Segue from the Male Priesthood Back to the Question of Service and Women

Wow, I see how the topic of the priesthood is really never just about the priesthood.  The many comments indicate how closely it touches upon the question of service and more particularly, servant leadership. I would like to use the emergence of this theme in the last set of comments in order to consider service and servant leadership here.

In my book, Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, a reader would notice how the women almost always speak about the struggle to follow, the struggle to learn self-abnegation, the struggle to see life as an opportunity to see themselves as gifted for the purpose of gift-giving. This is a natural human struggle, as old as original sin, of course. But I think women have been cautioned by various forms of feminism, too, to avoid seeing life through the lens of service, or risk being trampled and oppressed. Here is where the servant leadership notion comes in to save the day (by the way: for my master’s thesis, I wrote on French theologian Yves Congar’s  theology of “bishops as servants.” God has a funny way of bringing things back around, yes?). 

Servant leadership seems to “start” in two places, which places can result in avoiding the oppression women fear. It starts with the joint recognition that we are given particular gifts, talents, insights, etc., and with the realization that all we are given is meant to be put at the disposition of others. Jesus is the exemplar of course. He is both infinitely gifted, and put his very person at the ultimate (and painful and humiliating) service of others. In plain terms, this means that we are not powerless servants nor oppressed servants, but gifted servants.  We can take joy in  what we know and can do…and also make this available for others.    

The first chapter in my book, entitled “Fear of Children,” tells the story of my coming to grips with this dual nature of Christian service in the context of becoming a mother. Forgive me if I speak with the zeal of a “convert” (to mothering), but it was my realization that my resistance to children was a resistance to the Christian narrative — finding-oneself-by-losing-oneself — that led me to where I am today…to the conclusion that “children made me.” 

There may be other opportunities in particular people’s lives that as forcefully (and may I add, as relentlessly) confront them with the meaning of life as service to those who need what we have to give, but those opportunities are not nearly as common as people like to think. Some will take care of a disabled family member, an aging parent or even a friend. Some may expend incredible effort to help strangers. But for most people, a spouse and children are “the way”… the way to  learning about the constancy, the sacrifice and the love that is the meaning of life. This is a large part of what frightens me about the movements to trivialize sex, to legalize abortion, and to avoid having children altogether. 

  1. Mel Foil

    I’ve heard the case made that a male/female partnership is also the best situation when two regular police officers go into a tense, potentially violent situation, like someone making threats against their family members. The female officer (typically) has more skill in talking people down from choosing suicide, or violence, and the male officer  (typically stronger) has more non-fatal options for containing spontaneous violence. It’s easier to put someone down on  the ground quickly if you’re as heavy or heavier than they are. You may not have to pull out a weapon. Shoot someone, and there’s a lot more paperwork.

  2. Donald Todd

    I was and am particularly interested in how my wife holds up.  I could lift the burden of children off of her fairly regularly, and that helped.

    I would send her out to be with a coterie of women whom she enjoyed. They would do whatever it is that ladies do and talk about whatever ladies talk about.  Then she would come back, emptied of a lot of bottled up words and emotions, and ready to pick up on being a wife and mother.

    I could occasionally lift the burden of my in-laws off of my wife – a burden she wanted to take (honor your father and mother) and which I seconded – until their infirmities nearly crushed her at which point providence allowed us to get them (one at a time) into a skilled nursing facility.

    Her parents have passed on and our kids are grown.  I still find times to get my wife out of the daily grind, although she does not have the close women friends here that she had in our previous locations.  Her choice as far as I can determine.

    And good news, my wife hasn’t shot me even though I am bigger.

  3. Douglas

    “ Forgive me if I speak with the zeal of a “convert” (to mothering), but it was my realization that my resistance to children was a resistance to the Christian narrative — finding-oneself-by-losing-oneself — that led me to where I am today…to the conclusion that “children made me.” ”

    One of the things I hate about modernism in general and feminism in particular is how teenagers are more or less taught to hate the idea of parenthood, how they’re taught that parenthood is bad and a burden and a form of slavery. I know several women… a couple married into my family… that totally and completely changed when they had children. Having kids was like the scales falling from their eyes. The feminist myths that had been drilled into them… about how children were at best an attachment to be acquired and at worst a form of servitude… washed away like dirt after a shower. Children and parenthood is an essential part of what we are. The ethos that it’s fashionably optional is one of the blackest lies of our time.

  4. KC Mulville

     Consider Mark 10: 43-45

    Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

    Some people interpret this, subconsciously, as “I will serve them by leading them.” And in turn, that quickly becomes, “I’ll tell them what to do, and that’ll be my service to them.” And in the worst cases, it becomes, “They should be grateful when I bestow my superiority on them.”

    In this world, leadership suggests superiority. So, those who want to be recognized as superior want to become leaders. But it’s the power and acclaim of superiority that they seek. It’s important to remember that the urge to be superior may be human but it isn’t Christian.

    A great passage to reflect on, especially when it comes to priesthood, is the Corinthians hymn: “Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.” How curious; why not?

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