Re “Answering Our Daughters,” by Helen M. Alvaré (11/14): The author leaves us with much to ponder and the beginnings of a fruitful dialogue that could lead to meaningful change. Some will overinterpret her message and call for immediate clerical changes, while others will abhor the author for even suggesting that the change in women’s societal role requires a response from the church.What is clear from the article, I hope, is that prayer dialogue must help us to no longer exclude women from “significant collaboration.”
The beauty of Mrs. Alvaré's piece lies in her concluding sentence. Let us bring everyone to the table to see what these “new forms of witness, dialogue, and representation” might be. And let us not limit what is served up at that table.
Saying that certain forms of ministry are off limits at the beginning of the dialogue necessarily limits full participation at the outset and condemns another generation of women to be judged by their “hotness” and not their ministerial ability to bring Christ to us.
I found Mrs. Alvaré’s article woefully inadequate, mainly because she was trying her best to defend the institutional church’s position in refusing to ordain women, and she came up short because the institutional position cannot be defended.
Here’s the problem: The institutional position is based upon an anthropology known as complementarity. This system defines male-only roles and female-only roles. It does not take into account this reality: The Holy Spirit doles out gifts to men and women alike. The Holy Spirit calls people to serve others as ordained leaders because of those gifts. Women, as well as men, have been so gifted. Women, as well as men, have responded to this call, have become formed in seminaries to serve as ordained leaders and have been affirmed by their communities to do this. Therefore, I ask the institutional leaders of our church: What human being, even the pope, has the authority to overrule the Spirit? Until that question is successfully answered, the system of complementarity cannot possibly be defended.
Hope for Women
The whole question is complex. One aspect of the movement of women into the community has been to devalue the feminine. A dialogue alone would offer women young and old some hope and some sense of their own value in the world. The men in the church hierarchy need to help women develop a leadership structure for the good of the church, but neither the men in the church hierarchy nor the women of the church seem to be able to develop any initiative toward a dialogue. Thanks for raising the questions in this article.
Perhaps the starting point is to consider whether the hierarchical church truly believes this part of your argument: “God’s image [is] two-sexed.” The dominant theology of the body claims that the differences of women's bodies from male bodies signal fundamental differences in the humanities of women and men.
If one accepts that position, then what conclusion would an intelligent young woman find in the church? Bodies are important, she is told, but she will not see a single body image that looks like her. The closest would be the androgynous angelic images of the Rublev icon. Where does she find herself in this Catholic God?
Elizabeth Johnson and other feminist theologians have written about the need to resurrect those feminine images of God that have been especially neglected by the western church. Pope Francis has said that we need a theology of women. Perhaps what we need is a theology that fully accepts a multi-faceted image of God, and not so much emphasis on bodiliness.
From the Spirit
Your Signs of the Times article, “Unprecedented Teaching” (11/14), reminds me of the 35 years during which women were allowed to preach in the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y. I looked forward to having a woman homilist because they spoke with wisdom and intelligence and grace, both in deportment and, more important, from the Spirit. While my parish is blessed with two priests who are excellent homilists, I miss the perspective and insight women bring to us in the pews.
Re “Spiritual Costs of Debt,” by Sean Salai, S.J. (11/14): The prohibitive cost of access to Catholic education at any level mirrors the inequality in secular society, where the gap between the rich and the poor is ever growing. The virtue of prudence prevents many from availing themselves of the wonderful opportunity of a Catholic education. Particularly suffering are families where parents have been “generous” with God by giving life to more than one or two children. The Cristo Rey model for high schools seems to be a way forward. I wonder whether a university could work on a similar model?
While Alicia Torres found a way to clear her debt and enter religious life—and is now without future financial worries—her brothers and sisters called to the vocation of marriage will take on mortgages and educational costs for their families, and will grow in debt throughout their lives.
Heartbeats to Follow
Re “The Heart Beat,” by Elizabeth Dias (11/14): I found the text of this lecture by Ms. Dias, given as she was awarded the George W. Hunt, S.J., Prize, an excellent pinpointing of Scripture’s assertion, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!” The poignancy of her lecture was at times gripping.
The last line of the lecture speaks directly to my experiences of living the Catholic faith. She points out that “there are heartbeats to follow, humans to meet, a world to approach, stories to be told.” This sounds to me exactly like what redemption is all about; this is precisely what the Gospels say.
I like Ms. Dias’s “heartbeat” imagery. I like to believe and trust that my heartbeat (and everybody’s, I hope) is somehow in sync with the heartbeat of Jesus. This explains Jesus’ words to St. Faustina Kowalka, “Tell aching humanity to snuggle close to my merciful heart.”
Loans Blight Cities
Re: “Payday Predators,” by Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger (11/14): I wish all our bishops were as concerned as this bishop is. This blight is in every city in the United States. But as the article noted, most public officials don't realize how criminal this practice has become. And there is little doubt that organized crime runs a large part of it. Catholics should write their local newspapers and bring this to the attention of the public. It is a little thing, but something we all can do.
Choose in Conscience
Re Of Many Things (11/7): I agree with the comments of Pope Francis: “The people are sovereign. I will only say: Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience.” Afterward, whatever the outcome, as Father Malone says, we must come together and work to build a better society, a better nation, as hard as that might seem to be from our narrow perspectives.
Re “An Open Invitation,” by Superintendents and the National Catholic Educational Association (Reply All, 9/26): Both this letter and Charles Zech’s “Reinventing Catholic Schools” (8/29) stimulate thought and, hopefully, creative dialogue. Both reach questionable conclusions.
Mr. Zech proposes a single solution for all situations, by “replacing parochial schools with a system of charter schools.” Pope Francis is trying to break us all of that one-decision-fits-all habit, trusting local bodies to find customized solutions for even deeply sensitive issues.
The N.C.E.A. superintendents argue that “if Catholic schools disappear in great numbers, parishes will not be far behind.” As pastor emeritus (as of last July) of a parish, St. Nicholas, with a school that had 1,600 students in 1960 and 118 in 2014, it is far more likely that dogged determination to sustain a school as a parish school would have led to closing the parish.
Today my school, St. Nicholas School, has 162 students because of a creative combination of two factors: collaboration of our area’s surviving parish elementary schools through a regional system and dogged recruiting of students. This recruitment is supported by state subsidies to the poor and children trapped in nearby failing public systems.
There is no need (given the downsides the superintendents identify) to go the charter route, as Mr. Zech suggests, and no need to throw the parish into crushing indebtedness hanging on to the old model.
The old parish-based model is indeed broken, seemingly everywhere, but the solution is not a single new model that will fit all. Rather we need to stimulate development of various models created to fit each situation. Key to that future is passion and commitment with dialogue and creativity among all concerned.