Quodlibets: Room at the Top

The other day I saw in the back window of a sedan one of those yellow diamond-shaped signs which entertain drivers lucky enough to be next in line at a red light. The message of such signs was serious at first. Baby On Board. But this one was simply funny.

Baby In Trunk.

I laughed. Who wouldn’t? Presumably the matron at the wheel loved the two kids strapped in their car seats and the slogan was merely a way of letting off steam in the genre of “Go play in the street.”

Perhaps this is the way one ought to take the slogans of radical feminists who feel put upon in the Church. I am prepared to believe that life is difficult for the radical feminist. Even males feel an anticlerical impulse from time to time, not least when the dreary business of pastoral letter drafts begins to be enacted again.

Prompted by the zeitgeist, the NCCB turned its collective mind to national defense and nuclear weapons and then went on to economies, domestic and multinational. Next on their agenda was the alleged problem of women. I have not studied the draft in detail—Lent was over when it came into my hands—but what I know of it suffices to irk.

Item. Noting the official Church teaching that artificial contraception is contrary to Natural Law, not as a sum of actions, but as a kind of action, the draft characterizes this as an ideal, asserts that most Catholic women—wives?—ignore the ban, and recommends dialogue in the hope that the Church can learn from these scofflaws.

This suggests that the Church does not expect couples to eschew artificial contraception, suggests further that observance of it amounts to heroic virtue, and that eventually the Vatican will listen to reason, join the modern world and embrace the contraceptive mentality. Our bishops’ own incredible statement on AIDS and condoms might strengthen the impression that change is in the offing.

Who could blame couples if, like Ollie North, they anticipate the permission they feel sure will come?

Of course there will be no change in the Church’s position on artificial contraception. There cannot be. The Church cannot make okay what is intrinsically disordered. And, as is well known, with the refinement of various methods of Natural Family Planning, having recourse to artificial contraception requires an almost ideological motive. (NFP is the SDI of the committed anti-Humanae Vitaeist.) As Paul VI hoped, knowledge of licit methods of limiting the size of families has rendered the whole dispute idle. Except, again, for the dissident whose axe all along was authority rather than contraception.

Will women ever be ordained priests of the Roman Catholic Church? I am no theologian, it is not for me to formulate the arguments on behalf of the long tradition, but I do feel certain, from the tone of papal statements, that it would be most unwise to encourage women in the hope that they will one day receive Holy Orders. Do many women long for the priesthood? I do not know. I doubt it. But of course it could become an acquired ambition. A woman might learn to long to be a lineman for the county. But one group definitely demands ordination. Radical feminists.

They have a slogan and I don’t know whether it is like Baby On Board or Baby In The Trunk. You will have heard it.

If you won’t ordain us, don’t baptize us.

You smile as you read it, and why not? But what if it were seriously meant? Even as a joke, it does not suggest a very profound grasp of the nature of the sacraments, particularly of baptism. Do not wash me in the saving waters unless you plan to make me a star. Is it stodgy to go on about this slogan?

I don’t think so. All one has to do is imagine the slogan addressed to Christ to sense how inappropriate it is. Actually, something analogous did happen. The mother of the sons of Zebedee, in Matthew’s account, approached Jesus with the request that her sons might sit, one at his right hand, the other at his left. Jesus’ answer, both in Matthew and Mark, is the same. “You do not know what you are asking.” Preference in the Church is a costly thing, not an honor. It is to be the servant of others, to minister to them. Jesus contrasts leaders in the Church with rulers among the Gentiles.

Of these latter, we might say that they have power and prestige. They are honored and served. The priest is another Christ and to be ordained is to be empowered, certainly, but empowered to reenact the passion. As Cardinal Lustiger writes in his little book on the Mass (Harper & Row, 1987), “The priest, who becomes a minister of Christ through his ordination, bears witness to and renders Christ present in his Church.(…) It is the priest who, in celebrating the Eucharist, the sacerdotal mission for which he was ordained, makes it possible for the Church to enter into this unique relationship with Christ, the Lord.”

Radical feminists do not express their aspiration in this way at all. They say they want to be part of the “decision-making process.” (Even the cliches are worldly.) I think they want jobs in the office. Maybe they have confused the USCC and the NCCB with the Church and bureaucrats with priests.

They’re wrong. Aren’t they?

  • Ralph McInerny

    Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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