Justice and the Ordination of Women

After I read today’s readings, I suffered a case of writer’s block. I did not know exactly how I wanted to reflect on the readings. Then, as I was walking on a rainy mountain morning, the writers’ block left me. I go the word. It was “justice.”

Jeremiah was a seventh century prophet who was all about justice. He challenged the false prophets and their false programs for peace. He also challenged the king to obey the word of God and not form alliances to defend Israel. For all his efforts, Jeremiah was rejected, beaten, imprisoned and thrown into a cistern to die. So much for the fate of the prophet!

Yet, Jeremiah persevered. He told the people that God would once again act on their behalf just like God had acted when he delivered their ancestors from oppression in Egypt. God would bring the people back from every corner of the earth.

The Psalmist proclaims justice. When the one proclaimed by Jeremiah comes, justice will flourish:

Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.

Jesus whose birth is announced in the Gospel readings is the Just One. Over and over again during Advent, the readings have focused on justice. Justice is the cornerstone of Bible-based church teaching. In the final analysis, church teaching is authentic teaching to the extent that it conforms to the requirements of justice—right order, right relationships with one another, God, and creation.

I also realized something during my walk. I have let go of the issue with the bishop who banned me because I spoke at Call To Action because CTA supports the ordination of women and gay rights. It mattered not that I was talking about The Nonviolence of Thomas Merton. In the opinion of the bishop, ordination of women does not square up with Church Teaching. (Note that both words were capitalized in the letter.)

While I have chosen to let the dead bishops bury the dead bishops, I have not let go of the justice issue at stake. The treatment of women in the church is a JUSTICE issue. After patriarchy squeezed women out of their rightful roles in liturgy and leadership, the church has victimized, marginalized and oppressed women for countless centuries. They have been treated as second class citizens at best. Church Teaching that relegates women to second class status is unjust and needs to be challenged and corrected.

The bishop in Venice like the Archbishop in Cincinnati, who ordered Sister Louise Akers to denounce her support for the ordination of women, acted unjustly. To hide behind the skirts of Church Teaching and to preclude any discussion of the issue is a grave injustice. No doctrine of the church can trump the call for justice. The issue cannot be removed from the table.

The Just One, Jesus the Christ, and all the prophets before and after him, understand the radical importance of justice in the church. The church cannot be anything other than a Just Church.

The Pontifical Commission concluded, “It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.” In other words, there is no New Testament prohibition about women in ministry. Certainly, the exclusion of women from Holy orders cannot be based on the history of the church which has acted unjustly toward women.

If the church had precluded discussions about slavery, we would have taken Paul literally and slavery would still be with us. We cannot accept Paul’s culturally conditioned statements about women literally and use them as justification for relegating women to second class citizenship.

Justice requires listening. Where would we be if Joseph, a just man, had not listened to the angel? Joseph had made up his mind to secretly divorce Mary, his espoused wife. Unlike many church leaders today, Joseph listened to the word of God. Joseph chose justice not face saving patriarchal prerogatives. Only when we listen with the ears of our hearts can we hear the call of justice in any given situation. When we open the ears of our hearts, justice will rain down.

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