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Taking the plunge

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For those not committed to fully living their faith, adhering to the Church’s teachings is a good start.

I felt sorry for them. Standing outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia during the World Meeting of Families was a small group of women, some of whom were playing dress-up and wearing black shirts, black pants and white collars trying to convince not only themselves but those passing by that they were really Catholic priests.

They carried large banners reading “support the female priesthood” and handed out fliers to World Meeting of Families attendees.

They were very peaceful and didn’t make any type of a fuss or a scene, and if it weren’t for the need for proper credentials and security clearance, I would have invited them inside to attend the gathering.

I wanted to ask them why they were spending so much of their time supporting something that isn’t reality. The cynical side of me also wanted to suggest that they might as well be holding up a sign that read “the moon is made of green cheese” or “the earth is flat.” They can stand there and say they’re “priests” as long as they want. But saying something and playing dress-up doesn’t make it so.

But, again, I felt sorry for them. They were standing on the water’s edge, so to speak, afraid to step inside the convention center into an ocean of mercy and love. If only they were willing to listen to Bishop Robert Barron’s opening keynote speech where he addressed the need for Catholics to better understand and embrace our dignity and to remember that while men and women are equal, created in the image and likeness of God, we are different.

Those design differences, as Bishop Barron explained, are part of a wonderful mission that we are each called to carry out in order to fulfill the New Evangelization.

It’s sad that the protesters didn’t meander into the talk given by Terry Polakovic of ENDOW (Educating on the Dignity and Nature of Women), where they would have learned how “equality” does not have to mean “sameness.” They might have been pleasantly surprised to discover how many women have and continue to fulfill many fruitful roles in the Church. Whether it’s inside the Vatican, at diocesan offices, medical centers, colleges, religious orders, school systems and, of course in the home and at the parish level, women are making a profound difference, and they don’t need a collar to do so.

I said a little prayer as I headed back into the conference after my lunch break. I prayed that God would soften their hearts so they might be able to really give him another chance to show them the beautiful but unique role they can play without pretending to be something they’re not. I also said a prayer of gratitude for the eventual softening of my own once-hardened heart.

While I never struggled with the issue of the male priesthood, and while I never took part in a public protest against the Church, I did plenty of protesting through my own disobedience. For years, I still called myself Catholic, but it was an identity built around the rules of me, myself and I, and certainly not Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Eventually, I got tired of standing on the shore and playing tug of war with God and the Church. So I jumped in and never looked back.

God is saying the same thing to the protesters in downtown Philadelphia that he said to me many years ago — and that he continually says to us all, reminding us to be not afraid and to continually go deeper.

“Come on in, the water’s fine.”

And, indeed, it is.

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