We’re keeping it “real.” Today I decided to ask Meredith: What does vocation mean to you, given that priesthood and other offices in the Church are not available to you? I love her honest and heart-felt response and am reminded of the time a journalist interviewed Bishop Desmond Tutu and P.W. Botha, then Prime Minister of South Africa. “Why,” he asked, pointing to Tutu, “is this man being denied the vote?” Game, set & match.
Generally speaking, “vocation” means to me what it means to other people of faith, whether or not they know the Latin root means “to call.” Vocation is a call by God to serve God, a call that God keeps making until that call is answered. In my experience, God does not take either a busy signal or “no” for an answer.
God is very persistent and people who are called to vocation often sound like lunatics while describing their “Hound of Heaven” experience. I, for one, think I sound like a lunatic when I try to explain my felt sense of call. Even worse, I’m often considered a lunatic for remaining Roman Catholic since women are excluded from the Sacrament of Holy Orders by our denomination.
Over the years, I’ve been invited to “swim the Thames” by Anglicans and have had one Lutheran pastor say, “We’d ordain you in a heartbeat.” After I’m done being tempted and flattered, I return to the core question embedded in yours: What do I feel called to do that I’m not allowed to do given women’s exclusion from the Roman Catholic priesthood and diaconate?
At the risk of unleashing a poop-storm of nasty comments, I think it’s positively Pharisaical to exclude women from ordination considering what we believe about Jesus’ teachings and actions. That noted, I have to say there’s precious little I cannot do as a lay ecclesial minister in the Roman church. While pastoral leadership at some parishes is more generous than at others, I’ve pretty much been able to participate according to my spiritual gifts and secular talents.
Acknowledging this reality always forces me to consider whether I’m merely smitten with the vestments? Not that much.
More likely, I’m longing for the privilege of public consecration. I’m able to simmer down about ordination for a variety of reasons. For example, knowing that I answer to God who is everywhere, in all things is comforting. Being baptized has not eliminated my Jewish understanding of divine hierarchy. Also, given the disdain with which clergy are regarded these days, I probably wouldn’t wear a clerical collar even if I could. Why would I want to swap influence for authority?
I’ve spent 20+ years meditating upon and praying about vocation, something that in and of itself has been quite the spiritual journey. Inquiry has been exhausting, heart wrenching, exhilarating, and massively inconvenient. It has not been much fun for dear friends, especially the very fine men who are ordained and get subjected to a tirade from me that begins with, “Just because you have a….”