Monday, August 25, 2008

La Difference

Who are these people who announce periodically in yet "another important psychological breakthrough" there is no difference between the sexes? Did they grow up under a rock? Do they not have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, schoolmates, girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, children? Most people have at least two of the above, more than ample example to demonstrate the serious differences between the genders.

So as to educate these (s)experts who obviously have not shared living space with siblings of the opposite gender, or had the privilege of raising boys and girls who are of the same species, I am prepared to offer definitive scientific instruction on "la difference" (as in "vive"). Voici:

Take one portable tape player whose batteries need changing. A man will instantly locate the back panel, slide it open with his thumbnail, neatly flip out the old batteries, snap in four new ones without looking, and in one motion replace the back panel. Twenty seconds....tops.

Now, a woman who can simultaneously prepare an elaborate meal for six, while refereeing a fight over whose turn it is to set the table, and politely fend off unsolicited dinnertime calls from Krazy Karl’s Karpetcleaning Kompany, will need to examine this same portable tape player for at least twenty seconds just to locate the back panel ever neatly camouflaged as a speaker grill clone. Then - she has learned from past experience - she must carefully place the machine between her knees, press two thumbs on alleged sliding panel and push with all her might. Nothing will happen. Gamely, she will try again ... and again, her face growing red with exertion. When, of course, it still won't budge, she will spend the next ten minutes rummaging through bathroom cabinets for a nail file, which she'll then wedgy under the ridge beneath the raised black plastic arrow. She'll twist fiercely, and with a groan and a snap the panel will explode from the machine amidst bits of black plastic which will cascade about her. Sweeping away the offending shards, she'll use the same nail file to dislodge the batteries, and must, in the end, shake the machine to remove the last battery.

Of course, in the exasperation of the procedure, she'll not have had occasion to note which battery came from where, and will crawl about looking for the back panel which skittered across the floor in the explosion. Locating it in the cat’s bowl, she'll look with dismay upon the raised, stamped battery map on its back, an array worthy of the WWII Crypto-cipher Hall of Fame. Ever versatile, she'll click the tape player PLAY button, and load new batteries in a variety of patterns, continuing until she hears life from the speakers. Since there are no ridges left on which to slide the remains of the back panel, she'll deftly lay it in place and secure it with duct tape. Voila. Twenty minutes...tops.

I mean, really, what more proof is needed than that? Yet, despite this very scientific conclusive evidence about these obvious God-created differences between men and women, I know there are some Catholics out there who still believe it is just a matter of time before the Vatican announces a female priesthood - obviously people still not clear on the concept. Quite simply, it is God’s done deal. The pope can no more declare a female priesthood tomorrow, than he can declare pregnancy for men the day after that. It is not his to proclaim, for God has indicated in His history with us that these matters are His.

Now, having read much of what the Church has to say on this matter - and, indeed, the matter has been declared closed, I found that talks on Old Testament sacrifice by Dr. Scott Hahn led me to a deeper understanding: In His perfection, and in complete freedom, God ordained from the beginning that the priesthood be male, whether the early formal priesthoods of Melchizedek, Aaron, and the Levites, or the recorded Old Testament sacrifices made by the fathers of families.

The most solemn of these sacrifices in Jewish tradition is the Passover. God commanded Moses to instruct the Hebrew men to take one-year-old unblemished male lambs, slaughter them, and sprinkle the blood on the wooden lintels of their doors. Then the lambs were to be roasted and entirely consumed by family groupings. If they did this faithfully and completely, they would be spared the destroying Passover angel. Now, they couldn’t choose to modify God’s command by selecting rams, female lambs, or just fry up a few lamb kebobs with mint sauce. If they made these modifications, they would have awakened to find their firstborn sons dead. It was only the perfect sacrifice of that unblemished male lamb that spared them.

Of course, we know Jesus is the new Passover Lamb. Early in the gospel of John it is recorded that John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and stated, "Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." Jesus is the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for us, His blood sprinkled on the wood of the cross, His body which we consume. God-with-us was male, and at the Last Supper He chose to confer priesthood on male apostles.

Perhaps, some say, it was cultural? No, Jesus consistently defied cultural conventions in His ministry. The link is clear: the male lamb was the sacrificial Passover offering offered by males, and, in the New Covenant, Christ, the Lamb of God was sacrificed once and for all for our sins. He leaves behind a priesthood: men who, at the Consecration of the Mass stand in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, the male Lamb who was victim and priest.

