemed it by taking it as His own, culminating this in offering it to the Father as a saving instrument of love on the cross. Our humanity, in Christ, was given to the Father in a genuinely human manner as the medium of devotion and sincere fidelity – the zenith of reclaiming our humanity from sin and reestablishing it as the image of God, giving that image a completeness as the expression of Love, the very essence of the one being imaged.

It is for this reason that the Church insists that the Divine Son took our humanity in order to accomplish our salvation within it. This is why it is possible for St. Paul to write such thing as “you have put off the old man with its practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of his creator” (Col 3:9-10) and “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:23-24) Because Christ’s humanity was the restoration and redemption of the image of God within our human nature, being joined to Christ is the application of this in ourselves. The humanity we possess is renewed into a more complete image of God because it becomes bound to Christ’s humanity, which was made for us the perfect “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).

But there is one more aspect to redemption, one linked to this notion of the image of God but infinitely more profound. Because Christ shared in our humanity, he made available to us a sharing in his divinity. Indeed, St. Peter insists that union with Christ permits us to “become partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and St. Peter announces that the Christian is “God’s temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). Because the humanity that Son of the Father took as His own became the perfect temple of His divinity, our humanity united to Christ is made a suitable “temple” of God’s life and Spirit, an extension and reflection of the temple of Christ.

And so it is that perhaps the most succinct way of summarizing what it means to be redeemed can be achieved in two words – New Creation. As St. Paul declared, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). By becoming man, God has united our very humanity to Himself, elevated it to the dignity of an instrument of divine love on the cross, restored the full image of God within it, and by the association of His own humanity with His divinity He has invited our humanity into a sharing in His own divine life. This is redemption. This is new creation. This is the delight of the soul, and the promise that Jesus alone can satisfy.