Holy Orders

Against the backdrop of reading the articles about the Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry and Women in the Priesthood in The Tablet last week (29 June 2019), I went to the Ordination service of five new priests on Saturday in St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Norwich. And I was deeply moved, especially at the point where those being ordained promised obedience to the bishop and his successors. It occurred to me that such a promise is no small thing. And it was standing room only in the cathedral, so there were a lot of witnesses!

St John the Baptist Cathedral, Norwich. The view from my spot on the floor, and symbolic of my thoughts wandering to the structures within the church.

When a new head is appointed where I work, and this has happened a few times, I get to make a decision about whether I am able to accept the authority of that person: similarly, if I attend an interview to move somewhere else, I get the same opportunity. If I am unable to respect and accept the authority of that person, I can walk away. Whose authority we submit to is a big deal, and an act of free will. I am reminded of a scene from the film Mary Magdalene:

Mary Magdalene – Preaching to the Women, A Question of Obedience

One question I get asked a lot is:

Have you ever thought of becoming a nun?

My answer is always no; however, I must think about it when people ask me the question. To be a nun is to live in community and to obey the authority of the head of that community. I’m more of a spiritual solitary, to go into my room and be alone with God; to discern from my prayer, with the help and wisdom of my spiritual director, and with the guidance of scripture, the Spiritual Exercises (the rules on discernment are very helpful) and of course, the church. The primacy of conscience is important to me, always being aware of my tendency towards pride. So, to witness five men promising their obedience and service to someone who will direct them to where they will work and for how long, and to surrender themselves in faith to God in this path, filled me with awe and moved me: goosebumps and tears. It is a huge deal. It’s easy to forget that in the storm of the current crisis in the church. There are many faithful priests and they deserve our respect and support. We should cherish them. I am grateful that I went to the ordination service; it has left me with a greater appreciation of what is given by some in praise, reverence and service to God. I think I will take it less for granted in the future.

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