In order for women to embrace our proper role in sanctifying the priesthood, we must be willing to abandon the adversarial position we often place ourselves in with men. Great damage has been done in the dynamic between men and women, thanks to radical forms of feminism that seek to pit men and women against one another in an endless power struggle. This has served to drive a wedge in all male-female relationships, including between priests and women.
The priesthood needs the influence of holy women, but this influence is not meant to be from a position of power, which so many want to grasp at in the call for women’s ordination to the priesthood and permanent diaconate, as well as other lay leadership roles within the Church. (The latter is ironic, considering that women dominate most leadership positions within both parishes and dioceses.)
If a woman’s primary objective is having a place of authority within the hierarchy when she argues for equality, then she is misunderstanding both the nature of the priesthood and her call to serve Christ as a woman in the Church. Any movement on the part of men or women in the Church that is predicated on power in relation to the priesthood becomes unmoored from the priesthood Christ instituted at the Last Supper.
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When Our Lord instituted His priesthood, He did so by showing His apostles that to be one of His priests is to be a man of service and radical self-emptying. It is to abandon the desire for power, honor, and status in the world in order to take the lowest place on the cross. They are not to lord over the world, or even the Church. Instead, they’re to follow the path of the Suffering Servant who pours Himself out in kenotic love to the Father for the salvation of the world. This means any argument for equality between the sexes that focuses on women’s ordination and greater power for women within the Church is the antithesis of what and Whom the priesthood represents.
The answer to how women specifically can help renew the priesthood requires a movement away from the desire for control over men and a false, worldly “equality” to a supernatural worldview. Women are called by our unique feminine gifts to help in the sanctification of priests. It is a role that is essential, but that has been sorely lacking because of the constant power struggles that are on display even in the smallest of parishes.
The other critical divide between women of faith and their priests is the fact that all relationships in our culture have been reduced to sex. This means that the authentic, God-given complementarity of men and women has been lost. This complementarity does not only apply to romantic love and marriage; it also includes friendships and familial bonds, both at the material and the spiritual level.
Yes, men and women must be more prudent in their relationships because of the natural pull towards one another. But this in no way means that men and women are incapable of authentic, holy charity. It simply means more effort is required, as well as constant vigilance. We can’t forget that the evil one is always on the prowl. If there is a lack of spiritual maturity on either side, then this absolutely will not work and it could be a source of spiritual danger for both parties. This simply means a dedication to holiness and spiritual progress must supersede everything else—and that’s good advice, even for a healthy culture. What we absolutely must not do is draw a rigid divide between men and women, precluding any friendship or cooperation, out of some misplaced and fearful puritanism.
The single greatest example to us of the role of women and the priesthood comes from Our Heavenly Mother. She is the example par excellence for us. She is the Queen and Mother of all priests, and it’s through her example that women and priests can come to a clearer understanding of how women can help them grow in holiness, especially in a time of crisis.
This Marian dimension is best demonstrated through spiritual motherhood of priests. This role of course goes back to Our Blessed Mother who became the mother of all priests when she was given Saint John by her Son as He died on the cross. Throughout Church history, this is a mission that many women—both lay and religious—have been given by Christ through Our Lady.
In the last decade, there has been an even greater movement towards spiritual motherhood of priests in the Church. The Congregation for the Clergy published a document in 2007 on the necessity of spiritual maternity and Eucharistic Adoration for the sanctification of priests. It is a calling that primarily begins hidden, but that can change based on God’s will for each woman He chooses for this vocation.
Given the attacks on the priesthood and the scandals at present, there is a growing need for priests to know these women are present in their midst fighting spiritually for them in prayer, offering sacrifices and reparations, as well as nudging them along as Our Heavenly Mother did at Cana in order to help them on the path to holiness.
Priests need to know there are women dedicated to helping them in their priestly ministry who are not seeking control or power over them. There are far too many priests who think they are on their own, which is why some spiritual mothers are being called by the Holy Spirit to make themselves known while others remain hidden. The Church herself has said that this is an essential calling, but one that is still greatly misunderstood.
No matter how this calling manifests in a woman’s life, it is first and foremost a Marian call. It is to love priests with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which means a selfless love that seeks their ultimate good, that is, their sanctification. To be a spiritual mother is to die to self, just like natural motherhood. A spiritual mother’s entire mission is to work in the supernatural order for priests to become saints. This means that power struggles or disordered affections can have no place in this calling. We can’t simply will another’s good if we are enslaved by our own ego and desire for control, or if we fall into temptation.
True spiritual motherhood also complements spiritual fatherhood in that it helps to bring out both callings. Priests—like husbands and fathers—need women to grow in their spiritual fatherhood. This is why it is essential for priests to be Marian or they run the risk of falling into disordered bachelorhood or ending up detached from the needs of the women in their care. Authentic femininity that is grounded in holy charity and a Marian identity helps lead priests more deeply into the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is the path to greater sanctity.
Women may scoff at this role, but to do so is to take a worldly view. All spiritual power exerted by female saints down through the ages—including everyone’s recent favorite in the scandals, Saint Catherine of Siena—came from their willingness to fight spiritual battles first. Saint Catherine was a woman of tremendous prayer, fasting, sacrifice, mortifications, and reparations. It is from this intimate life with God poured out in love that she was able to minister to priests, bishops, and popes. She wasn’t interested in worldly power and honor. That is why God called her to such great missions. God doesn’t call people who seek worldly power to positions of influence. We cannot serve two masters.