TOB and Ordination IV

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 the fourth and final Part — Part I can be found here, Part II here, Part III here.

In one of his Lenten sermons seven years ago, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, urged all of us to offer our bodies and blood as a daily Eucharistic sacrifice and gift to the world, thereby transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary presence and action of God:

“Let us try to imagine what would happen if the laity, at the moment of the consecration, said silently: ‘Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood.’ A mother of a family thus celebrates mass, and then she goes home and begins her day made up of a thousand little things. But what she does is not nothing: It is a Eucharist together with Jesus! A (religious) sister says in her heart at the moment of consecration: ‘Take, eat . . .’; then she goes to her daily work: children, the sick, the elderly. The Eucharist ‘invades’ her day and she becomes . . . Eucharist” (Zenit, March 12, 2010).

Every time we drink the cup of blessing that we bless, we share in the Blood of Christ, thus committing ourselves to be poured out in love for others. Every time we eat the Body of Christ, we are called to offer our own bodies, male and female, in sacrificial love for the healing of the world. Daily gifts of self to others redeem relationships between men and women, as well as with creation and with God, whether in the marriage bed, in school or workplace, at the recycling depot, in the dance recital or the communion procession. As Pope John Paul II states so eloquently, our bodies are integral expressions of our personhood, thus affirming creation as male and female in the divine image as “very good.” This sacramental reality is always present in each individual man and woman, arising from our original dignity as made in the image of God.

In John 16:12-13 Jesus said: “I still have many things to tell you, but you cannot hear them now. But when the spirit of truth comes, the spirit will guide you into the whole truth. The spirit will take what is mine and make it known to you, and in doing this, the spirit will glorify me.” The priest at Mass represents Christ the RISEN Christ who is Spirit. The priest does not represent the maleness of the human Jesus. Men indeed need to see the redeemed male resemblance to Christ in the priest, just as women need to see the redeemed female resemblance to Christ in the priest.

As increasing numbers of women (and men) are growing more deeply into their God-giving dignity and worth, and as Catholic women ground this dignity in Christ Jesus, the prohibition to ordain women makes less and less theological, historical, anthropological, spiritual  or sacramental sense. The Spirit of Jesus is making herself known to us women and through us to the Church.

Ordaining women has nothing to do with equal human rights, but rather with God’s right to be manifested in the fullness of creation as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, who was the Word made Flesh in a human body.

Women’s hearts ache to be instruments of God’s mercy in the Church; yet it seems that we are to limit our generous offering to home and family, to works of charity and catechetics, while being warned sternly not to approach the altar with priestly intent. While the integrity and God-given dignity of our bodies is affirmed in JP II’s TOB as offering a vivid, mysterious and intimate connection to the God who creates, transforms and sustains life, ecclesiastical authorities somehow still do not regard these bodies as suitable vessels for the sacred mysteries of faith

In Pope Francis’ Encyclical The Joy of the Gospel, he wrote: God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.(#22) Further on in the same Encyclical Francis speaks about the importance of reaping the gifts the Spirit has sown in others, which are also meant to be gifts for us. … Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness.(246) Pope Francis

As women, we burst with desire to offer the gifts, insights and callings the Spirit of Jesus has sown in us, wishing (and we will) to take our place alongside our male partners in a spirit of “nuptial mutual surrender” as equals, called and gifted by God for the priesthood, thus glorifying God in our bodies as male and female.

Would that we will see that day in our beloved Catholic Church.

Prairie Encounters

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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

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TOB and Ordination I

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?

Ever since I explored Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB), I have become convinced that this profound theological reflection provides the most solid argument in favour of ordaining women to the priesthood. In fact, it strikes me as quite peculiar that most supporters of TOB seem to oppose the priestly ordination of women and most supporters of priestly ordination of women seem to have written off TOB as having anything positive to contribute to this discussion.

