Seed scattered, yeast hidden: men and women in the Church
Seed scattered, yeast hidden.
Recently, I had a day that stopped me in my tracks. There is much debate about the Catholic Church. The issues of governance and inclusion are front and centre stage. Let’s hit inclusion first.
I celebrated Mass early at 7am and was quite taken aback by a curious coincidence that appeared in the Liturgy of the Word. Both readings highlighted the complementarity of men and women in the salvific mission of Christ.
The first reading was from Ephesians 5. The text speaks about the mutual subordination of woman and man in Christ. In the Old Testament a woman gained dignity by being joined in marriage to a circumcised male. Not so the New Testament. A woman gains her dignity by being baptised and thus intimately joined to Christ. From their mutual surrender in marriage, husband and wife become living witnesses to their children and society. Hence the mantra, marriage is for family and family is for society.
The Gospel reading was from Luke 13 and proclaimed two parables about the kingdom of God. The first is about a man who scatters seed which grows into a tree. Birds find shelter in the tree. The second parable is about a woman who takes and mixes yeast in with flour and presto, we have bread. Luke does this often in his gospel. He is inclusive, and in this case the inclusion is with respect to how men and women both participate intimately in the development of the kingdom of God.
Unity respects and loves difference. It is through the experience of unity – not uniformity – that personal being is enhanced and often in unexpected ways. When applied to sexual difference, we speak of the complementarity of the sexes. Obviously this is important when understanding the nature of human sexuality, but it affects a whole range of human activity, including the proclamation of the Gospel.
Both Paul and Luke are trying to highlight for us – it seems to me – the fact that when the Gospel was first preached it respected the complementary nature of the proclamation. Women have a place. Men have a place. And we do well to respect the different ways that the proclamation must inevitably have if we are to have a Church of unity.
Think for instance of the public preaching of St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). She preached to popes, bishops, priests, and the baptised. But for some reason, this has not always been the case in Church practice. Is it because we have aligned preaching with the Eucharistic liturgy which reserves the homily to the priest?
But preaching the homily is one thing; preaching publicly is another. The grace of Baptism not only means we die and rise with Jesus, but we are commissioned to preach his death and resurrection. Not to have the feminine and masculine voice heard in this proclamation is surely debilitating.
You’ll be happy to know, no doubt, that our newly launched youth ministry in the Archdiocese has twelve youth ministers – six of them young women preaching the Gospel among their peers.
What about governance in the Church and women’s role in it? In the evening of that day, I attended an excellent talk by Greg Craven – vice chancellor of Australian Catholic University. His topic was, “The Catholic Church: Where to from here.”
Greg is an eminent constitutional lawyer and was a member of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council. During his talk he raised the issue of women and governance. His points were sensible. As he spoke I began a mental exercise, the fruit of which is what follows.
Each Tuesday the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn convenes his episcopal council. It includes three men, three women. There are two clerics, one layman who is the Chancellor. One of the women holds the position of Archdiocesan Financial Administrator (AFA), the other two are Executive Assistants. Each Wednesday, I convene a vicar-general meeting. It includes two men, three women. These meetings are not what you would call “yes minister” meetings.
Furthermore, most of our important portfolios in the Archbishop Office for Evangelisation (Chancery) are entrusted to the leadership of women. The AFA is a woman; the head of Communications is a woman; the head of Marriage, Family and Relationships is a woman; the manager of the Institute of Professional Standards and Safeguarding is a woman; the manager of the Catholic Development Fund is a woman; the manager of Parish Pastoral Support is a woman; the head of Fundraising is a woman; the head of our Tribunal is a woman.
Two out of three of our Archdiocesan agencies have female CEO’s – CatholicCare and Marymead. And for the record, sixty-one per cent of our Catholic school principals are female and sixty-eight per cent of assistant principals are female. I might add that all of them have been chosen on talent and merit. The Archdiocese does not have quotas.
After Craven’s talk, the day finished with a meal with a priest friend. He invited a life-time female friend of his and her son. This woman is an accomplished doctor, mother of three and at one stage Lord Mayor of the City of Darwin. You guessed it, she was educated by religious women!
There is much to be grateful for and there is much to do. We have the “seed” and we have the “yeast.” It is time, once again, to proclaim the goodness of the Lord.
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