I was 7 or 8 years old when I had my feet washed as part of the Maundy Thursday mass. I remember being thrilled and fascinated at the idea, and feeling very special. When the elderly priest washed my feet I can honestly say I felt humbled – even at that young age. Acting out the story definitely pulled me deeper into the scripture of the last supper.
“Bwaaaaaahhhhh! Well that’s never going to happen!” Confused, I asked her why… “Because that’s the way it is I’m afraid. Be a nun instead” And that was it.
I’m not exactly sure why I wanted to become a priest. Perhaps it was the drama and the ritual of the mass (which kids absolutely love btw). Or perhaps it was because I thought the holy priests in our parish were cool. Maybe it was because I saw how my parents respected priests. Perhaps it was because I was a true tom-boy, and would never have been seen dead in a dress – which is ironic really because everybody knows the coolest priests wear cassocks! Or maybe it was that I was just a bit of a bossy boots and wanted to be in charge! It definitely had something to do with the awe and mystery surrounding transubstantiation and the real presence in the Eucharist. All I remember is that I felt a very strong calling, and interpreted this as wanting to become a priest.
Fast forward a couple of years to when I was 12. My younger sister (age 8) had become the first female alter server in our parish. Confusingly, I was deemed to old. Perhaps it was because they didn’t want me to get any funny ideas about wanting to become a priest?! Maybe it was because I had boobs?!! No one ever told me why. I remember feeling rather left out, and jealous of my sister – especially as my mum seemed so proud of this landmark event in our church. But I also remember asking my mum “Is it ok for girls to be on the altar? Does this mean they will have women priests now?”…
The real turning point came in my mid-twenties after the birth of our first child when I read ‘Theology of the Body’. This text was just revolutionary to me in a completely saturated world of sexual “freedom” and “equality”. (The sex education we received in our all girl’s Catholic high school taught us that we MUST pump your body full of hormones AND use a condom in order to avoid that dreaded thing called pregnancy. But if we did have the unfortunate mishap of being let down by our contraception, there were services that could ‘help’. I never really bought that idea.)
It is when I started reading the church’s teaching on the family that the penny really started to drop: “The family, is so to speak, the domestic church.” (Lumen Gentium 11). In our house, our little ‘domestic church’, everyone has their own separate roles. As our family grew the dynamics in the house began to change. In a strange way, my husband and I had never felt so close but so far apart at the same time. This is because our roles of Mother and Father, of Husband and Wife were developing. When we got married we both worked full-time, we had the same social life, the same activities, the same everything really. In the view of the world we were completely “equal”. But as the children have come along and our marriage has developed that has changed. I can now see that back then we were not so much “equal” as “uniform”. (The difference between equality and uniformity is of course, one of the most blurred and misunderstood notions of the modern age.)
Now we have very different roles as Mother and Father, but we are both equal in dignity and could not carry out our roles without the other. We rely on each other’s differences to enrich our family. If I was to try to do my husband’s role as well as my own I would only be reaching half my potential over two roles. The same goes for my Husband. By allowing each other to fulfil our separate roles as husband and wife, Mother and Father we actually GAIN as a family. We complement each other rather than trying to compete with each other. My husband’s vocation is to lay down his life for his bride, and my vocation as bride is to support him in doing that. When we both fulfill our roles in the way God meant us to, we are able to give more.
Men and women, Husbands and wives, Mothers and Father have different roles because they are different. Marriage is in fact a celebration of the differences between men and women. I am dignified as a wife and a mother simply because I am a woman – something my husband can never be. And vice versa. I could never be a husband or a father in the same way as my husband can because I am not a man. It is not just the physical differences, but the emotional and psychological and spiritual ones too.
As gay marriage becomes law here in the UK next week, I will weep at the dilution and abandonment of the roles of husband and wife, mother and father. And I will weep for the children who, because of their ‘parents’ rights, will be denied either a mother or a father.
A man can never fulfill the rule of mother like a woman can. A woman can never fulfill the role of father like a man can.
And then it struck me – A woman can never fulfill the role of Fr. like a man can. As a church, we are a family. We have men and women each with their own specific gifts and talents – and roles. Just as in my own little domestic church, the role of father is reserved for a man – my husband. So it is in the wider church.
If we started mixing up and blurring gender roles like what is happening in the secular world next week, we will only stand to lose. The church as ‘bride’ would suffer a great loss. As children of the church, we would suffer a great loss.
So you see, as a woman I could never claim the right to be a Father, or a Fr. because to do so would result in loss, and only be motivated by my own selfish desires. I guess the real hurt for me comes from wanting to be as close as possible to Him – specifically Eucharistically. But take the example of Faustina – she wasn’t a priest, and her relationship with Jesus was something most priests can only dream of. Every human being yearns to be united with their creator (whether they know it not). But it seems to me that the closer one draws to Him, the greater the yearning becomes – it must be love!
And so what about the calling I still feel? Well, I don’t know… watch this space…
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!” – St. Catherine of Sienna