I beg to differ quite seriously with both positions. I am hereby sharing the text of this presentation in four installments, beginning with Part I of four:

You, O Lord Jesus Christ, may dwell in me
as the new creation bestowed in baptism.
You are the pattern for my life, my fullness
– clothing me “in Christ.”
I may act in your name, O Jesus,
in my loving, comforting, peacemaking.
I may care in your name, I may teach in your name.
I may guide and console in your holy name.
I may enter the Eucharistic mystery as co-creator,
transforming divine spirit
into a new body and blood in my womb
and give birth to God’s beloved children.
I may preach anywhere but in sacred liturgy.
I may “be you” everywhere but at the altar.
I may act “in persona Christi” with the poor and hungry,
with the sick and the lonely,
the troubled and the stranger
—everywhere and always
except in the source and summit
of our faith, the Eucharist …

One of the most challenging things for the human mind is to suspend knowing what we know in order to learn and see something new. This may be the case today as we try to examine in a most cursory manner Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) in connection with the question of priestly ordination for women in the Roman Catholic Church. Our guess is that if you do know something about TOB, it likely comes from Christopher West’s interpretation of the TOB. Popular and widely endorsed by Catholic Bishops everywhere, West has focused his entire TOB interpretation on sexuality and marriage. But whether we are married or single, we are our bodies long before, and even without, expressing our sexuality in an intimate sanctioned genital relationship.

Either the Theology of the Body has something to offer for EVERY body at any age and in any of life’s seasons, or it is an inadequate theology. So let’s take a brief “hermeneutical” trip, and see whether there is anything in JP II’s thinking that can serve as a new foothold in favour of ordaining women to the priesthood.

We’re using TOB as a springboard for further reflection on the ordination question for women.  Keep in mind, however, that Pope John Paul II never intended to provide direct arguments favouring the ordination of women; after all, he’s the one that closed the door on even discussing the matter. But that should not stop us from looking at the TOB and see if it can nevertheless offer a theological and anthropological foothold for ordaining women. If it does, it would clearly be a case of unintended consequences, exactly the type of thing the Holy Spirit loves to use:).

Our bodies are essential to our humanity, to everything we do, from cradle to grave. Indeed, we experience all of life, and all of our relationships, in and through our bodies. The skin is the largest sensory organ, and healthy loving touch is fundamental to healthy development and growth. When we pray, we pay attention to our posture. When we engage in conversation, our bodies speak volumes about our intent, motivation and purpose. The most exhilarating moments of giving ourselves to others are visceral experiences, deeply involving our bodily movements, sensations and expressions, and at times deeply involving spiritual dimensions.

God fashioned the human body as the foundation of our identity. A human body was necessary and enough for Jesus of Nazareth. This very Jesus who is the animating energy of our faith and the reason for our church, whose bodily gift of self in the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, took on human flesh in the womb of a woman’s  . . . body. Yet, throughout most of Christian history, we have ignored the radical implications of this truth when it comes to the Incarnation of God in Christ and our bodily comfort level.

Here is the TOB quote most relevant to our exploration: Although in its normal constitution, the human body carries within itself the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact that man is a body belongs more deeply to the structure of the personal subject than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female… which are, as it were, two different incarnations, that is, two ways in which the same human being, created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), is a body. (TOB, par. 8.1)

When the first person in Genesis exclaims, This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, Pope John Paul suggests there is a unity deeper than gendered difference. The presence of “the other” gives rise to a greater self-consciousness and the meaning of personhood, visibly expressed in the body. Creation in the image of God, therefore, is not limited to the individual person but is also an image of the Trinity as a communion of persons. Formatively, this means that each one of us, female and male, is an image of and a participant in the very life of God. At an anthropological level, original unity is an embodied recognition and reception of another person as a gift offered in creation by God to co-create.

The sovereign God took on human flesh and redeemed us through the human flesh of Jesus Christ, thus revealing the capacity for the human body to make visible the invisible God. In Christ Jesus the physical and the spiritual were reunited as one. No more separation between the flesh and the spirit, between the sacred and the profane, between the human and the divine.

However, despite this amazing good news, Christian history has had an ironically opposite track record. At varying times we have degraded the body, chastised the body, dismissed the body, even blamed it as the source of all evil, in particular the female body. In light of the Incarnation, and despite St. Paul’s summons, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (I Cor 3:16 & 6:19), such a track record should be considered deeply heretical. Given this dubious legacy, it is refreshing to re-read Katrina Zeno’s presentation at a TOB conference in Rome a few years back in which she said:

As human persons we do indeed have a very specific nature, an embodied rational nature, which perhaps could even be called a sacramental nature. At all times and in all places our embodied human nature is created by God to point to something beyond just the material. We are not relative only to ourselves and to our acquired goods and pleasures. On the contrary, “the body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine” to cite one of the most frequently quoted passages from the theology of the body (Audience 19, section 4). Our bodies are created by God to be living sacraments, to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds (Zenit, Nov. 14, 2011).

To be continued …

Prairie Encounters

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