Surely if Jesus had meant the priesthood to be conferred on women He would have conferred it on His Mother: the one who declared herself blessed by all generations; the one who was the new Ark of the Covenant, bearing God-with-us in her womb; the one who was taken body and soul into heaven as Enoch and Elijah were; the one whom Jesus indicated is the Mother of us all. But He who was the fulfillment of the law of the Old Testament and defied the laws of his culture chose not to. He pointed to a different purpose for this woman -- and all women.

God so cherishes the female, He has conferred on her a different gift: the gift of biological lifebearing - a lifebearing denied to men. He seeks to spare her from the dramatic violence and death - real and conceptual - associated with blood sacrificial offerings. That spiritual lifebearing of sin atonement has been reserved from the earliest days to men.

Amen to that, sisters. And, isn’t it about time we ‘fessed up: give birth, hold and feed with our very own bodies that precious life in your arms, and know we just may have the better part of the deal.

Enough said.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


For more years than I can count I have been witnessing to a dear old Catholic friend who, it would seem, has slowly been co-opted by liberal Catholic thinking. While she still calls herself Catholic and attends Mass many Sundays, she now has difficulty accepting many Catholic teachings, and believes the Church is in a state of change. She is insistent that if enough continuous pressure is brought to bear, there will be a change in Church teaching on the matter of women priests, contraception, the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, and more. She feels this is due in a large part to the many "heroic" pilgrim liberal Catholics - most of them women - who have "sacrificed" much to remain in the Church and effect that change.

My pal and I have debated these contentious issues over the years in a charitable fashion, quite often in emails through which we can attach current news items, articles and essays from all over the world. Most recently the debate has increased on the matter of women priests, especially in light of the "ordinations" of women in Lexington, Kentucky.

On August 21, she triumphantly emailed me a link to the pages of the US National Catholic Reporter where a homily by Bp. Thomas Gumbleton had been published Bp. Gumbleton had delivered this homily defending women's ordination on August 17, 2008 at the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.

Well, it goes without saying I got into quite a fuss over this - a regular Category 8 Tizzy. Years of witness and impassioned arguments to the matter of a priesthood being reserved to the male, and it was effectively eviscerated by a published homily by a Catholic bishop in what is purported to be a "Catholic" newspaper. Aieeeee!

How can I answer this? What am I to say? The homily commenced from a flawed premise that in the fullness of His humanity Jesus "converted" and changed his mind. It then went on to make many of the arguments my friend has made over the years regarding the ordination of women. And this from a retired bishop who, according to the Detroit archdiocesan website, was still in good standing: "Bp. Gumbleton will still function as a priest and bishop, celebrating the sacraments, including Confirmation, throughout parishes".

Oh sure, I can email my pal church documents and current pronouncements made by other Catholic officials countering Bp. Gumbleton’s homily (and I will), but she will respond that the change is surely imminent, otherwise the official Catholic hierarchy in the US would have long ago censored and sidelined the NCR and Bp. Gumbleton.

In an ecclesiastical game of chess I've been checked - but I am heartened by knowing Big-T Truth is never checkmated. However all this is largely beyond the laity's power to address. She will be right. How is it that Bp. Gumbleton continues to preach and publish in an official capacity these issues contrary to Church teaching, and how is it that the NCR still bears the title, "Catholic"?

I was so fussed, I sent letters of angst (yes, they were gritted-teeth polite) with copies of the homily to Abp Pietro Sambini, the US Apostolic Nuncio; and Cdl Adam Maida of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Please God they will do the right thing. Hey, it's hard enough out here on the playing field without having your own team scoring one (or two, or three) against you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pride Goeth

Are there people out there as traumatized by the confessional as I am? Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of Confession (Reconciliation) and the enormous gift that Confession is to us; it’s just the actual going to Confession that leaves me limp-limbed (Hmmm - if confession is to the confessional, shouldn't we be entering the reconciliational? - but I digress)

Psycho-therapists would have a field day with what they would conclude was my traumatic First Confession - a trauma so severe it has assuredly left me with neurotic fears of dark boxes, curtains and grills. Goodness, come to think of it, perhaps that is why I profess to loathe barbequeing ... or, maybe it’s simply that I know it is a chance to leave the cooking to my dh. But I digress, yet once again.

As a matter of fact, I’ve had my share of traumatic Confessions since then, incidents which have left me panting on the floor in abject humiliation. One might even suspect God had planned it that way. But, surely, you say, a good God wouldn’t do things like that to His children. After all, isn’t He a God of love?

