TOB and Ordination III

Back in September 2015, I was one of three Canadian women presenting at the International Women’s Ordination Conference in Philadelphia on the question:
Theology of the Body – Friend or Foe of the Ordination Question?
This is Part III — Part I can be found here, Part II here.

St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) can provide a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality, both in families and in the Church as the family of God, including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarized as unity in diversity, equality in mutuality, individuality in community.

A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In the sacramental churches, the main obstacle to the ordination of women is the idea that the masculinity of Jesus requires the priest to resemble him as a male. But this is a fallacy which is rooted in the patriarchal norm of the father as head of the family and not on divine revelation.

“This is my body.” What matters for the sacramental economy, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed human nature in a human body, and “became flesh.” The proper matter for the sacrament is “flesh,” not “maleness.” Therefore, the necessary and sufficient condition for outward resemblance is the human body, whether male or female. The advent of women priests and bishops is required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine person who became incarnate and abides in the Trinity. All the sacraments are nuptial. None of the sacraments were instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.

Doctrinally, nothing essential (dogmatic) needs to change in order to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. The TOB confirms that there is one (embodied) human nature, shows that men and women equally share in human personhood, and makes clear that the human body, male and female, is what makes Jesus Christ visible as an incarnate divine Person.

Jesus, born in a male body, nevertheless revealed a strong feminine spirit: gentle and compassionate, nurturing and affectionate, always concerned for the other. Scripture and the prayers of the Church refer to him as the Wisdom of God –a designation considered female in Scripture. In the beginning, John’s Gospel tells us, Wisdom/Spirit was with Logos, the Word. Wisdom and Logos encompass both masculine and feminine attributes of God. To the question in Job (38:29) “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?” we answer Holy Wisdom, Mother of the universe. Henceforth, every living creature is knit together in, and comes forth from,  a woman’s womb –divine image, likeness and activity. We have only to think of Julian of Norwich’s famous words: “A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself.”

Jesus never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family was a not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal, sacramental love of Christ for the church is not intrinsically patriarchal (as the TOB exegesis of Ephesians 5 abundantly shows), and Jesus Christ is head of the church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a human male.

To act “in persona Christi” means to act in place of a divine Person. Neither men nor women are fully divine persons. Any baptized human person, male or female, can be ordained to act “in persona Christi.” All ministries, including ordained ministries, should be gift-based, not gender-based.

The blood and water flowing from a woman in childbirth commingles with the blood and water flowing from Jesus on the cross in one great act of birthing a new world, recalled vividly in every Eucharist when water is mixed with the wine/blood of Christ.  Jesus was flesh of Mary’s flesh and blood of her blood, having grown in her body for nine months; at the crucifixion it was equally Mary’s flesh that was tortured and her blood that was spilt for our salvation.

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed.” Every woman knows intimately, even if she is not a biological mother, her God-given potential to transform ordinary food and drink into the body and blood of a new human being. In every conception and birth God’s great incarnation and Eucharistic work is revealed in and through a woman.

But in the spiritual realm, all priests male and female are in the business of birthing. We learn from Jesus that we have to be reborn into our new lives in Christ. The priest has a recognized role as midwife in bringing others into new life and caring for them as they mature in faith. The female priest at the altar visibly and audibly signifies the feminine, the maternal, with all the symbolism and associations around creation and procreation, birthing and caring. These are all associated with the life-giving, nurturing God, but which are given particular resonance when borne in the body of a female priest. The symbolism comes to full bloom in a priesthood of both sexes, thereby manifesting in greater expression the very essence of JP II’s Theology of the Body, which is the sacramentality of the human body as manifested in both male and female bodies, both capable especially together of making God visible—tangible—audible—present! (Green, pg. 47-52)our bodies are created by God to be living sacraments, to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds.

To be continued …

Prairie Encounters

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TOB and Ordination II

Back in September 2015, I was one of three Canadian women presenting at the International Women’s Ordination Conference in Philadelphia on the question:
Theology of the Body – Friend or Foe of the Ordination Question?
This is Part II of four — Part I can be found here.

