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.