5th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004
First Reading - Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
Psalm - 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
or 15:3-8, 11
Gospel - Luke 5:1-11
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake, the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon said in reply, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets." When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
Our readings for this Sunday highlight the calling of several significant individuals in salvation history: Isaiah, Sts. Peter and Paul and Sts. James and John. If you consider the contributions of these giants of the Scriptures, we could say that their lives were heroic, inspiring and absolutely crucial to the spread of the Gospel, each in their own different way.
What is unique about each of these five men, is that they were specifically called by God to perform certain tasks for Him as part of His plan of salvation for all people. Their vocations provide us with an opportunity today to consider an issue that sadly remains unsettled in the minds of some Catholics and that is the issue of the all-male priesthood. By way of this homily, I would like to elucidate the Church's theology and reasoning behind our all-male priesthood so that each of you can articulate our orthodox position on this matter and why the Holy Father declared this issue closed for discussion in 1994 in a document On the Ordination of Priests as being reserved to men alone (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis).
At first glance, the notion of an all-male priesthood seems so unfair, so prejudicial against women. The thought would be: In this country, women can vote, they can own property and file for divorce. Women can aspire to pretty much every kind of career that a man can perform, with some limited exceptions. So, it stands to reason that a woman living in this country should be able to aspire to the priesthood, an institution dominated by men, but whose barriers can be broken down. After all, we have things like professional sports teams for women now, an idea once thought impossible until recent years. Won't it just be a matter of time before the all-male hierarchy of the Church catches up with civilization and gets with the times? Women have gifts to contribute to the Church, so why shouldn't they be able to exercise positions of authority? Citing the dearth of priests facing the Church, there may be very qualified women who can fill the needs for pastoral work. Is it really just to deny women this right to the priesthood?
While the aforementioned arguments seem persuasive on the emotional level, they are fatally flawed on the theological level and here's why:
1. The priesthood is neither a right nor a career - it is a calling, a vocation, taken from the Latin vocare, which means "to call." There are dozens and dozens of careers but only three vocations - the single life, the married life and the priestly and religious life. Sure, some professions like medicine or teaching and other altruistic careers may involve a discernment of being called to a particular kind of work, but in this context the word "vocation" means a stable state of life. After all, one could be a priest with a medical degree or a license to practice law. However, one can't be single and married or a priest and consecrated to the single lay life.
2. Not only is the priesthood a calling, it is God Himself who does the calling and he called men to the priesthood. The second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, true God and true men instituted the priesthood as an all-male institution. He could have called our Lady or any of the other women that He knew to be priests but He did not. Women seemed to be more qualified - it was women who stood by the foot of the Cross and it is a woman whom we honor as the Immaculate Conception and the Mother of God. As for the Apostles - they ran when Christ needed them the most. They showed no fortitude when our Lord faced His Passion - it was only St. John who witnessed to the end. It seems then the Apostles were little qualified to perform their mission - the women were much more courageous in the face of adversity. This is what is so significant about the calling of Peter in our Gospel today - he says to the Lord, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." Christ knew Peter's flaws and his future sins and yet these did not prevent our Lord from making Peter our first Pope. So, it is clear that vocation, not competency or merit is the key ingredient to God's choise that only men serve as priests. Scripture makes it clear that our Lord chose men and only men to be His priests.
3. When it came to dealing with women, it was not as if our Lord was bound by social convention, either. After all, He had women friends; He was found alone at the well speaking with a Gentile woman, a Samaritan women - the sworn enemies of the Jews. Such an action was considered extremely taboo by the Jews. Social convention never thwarted Jesus from fulfilling His mission. Some say that women would not have been listened to by the cultures of the time - that they would not be given a fair hearing because they were second-class citizens and so Christ's decision to call only men was really culturally-conditioned. Guess what? No one listened to the Apostles either. Eleven of the 12 of them died as martyrs.
4. Others posit that Jesus could not have known that the Church would face a lack of priests in the 21st century and thus have a need for women, much more educated than they have ever been, to fill-in the ranks. To deny that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing at the Last Supper would be to deny his omniscience. To deny his omniscience would be to deny his divinity and to do that means that there is no way He could have risen from the dead. If He did not rise from the dead, then St. Paul was right: our faith would be in vain.
5. Charges that the Church is anti-woman because of her prohibition of women's ordination are specious at best. Ask the Red Cross and the United Nations and they will tell you that no other institution does more for women and children around the world than the Catholic Church. Catholics are the only Christians who honor a woman as already enjoying heaven both in body and soul in the person of our Lady. And it is largely due to the Catholic Church that efforts to protect women and children from the evils of abortion and contraception have had any success in the world.
6. Lastly, when priests exercise their sacred ministry, they act in persona Christi - in the person of Christ. Maleness is a part of who our Lord Jesus was and is. God desires to image the male figure in the sanctuary and in the sacraments, as mirrors or icons of God the Father feeding his children with the sacraments. God the Father desires other fathers, his priests, to continually manifest His divine Fatherhood in the world. That's why only men can be priests - it's not because they are more qualified or holier or better suited for the work. It's because of what priests are called to be - icons of God the Father.
When we consider all that the Church has laid out for us in her teaching on the reservation of ordination to men alone, we see the result of 2,000 years of wisdom that continues to guide her path. We do well to pray for the conversion of heart of those Catholics who work tirelessly to attempt to change the very priesthood that our Lord instituted. Rather, we ought to pray that the gifts of women in the Church be utilized in their proper way and moreover, let us pray that the Lord will send many, many more faithful servants of her word and sacrament in raising up new priests for the Third Christian millennium. With the assistance of the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mother, may those men called to the priesthood imitate her purity and her total obedience to the will of the Father.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Now and forever!
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