The Irritation of the Holy Spirit?

You feel for Moses. He walks through the desert for forty years leading his Jewish people to the Promised Land, and in the end, he never gets to live there.

Move the scene a few thousand years later. Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker, led the struggle to secure voting rights for U.S. women. For some 37 years�from 1869 to 1906�Anthony appeared before every Congress to ask for passage of a suffrage amendment. In 1872, she and three of her sisters were arrested for voting. Anthony was frequently scorned, arrested, and hung in effigy. She died in 1906 at the age of 86 never having voted legally.

In 1920 Tennessee became the 36th and final state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. That year on August 26, adult women finally got the right to vote (although black women couldn’t participate fully for another 45 years).

At the beginning of our third millennium, I wonder if Catholic women have reached the fullness of all that God has planned for them?

Last week Catholic News Service reported that the Vatican had warned seven women who claimed they were ordained priests that they would be excommunicated unless they acknowledged the “nullity” of their ordination and asked forgiveness for causing scandal (see story under “world” ). The July 10 warning gave the women until July 22 to meet the conditions or incur excommunication.

Whether or not you believe in women’s ordination, the Vatican’s threat of excommunication of these women seems over-the-top, given that the church is reeling from revelations of pedophilia crimes and their cover-up. While priests found to have abused minors will be removed from the priesthood, I have yet to hear any talk of excommunicating these men.

As a church shouldn’t we be careful about excommunicating Catholic women who want to serve their church as priests, unless we’re prepared to stand by the assertion that this is a far worse offense than pedophilia?

Someone once asked Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, an author of more than 20 spiritual books and a Catholic feminist, why she remained a Catholic.

“Oysters,” she responded. When sand seeps into an oyster’s shell it irritates the oyster and threatens harm. The oyster secretes enzymes to protect itself, and the mixture of sand and chemicals eventually creates a pearl, something of greater value.

“I stay in the church despite all my challenges and its resistance,” said Sister Chittister, “knowing that before this is over, both it and I will have become what we have the capacity to be�followers of the Christ who listens to women, taught them theology, and raised them from the dead.”

On a characteristically lighter note, she said, oysters helped her discover the “ministry of irritation.”

The Vatican maintains that the church has no authority to grant women the additional leadership roles of deacon, priest, bishop, or pope.

But as Catholics we might do well to reflect on the sometimes irritating ways of the Holy Spirit�who through people like Moses, Susan B. Anthony, and even Sister Chittister�always seems to have plans far and ahead of what most of us can see.