Our bodies are created by God to be living sacraments, to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds. This is clearly the message JP II transmits through his Theology of the Body. While completely unintentional on the part Pope John Paul II, it is our conviction that in this firm claim by the Holy Father lay the beginning of a reversal of church teaching on the ordination of women.

We speak of transubstantiation when referring to the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Eucharist. It is fascinating to think that women engage in a type of biological “transubstantiation” every time those who are pregnant grow another human being. The new life generated by sexual intercourse is literally fed by the mother’s own body and blood.  When she said yes, Mary became first in offering the world God’s holy body and blood through the birth of her son Jesus. Through God’s gift of growing new life in her womb and nourishing it with her own body, Mary, and every woman with her, can grasp a bit of the mystery of transforming ordinary food and drink into new life —a profound Eucharistic transformation, culminating in the great Eucharistic sacrament of the Incarnation of God’s own son Jesus. I wonder if we have really tapped the sacramental significance of this glorious and mysterious wonder of biological “transubstantiation” called pregnancy, whether we have personally experienced it or not.

Herein may lay a promise and potential of powerful witness through the ordination of a woman because of her gender. A woman priest, simply by being female, subverts the outdated and prejudicial associations of male-only priesthood. Women carry powerful symbolic associations with bodiliness and earthliness which are crying out to be reclaimed for the sake of the fullness of God and now also for the sake of the healing of “Our Common Home: the Earth.

After opening his encyclical on the environment Laudato Si with quotes from The Canticle of St. Francis, Pope Francis then immediately states:  This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf.Gen2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

It is a chilling exercise to substitute the word “women” wherever Pope Francis refers to the earth. Chilling indeed to apply his words to the many and varied ways women and female ways of knowing and living have been “used and abused of the goods with which God has endowed us.”

A priesthood of different genders can affirm sexual difference (in positive and negative ways): women and men are equal but not the same, much in the same way as the TOB claims. Each brings different qualities and values attributed to God, embodied and symbolized in both male and female. There are several strengths in a priesthood of both women and men:

* An increased capacity to bring to Christian life and worship all the gendered ways  of being and symbolic meanings of the divine as reflected in both male and female;

* A restoring of the fullness of the principle of sacramentality which has to include male and female embodiment;

* A fuller expression of the meaning of the Incarnation, i.e. the Word becoming flesh in Christ Jesus.

* A fuller manifestation of the very Theology of the Body as articulated by St. John Paul II, in the fact that a priesthood of both sexes is a more honest reflection of the TOB claim that both women and men are first and foremost a human body in their fullest and most fundamental sense which is then subsequently expressed in male and female.

From cover to cover, the Theology of the Body is focused on human beings, male and female, as images of God that fully share one and the same human nature as “body-persons.” John Paul’s entire treatise is devoted to showing that Trinitarian communion becomes more clearly visible when man and woman, being of the same flesh, live in communion with each other and become “one flesh:” in marriage by sharing the gift of love and the gift of life; in community by holding all things in common and live in mutual love and mercy; in celibacy by giving one’s best self spiritually “for the sake of the kingdom.”

God deems both male and female bodies worthy sacramental vessels, capable of transforming ordinary food and drink, ordinary events and ordinary situations into  the radiance of the risen Christ present and active in the world.

Without negating the reality of sin, our bodies are created to be living sacraments. Despite our glaring flaws and shortcomings, both male and female bodies are created to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds, in the same way as our Lord Jesus Christ revealed. According to the Theology of the Body, we make God in Christ present every day when we make giving ourselves to another a gift of love, mercy and beauty. Long before any of us end up in the marriage bed, and those who never do this in a marriage bed, we gift the world with our very selves in the quality of our love, our compassion, our forgiveness.

To be continued …

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments, use the Contact Form below; for public comments scroll down further and use the space below “Leave a Reply.”