WOW 2005 Programme Outline

Women's Ordination Worldwide
1st International Conference

Dublin 2001

'A CELEBRATION OF WOMEN'S CALL TO A RENEWED PRIESTHOOD IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH'

Mairead Corrigan Maguire

German Version

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

"MY SOUL DOTH MAGNIFY THE LORD AND MY SPIRIT HATH REJOICED IN GOD MY SAVIOUR". I love these words of the Magnificat. They are the words of a woman who has found inner freedom. A woman who feels fulfilled and whose 'spirit' dances with joy and gratitude to God. Mary says 'yes' to becoming the mother of Jesus, and through the working of the Holy Spirit, the impossible becomes possible.

And just as Mary said 'yes' and gave birth to Jesus, so too each one of us are called to give birth to love and truth. This calling starts in the heart, and for some it may be to an ordained or lay ministry. God chooses whom to call and it comes with our freedom to say 'yes' or 'no'.

And that is why I am so happy to be with you all at this Conference. We come together in celebration of women's call to a renewed priesthood in the Catholic Church. I want to acknowledge my joy at being here in the company of some of these women to whom God has given a priestly vocation. And while I myself, do not feel called to Ordained Ministry, I fully support these women, and this Movement.

And that is why I am so happy to be with you all at this Conference. We come together in celebration of women's call to a renewed priesthood in the Catholic Church. I want to acknowledge my joy at being here in the company of some of these women to whom God has given a priestly vocation. And while I myself, do not feel called to Ordained Ministry, I fully support these women, and this Movement.

I want also to thank Women's Ordination Worldwide for their invitation to be present. For a long time I have believed that woman's ordination in the Catholic Church will happen, it is only a matter of time. However, before now, I did not feel the need to seek out and listen to women who had such a calling. Now, I have listened and not only will I continue to fully support them and this movement, but will do what I can to break down the cold wall of silence and apathy to their plight and pain.

Prior to meeting a woman who explained to me her pain and joy, when she received a priestly vocation, I never much thought about how difficult it must be for women who receive this call from God. We are so culturally conditioned to think of priests as men only. We grow up in a sexist church, which excludes women from ordination. Catholic theology teaches that priestly ordination is for men only. The Vatican's reasoning for this is that Christ chose his Apostles only from amongst men. They seem to think that maleness is more important than any other attribute which Jesus possessed. Yet, in the Gospels, Jesus' divinity and humanity were more important than his maleness. But, I believe, once we ourselves break through the cultural conditioning of thinking only of male priesthood, there is no reason why women should not be ordained and very many reasons why they should be ordained. For example, women's ordination is more than Women at the Altar. There is also the serious sacramental element, where women could bring their gifts to help people to understand how the grace of God nourishes our souls through the Sacraments, scripture and Prayer. Women's ways of nurturing, mediating, meditation, counselling, would help 'feed the human spirit' and would enrich both priesthood and people. However, the most important reason is that our Baptism confirms us as sons and daughters of God and we are all equal in God's sight. In Gen. L.27 we are told that male and female God made them, and that 'in God's own image, they are made'. As the spirit of the Holy Trinity lives in all our hearts so we too share in the divinity of God and are loved equally. Why then does the Vatican not realise how deeply offensive it is to women to be told that because of their 'biological' make-up they cannot be ordained? Many Catholics are coming to see that this kind of theological argument based on 'biology' is nonsense. Moreover, people are coming to realise the spiritual violence being done to men and women's consciences by the Institutional Catholic Church. One Religious sister said it came home to her when she realised she could read the epistle, but not the gospel - we all have our waking moments!

And the spiritual violence is experienced not only by women, but also by theologians, priests, religious and laity. We are all aware of the Vatican's practise of 'silencing' those whose opinions differ. In a time when 'Dialogue' is being called for by both secular, state, and church bodies, Irish society is permeated with fear amongst clergy and religious, of speaking out on issues such as women's ordination. Indeed they have tragically been forbidden from doing so. Since l996 when the Pope re-affirmed the Roman Catholic church's stand on priestly ordination of men only, this was made a doctrine of faith and Theologians and Religious may not speak about this matter. I believe this kind of attempt to control by the Vatican is an abuse of power. It is de-humanising, demoralising, and is a form of spiritual abuse. It is an assault on the sanctity of a person's conscience, and the removal of the right to freedom of thought and speech. This kind of spiritual abuse is causing very grave damage to many priests and religious who love their faith, but feel torn between conscience and church rules and regulations. I have met such good people, whose spirit, like a wilted flower, calls out in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins "Give my Roots Rain."

I myself give thanks to God for the gift of faith and conscience. Born into a catholic family, from childhood I have been surrounded with nuns and priests who have blessed me with their friendship. They accompanied me down into the valleys and up onto the mountaintops. I want to publicly thank them today. I have great hope for the Church in the new millennium, and it is because I have met many good shepherds - Bishops, nuns, and priests. I see too many wonderful new forms of discipleship being developed by the laity of all churches, and faiths, but above all, I believe Jesus and take his divine promises very seriously. From time to time also, we see the prophetic church shine through, and the spirit of Jesus comes alive. Such was a time during Vatican II when we heard such sweet words of freedom as 'grace lives in the hearts of all men and women.' We also took great hope from the Council which taught us that we should follow our formed conscience and that our conscience is our most secret core and our sanctuary. I loved this. I undertook a vigorous process of discernment and began to try to inform my conscience, by reading relevant church doctrine, pondering tradition, praying, seeking spiritual guidance, and finally taking a decision. However, sometimes my decision did not coincide with the Church's teaching! Still, I abided by my decision and did my best not to be disturbed by scruples or guilt. I always asked myself 'what would Jesus do'? and after making my decision, refused to allow man-made traditions to destroy the joy and beauty of my faith in God's presence with me on my journey.

Today the institutional catholic church is in the eye of the storm. When the apostles were in the boat and the storm blew-up, they were fearful. There is fear and anxiety in the boat today. But there is also hope and joy, because Jesus is present with us on the journey. Jesus and Peter, the fisherman, knew all about storms and boats, exhaustion, and disappointments. They knew when it was time to pull the boat ashore, turn it upside down, scrape the rubbish and rot off the bottom, repair it, and get back out to sea again. Like the boat, our Church needs renewal. In order to do this can we move out of what one theologian has called 'paternalistic neurosis', that controlling culture within the church which attempts to limit the freedom of people by well-meaning regulations. Many people are rejecting religious authority, but they are passionately looking for religious truth and experience. They can tell the difference between religiosity and spirituality. Can we change the 'power-thinking' that is a throwback to older darker days when the Church vied for wealth, and worldly power? Can we re-discover the beautiful non-violent tradition of Jesus and the early Christians who lived unarmed, loving each other and their enemies? I believe so! I also believe when the Church re-discovers and lives out of its nonviolence roots it will warm people's hearts and rekindle their spirits.

Perhaps the time is coming soon for a new Vatican Council, a new Pentecost in the Church? Time to assemble as the people of God, in the spirit of humility and simplicity, and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of happiness, creativity, fulfilment, and freedom. This then is my vision of a renewed priesthood and church. With Mary, I say 'yes' to this vision, and ask the Holy Spirit 'but how can this be'? Only a deep profound silence comes back to me, the silence of the spirit of truth and love at work in the hearts of all men and women in our world.

God's deep peace to you.
Deo Gratias,
Mairead.

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