An apostle to one, an apostle to all …

Nimmi Candappa 25 March 2019

Jesus often included women in his ministry, defying the social mores of the time. Why then, has there been no flow-on effect for women in the church today.

With the flame of the Easter candle extinguished for the year, I slip into the ordinary times of the Liturgical calendar, feeling renewed, bolstered by the ritual reminders of Jesus’ love and sacrifice. And yet a niggle persists, as I am reminded that the perspective of faith presented to us is essentially all male.

I often restrict my activity on Holy Saturday, keen to in some way meditate on what the followers of Jesus experienced on Good Friday and Holy Saturday: despair at the death of their friend and teacher, guilt and disappointment with their own actions, no doubt terror at any trial by association.

Perhaps numbness would have followed the burial, as realisation of the significance of the day’s events seeped in. And then, deep loss. Perhaps the future appeared bleak, if not threatening. Did thoughts surface of the promise made by Jesus that He would rise on the third day? If so, they would likely have been quickly squashed, the disappointment should it not eventuate probably too great to bear.

Mary Magdalene’s witness

What do the apostles think then when Mary Magdalene bursts in, claiming this very thing – she has seen the risen Lord. Or, more accurately, the Lord has shown Himself to her. Confusion, doubt, restrained excitement? Caution? After all, she was a woman, hardly seen as a credible witness in those times. Can she be trusted, could she simply be deranged with grief, hallucinating?

Yet Jesus chose to show Himself to her.

We are constantly reminded that as Jesus --chose only men as his immediate apostles, priesthood cannot be open to women.

What then of Jesus choosing to show His risen self to a woman first, not his chosen apostles? Surely there must be a significance to this?

Jesus chooses to show Himself first to Mary Magdalene, and she is granted the title Apostle to the Apostles but we see no flow-on effect to all women – if you are apostle to one, you are apostle to all are you not?

Again, the 12 apostles bar one, flee in terror at the crucifixion, the women standing firm under the Cross. Or, Mary the mother of Jesus, is the only human born immaculate. There’s no flow-on recognition of this to all women.

Yet, Jesus chooses to select only men as apostles and we construct a flow-on effect of this to all men.

Feminine ‘genius’ goes untapped

St John Paul II writes of the ‘genius of the feminine’, but this source of genius has remained mainly untapped by the Church.

As Catholics in Australia, we fought for traditional marriage, maintaining that both the mother and the father contribute to the wellbeing of the child, yet we leave the spiritual wellbeing of the Catholic laity under only masculine responsibility.

As Catholics, we hear the words we are created in God’s image, male and female, yet we shirk from publicly criticising the words of Sts Augustine and Aquinas, words that cast a shadow on the equality and dignity of half of God’s creation, with negative effects on women’s involvement in the Church.

We are physically and visually excluded from the altar, we are verbally excluded from liturgical wording, and we are, for the main, excluded from leadership and influence on the faith.

While many of the characteristics desirable in a priest – communication, community building, listening, teaching, nurturing of faith – are often more readily found in women than men, we sternly curb any further discussion on whether early interpretations of apostle choice are indeed correct.

All the while, the numbers of those identifying themselves as practising Catholics dwindle rapidly, along with priest numbers.

Yet we point-blank refuse to consider whether a lack of a significant role for women in the Church can be a contributing factor in a less than flourishing Church.

A table for all

We lack much when half of God’s creation is not brought to the table. There is a sense in many women in the Church of being undervalued and neglected.

Women in the Church outnumber men in every category, from congregational numbers to volunteers. Take a quick look around any parish and it is easy to see the hunger of women to give back to our faith, and a noticeable lack of opportunity to do this.

We have faith in abundance but are not invited to share. We want to partake but are relegated to the bench. We ache to nurture, mould and develop the faith of others, but are forced to watch from the sidelines.

There are many roles that can be created to address this, including the following example: currently we have a clear means of faith-sharing from a male perspective through weekly sermons; we need a means of learning also from the female’s viewpoint.

Not only for the growth in faith of the wider community of believers, but also for the uplifting of the women who are stifled by the Church they love, the women who feel excluded and diminished in male-defined peripheral roles.

Growth requires room to move

Faith grows when our hearts can expand to embrace more and more this wonderful Creator of ours, while a constrained heart shrivels, bereft of opportunities to soar to mighty heights.

The desire to bring people to God surges from an inner yearning to share the love of God with all. It is not gender based, but faith imbued. Mary Magdalene was not restricted by her gender when she rushed back to spread the news that Jesus is alive. Jesus appeared to her so she could do just that.

Nimmi Candappa works in research, enjoys the challenge of living out her faith in a strongly evidence-based environment