Yesterday, Pope Francis called for more study on the question of women deacons noting that he did not believe there was enough consensus whether women were actually ordained to the diaconate -- whether their rite was the same as the one used for male deacons.
We have already received notes of disappointment from Catholic women and men. If you are ready for women deacons in the Church, how could you not be disappointed by this equivocating?
I will not argue the evidence here. FutureChurch has been educating and advocating for women deacons for over 15 years. And Phyllis Zagano has done a beautiful job sorting out the history. Yes, women were ordained as deacons with the same rite as men in the early Church. The evidence is there for those who have eyes to see it.
That is really the issue, isn't it?
Who has eyes to see that women are called and have been called to ordained ministry since the beginning? Who has eyes to see that women set off alongside their brothers on a path of complete uncertainty with a motley, itinerant group of believers who, with Jesus, thought God's dream for the world was much larger and more radically loving and inclusive than had been previously understood. Who has eyes to see Phoebe, the deacon from Cenchreae, who was sent to Rome on a critical mission to share a letter from Paul with the community struggling there? Who has eyes to see that Mary of Magdala, whose feast day we will celebrate soon, was an apostle on equal par with Peter and Paul?
I can tell you who has eyes to see.
You do. I do. We do. We are the faith-filled change makers who will see our mission of calling this Church to full partnership through to the end.
We are the women and men whose testimonies and action will widen the all-too-narrow path for ministry and governance in this institution so that all who are called in our Church can take up their roles and share fully their God given gifts for the good of the Gospel.
The women who have shared their stories of being called to the diaconate today are calling the Church to change by their very lives.
Their testimonies are sure signs that the diaconate for women in coming. They know they are already performing the work of deacons and are certain they are called to be formally ordained as such.
Lillian Vogel is one Catholic woman who shared her story. It is a powerful testimony to God's Spirit at work right now.
I grew up in Protestant churches that did not allow female preachers, but I always felt a call to proclaim and live the Gospel, so I thought of it as a call to missionary service when I was young. This was being debated and changed when I was in college, so two of my roommates were pre-seminary majors, and one did go on to become a pastor. I had already set a course to teach English internationally and witness to God’s love informally, but everything changed when I found out my parents’ marriage was breaking up the week I graduated from college. I reoriented my career path to focus on providing for myself and my ill mother, and around the same time I fell in love with Catholic Mass and theology. Entering a Church where I was told even missionary service was effectively reserved to nuns, I focused on establishing a professional career and family, and let the still small voice of ministerial vocation be drowned out by the worries of the world for nearly 20 years. After I started seeking solace from those worldly woes in daily Mass and a robust prayer life, I began to feel intense yearning to share my experience of God’s love and healing power with others. But I also felt painful frustration over my lack of opportunities to do that, and at the pastoral incompetence and arrogance of many priests I encountered locally. I do not have formal theological training, but I am constantly listening to and meditating on God’s Word, and self-educating about God’s work in the world and the Church. Beginning on my 40th birthday, the Spirit led me down a path toward “preaching” through blogging (in consultation with a former seminary professor), and ministering to searching and hurting souls through social media. Local parishes do not afford women any opportunities to speak or lead in our own words (many still don't even allow altar girls!), but I do literally share the gift of my voice as I am allowed, as a cantor, choir member, and volunteer English teacher for immigrants. Still, my God-given gifts to speak words of teaching and encouragement in the Catholic faith are suppressed by gender-based limitations. Recently, I learned an acquaintance just a few years older than I is beginning the diaconate training program in our Diocese. Talking with him, I realized how that path would be an excellent fit for my situation as well: a five year course of study over weekends, leading toward ordination for service that can be done in addition to paid professional work, usually expanding into more hours of service after retirement. I pray that Pope Francis will open the door very soon to women like me to serve the people of God under the authority of diaconal ordination. Though I would probably have to move to a less conservative Diocese to be accepted into the diaconate, I am wholly willing to go where the Spirit leads me to answer the call and best share my gifts with the Church.
When I read these stories (there are more at http://catholicwomendeacons.org/100) I know that there is no stopping the Spirit of God in our lives and in our Church. Our beloved Pope may falter looking for sure footing on this issue, but, in the end, even the Pope will yield to the "sign of the times" and the unmistakable knowledge that God's Holy Spirit is fiercely alive -- breaking through in the lives of so many courageous, dedicated women today.
May God abundantly bless the women who serve us so faithfully in every capacity in the Catholic Church! And may God bless our brother bishops, here and in Rome, with a little spittle of mud (John 9:1-7) so they have eyes to see.