Cambridge, MA. On June 10, I will celebrate the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, by Cardinal Terence Cooke. I won’t be getting together with my nine Jesuit classmates (everyone is still in active ministry, but we are saving the reunion for the 50th, I think), but I am sure all of us will be marking the day. 30 years is a long time, and just to reflect back on these three decades invariably prompts memories of the many pastoral contexts in which even I -- ever the academic -- have served: on campus at Boston College and now Harvard; in parishes from Everett, MA, to the south side of Chicago, several parishes in south India, and now at our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon, MA; the occasional wedding, some family funerals; by a conservative estimate, at least 1700 homilies over the years; any number of "priestly moments" in which I felt the presence of God’s grace, beyond my own capability and wisdom. In all of these contexts, it is true that I have received more than I have given. These days I have therefore been mindful of the blessing of this vocation, and the gift the Society of Jesus, within the Church, has given me in this priestly ministry. I would, and do, recommend the vocation and the life to young men thinking of how to serve in the Church in the decades to come. But it is also a moment of lament, stirred most immediately by last week’s news report on the directive from the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, (re)asserting the rule about excommunicating "the person who attempts to confer holy orders upon a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive holy orders." (See for instance, the translation of the decree of excommunication at the National Catholic Reporter site.) We all know that there are Catholic women with a very deep conviction that God is calling them to priestly service in the Church. Many of these women, during long years of service to the Church, have discerned the matter over and over again, tested it in community -- and still affirm, "God is calling me to ordained ministry, to the priesthood." Some of these women have suffered very patiently and quietly in a Church that says it cannot ordain them; some have left, often sadly, and welcomed ordination in another Christian community; and some, reports tell us, have been ordained by bishops -- and for this, they are to be counted as excommunicated. This blog is not the place to debate the merits of positions on women’s ordination. But it seems obvious that very many of us feel strongly on this issue -- including, surely, many who are ordained 3 or 13 or 30 or 50 years -- and we are not likely to change our minds now. This issue -- does God call women as well as men to ordination? -- seems likely to remain one of the great divides in the Church of the 21st century, and we all, men as well as women, are, or should be, suffering through the experience. That the Vatican has definitively ended the discussion does not make it less likely that many will continue to have hearts rent by the issue. I am sure God hears many a prayer, many a day, on the topic. But no matter what we think, there is room for quiet lament, and particularly those of us who are ordained should feel this sadness mingled with the joy appropriate to anniversaries of ordination. The priesthood is, as I have said, a great gift, and I know how very sad it would be to have been barred from it, from the start or along the way. I can only try to imagine the sentiments of a woman who has experienced, with humility and conviction, this calling, faced as she is with the prospect of the Church’s insistence that it is incapable of ordaining women -- as if to say: "Even if God calls, the Church cannot." It is clear that some women have moved on, and do not want Roman Catholic ordination any more; others never did; many more have found ways of living out their vocations fruitfully in Church and world. Nevertheless, some still grieve, many who know them and their gifts still grieve, and it is with them all, at my 30th anniversary of ordination, that I lament. It is mindful of them, and for them, that I shall be celebrating the Eucharist on June 10. I think it most appropriate that every priest celebrating an ordination anniversary, most often around this time of the year, take the occasion to pray with, mindful of, women who have discerned that God is calling them to ordination in the Church.
30 Years a Priest: Gratitude, Joy, and a Quiet Lament