Ministry Of Lay Persons And Women

In one of his most famous statements, St Paul pointed out how being baptized into Christ implies overcoming religious, social, and gender barriers: 'There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus' (Gal. 3: 28). Paul himself struggled to break down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. When the slave Onesimus ran away, Paul

254 See J. Quinn, 'The Reform of the Roman Curia', in his The Reform of the Papacy (New York: Crossroad, 1999), 154—77.

pleaded with his owner (Philemon) to receive the slave back as a brother, and gently suggested that Philemon set him free. The final chapter of the Apostle's Letter to the Romans showed how much he valued the ministry of women such as Prisca (or Priscilla), who with her husband (Aquila) was a great support to Christian communities around the Mediterranean world. But there is obviously still much unfinished business in overcoming the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, in delivering from oppression those who suffer from different forms of slavery, and in establishing a true equality for women in the Church and society.

The First Letter of Peter acknowledged how the new life in Christ made all the baptized into a 'holy' or 'royal' priesthood (1 Pet. 2: 4, 9). Baptism confers on all who receive it 'a dignity which includes the imitation and following of Christ, communion with one another, and the missionary mandate' to bring 'their brothers and sisters to encounter the living Jesus Christ'. Any renewal in Catholic life is impossible without 'the active presence of the laity.they are largely responsible for the future of the church' (Ecclesia in America, 44). The apostolic exhortation named the two areas in which lay people, both men and women, live their vocation: (1) through their calling to embody the values of Christ's Gospel in secular society,255 and (2) through the exercise of their charisms and ministries within the Church itself, provided that the common priesthood of all the faithful remains 'clearly distinguished' from that of the ordained priesthood (ibid.).

In the Western world and beyond, lay and religious women are prominent in ways for which it is hard to discover parallels from the long story of the Catholic Church. Women teach in theological colleges, university faculties, and seminaries. Some laywomen are chancellors of dioceses and judges in marriage tribunals; many administer parishes for which no ordained priests are available. A number of women are officials in the Roman Curia, while a woman (Professor Mary Ann Glendon) headed the Vatican delegation to the UN conference in Beijing in 1995. What of women and the ordained ministry within the Catholic Church? In his dialogue with Umberto Eco, Cardinal Martini had this to say: 'On the one

255 Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes ) remains the classic call to all Catholic (and indeed Christian) men and women to play their essential role in the whole human community: by promoting the well-being of families, an economic order at the service of all, justice in public life, peace between nations, cultural growth, and everything that contributes to the common good.

hand, the role and presence of women in all aspects of church life and society must be realized, far beyond the degree to which it has been previously. On the other hand, our understanding of the nature of the priesthood and ordained ministers must be more profound than ever before.' The Cardinal hoped and expected that the future would bring a fuller understanding of the 'mysteries' or sacraments that the Church 'lives and celebrates'. He ended by quoting the conviction St Thomas Aquinas took over from St Augustine: 'the liberation of the human being should show itself in both sexes (hominis liberatio in utroque sexu debuit apparere)' (ST III q. 31 a. 4).256

One recent international event, however, suggests that the talk of women's 'prominence' with which the last paragraph began may be somewhat premature. At the summit for world spiritual leaders held at Assisi on 24 January 2002, women were only 10 per cent of the two hundred delegates who came through wind and rain to gather with John Paul II under a huge tent. There was a striking imbalance, and not only on the Catholic side.

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