When he was a cardinal, Pope John 2 visited Australia, and during that time he said Mass and had lunch in the church of the Resurrection, a Polish church in the street where we lived. The teenager who was our babysitter at the time of the Pope’s election, remarked with awe that “When the pope was in Australia he ate my mother’s pavlova”.
Since the time of Jesus women of countless generations have cooked for and served the people of God and the men of God in particular. Women are always there. They get things done.
Women in my mother’s generation not only went to Mass every Sunday and often said the rosary every day, but they also belonged to the Catholic Women’s Guild, darned the Brother’s socks, washed up after First Communion breakfasts, bought raffle tickets, ran stalls at the parish fete and volunteered at tuck shop.
Jesus stuck his neck out for women, women like Peter’s mother in law. We don’t know her name nor do we know the name of her daughter, Peter’s wife. They belong to the “no-name” cast of women who people the pages of the four Gospels.
There was the widow of Naim, burying her only son, the woman with a haemorrhage and the Syro-Phoenician woman, both of whom Jesus presented to his apostles as models of faith. Jesus touched Jairus’ dead daughter and drank from the Samaritan woman’s jug, and in so doing broke religious and cultural taboos.
The bent-over woman, the widow giving her mite in the temple, the woman accused of adultery, the woman who anointed Jesus’ head and feet- all of them un-named – but each one releasing in Jesus the courage and authority to challenge taken-for-granted attitudes to women. Finally he sent women, classified in Jewish tradition as “unreliable witnesses” to announce his resurrection to the disciples.
That’s why it’s hard to understand why the Church leadership works so hard to keep women out of things. Their role in today’s Church is a delicate and controversial subject. In our own country Bishop William Morris has been forced to take early retirement because he had the courage (or the temerity) to suggest among other things, that women could be ordained.
American Benedictine Joan Chittester says that male religious dominance is not tradition, but a long-lasting social practice that was based on bad biology and became theology as time went by.
Many Catholic women in our parishes are aware of a deeper, different call to ministries – such as liturgical ministry. They serve on parish committees, lead faith-sharing groups, write Gospel reflections, read reputable religious books and take Communion to the sick in their homes and in hospitals. Increasing numbers of women have theology degrees and are spiritual directors.
Women of all ages experience the call to priestly ministry. They ache to be able to welcome others into the Church in baptism, anoint the sick, share the Word of God when the faithful gather. Maybe the religious unrest being experienced at present is indicative of a time when they will be released from the anonymity of the past to take their rightful place in the Body of Christ, the Church.