The jobs I had as a teen and young adult gave me the opportunity of having women as my bosses. The person who hired me at my first job, my boss and supervisor were women. My seven years at Marshall Fields allowed me to work with several bosses or supervisors, all women. Never was I treated with anything but respect and encouragement. The women at Fields, who worked with me in the Students Shop and were primarily Jewish, were the ones who encouraged me in becoming a priest. Over lunch and coffee breaks we talked a lot about everything.
A woman named Mary, sister of Martha, was sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him, while her sister attended to the many tasks of preparing the dinner. It would have been highly unusual for any woman to be sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him, absorbing his words. A make in this position of listening and learning was the cultural norm. Jesus, without show or fanfare, is pushing the cultural boundaries. He did this with the woman at the well. Mary Magdalene was the first to witness the Risen Lord. The woman caught in adultery was given back her dignity by Christ, to the shame of men with stones of judgement in hands and heart. I could go on...
The church faces a serious dilemma regarding women: an all male hierarchy will decide how and when to “allow” women and their voice to be heard. The pope speaks wisely about the equality of women and the need of the church to treat women with equality and respect. When will our structures be transformed to reflect the words of the pope? The question of ordination is a separate, hot button issue that wrangles the discussion about women in the church. It’s not all about the ordination of women, something that just isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Let’s work with what we CAN do: appoint women as administrators of parishes, hire women (and lay men) as professors in the seminary to assist in the formation of seminarians, require those seeking ordination to be able to minister side by side with women in positions of authority, incorporate the voice of women in the Liturgy.
Why doesn’t the pope have any women in his circle of cardinal advisors? Why doesn’t the church release its findings on the ordination of women as deacons, a subject open for discussion? Pope Francis keeps sidestepping this issue by making ambiguous statements about not trying to focus on incorporating women in clerical positions.
We are living at a pivotal moment in our world, given the pandemic, election, all the turmoil regarding racism. We need to squarely face the virus of sexism, just as clearly as we must face the plague of racism.
Perhaps what is needed is to see things in a different perspective. Maybe the role of Mary listening to Jesus can be the leadership of our church and the role of Jesus be women. Let the women speak and let male leaders listen. May they take feverish notes, jotting down the diverse perspectives of women who make up the vast majority of those who work for the church.
Listening and reflecting must lead to actions consistent with our teachings. But actions must follow. It’s a touch of irony that pope Francis just issued an encyclical letter on forging unity within the human family titled, “Fratelli Tutti,” meaning, “All BROTHERS”. Speaks volumes.