Precisely. And, He knows the inner man:

1) It’s the 1950's, and Sister Audrey brought her Grade One class to St. Joseph’s for First Confession. We had been rehearsing for weeks, and now I stood, prissily proud to be chosen first to confess. Sister gave me the nod, and I grandly and importantly processed to the curtain, entered with a flourish, made the Sign of the Cross, prayerfully folded my hands placing them on the top of the ledge just as Sister had taught us, and intoned solemnly, "Bless me, Fath....".

A deep voice came from the other side of the grill, "You forgot to kneel down!"

"Knnneeel?", I stammered, "but Sister Audrey said we should stand because if we kneel it makes us too short and you won’t hear us."

"I understand child," he said quietly, "but I’m asking you to kneel; don’t worry, I’ll be able to hear you."

"But," I replied, my lower lip trembling, "Sister said!!"

He repeated gently but firmly, "And Father would like you to kneel."

"Bbbbut??...", I began to wail, fearing disobedience to Sister.

"Please kneel down." he said.

I knelt. With folded hands stretched up, just reaching the ledge of the grill, I sobbed out my first Confession.

2) 1980. I had just returned to the Church after imagining for a dozen years I could make my way through life without God. A life-changing Cursillo weekend set me aright, and I attended my first parish Confession after the weekend. But the Church had changed since I left it in 1967. Some things were different; some were not. I had heard talk of face-to-face Open Confession, and assumed it was the new norm. Besides, it sounded cool.

So, once again, I found myself first in line for Confession. Since it was a makeshift church/hall, the priests set up grilled port-a-kneelers in doorways, the penitent on one side, the priest sitting in a room on the other. Fr. C., the dear old pastor arrived. I waited until he settled himself, sashayed up importantly, squeegied myself between the port-a-kneeler and the doorway, swept into the room, grabbed a chair, dragged it up opposite Fr. C., took off my coat, sat down, arranged myself in the chair, and finally looked up. His eyes were wide, his face aghast, registering, "Just who IS this woman, and what does she want of me?" I began stammering, "Oh dear ... you, ah ... you don’t, um ... know about Open Confessions ... do you?" He wordlessly shook his head, his eyes projecting force-eight shock. "Oh," I gulped, "but, I thought ... you see, ah ... someone told me ... um, I’ll ... ah ... I’ll just go to the other side if that’s okay with you." He nodded, still unable to speak. I scurried round to the other side, quickly knelt and murmured, "Bless me, Father...".

3) 1986. On retreat. A Jesuit retreat. Once again it was Confession time, and I spent an entire morning in my room painstakingly examining my conscience. It was so thorough, I neatly printed all my sins on a card.

Proud of my scrupulous examination of conscience, I confidently strolled round the corner to the tiny cramped hallway, and, to my dismay, saw two exceedingly long lines to the closed confessionals. I began calculating the shortest line when some movement caught my eye. There was an open doorway beside me, and inside was a darling old leprechaun of a priest beckoning. I pointed to myself and mouthed, "Me?" He nodded, so I looked around questioningly at the other penitents. They all shook their heads and looked down, so I went in, sat down, took out my list, and began quietly, "Bless me, Father..".

The Jebbie elf shook his head uncomprehendingly, cupped his hand to his ear and shouted, "What’s that, dearie, I don’t hear well; you’ll have to speak up.

I began repeating, "Bless me, Father", getting incrementally louder until he finally smiled and nodded. It was then I became aware of loud coughing and throat-clearing outside the door. To my horror, I realized the walls were paper thin, and my every word was being megaphoned to the waiting lines. This was surely to be death by embarrassment. I stared in panic at my lengthy list of sins, and then suddenly a light went on inside me. Triumphantly, I handed him the list, "Father, I’ve written them down. Here, why don’t you look at them and give me absolution?"

He pushed my hand away, saying, "Now, now dear, I want to hear every one of those sins confessed."

And so I did. And I lived. But, you’d think those wily Jebbies who spring deaf priests on unsuspecting retreatants would at least provide brown paper bags for their heads on the way out the door.
You know, some might be tempted to point fingers at gruff priests or wily Jesuits, but we Catholics know a secret. Yes, confession can be traumatic (more traumatic for those of us who need periodic pride-scrubs) but we know it’s good trauma. It’s lancing the boils of the soul and washing them with the disinfectant of absolution. Of course it’s difficult, but Catholics know there’s nothing finer than walking out at the end of confession free as a bird, and ... forgiven.

Let’s tell the world.