While preparing for the Confirmation Liturgy, I worked with our head server (a woman) to select our A-Team of servers. While I cannot say that it was entirely accidental that all of the servers I selected were boys, I did choose them primarily because they are exceedingly good servers. It was quickly suggested by several other interested parties that I find at least two girls to serve in place of two of the boys so as to avoid excluding anyone from the liturgy. That conversation prompted the following reflection.
I spent the afternoon thinking about a conversation regarding boys and girls serving, and I want to take a moment and clarify my position on this matter.
Simply put, to suggest that I do not want girls to serve because I am concerned to promote priestly vocations is an overly simplistic understanding of my position. While it is true that boys serving at the altar has a long history of association with the eventual advancement to Holy Orders, this is not a sufficient reason to exclude girls from the same service. In fact, were it not for the permission given for girl servers, a great many of our country parishes would have to contend with no servers at all. Nevertheless, in a context such as that of this parish, the question is no longer one of necessity, but of preference. I have a preference for boys serving at the altar.
I could elaborate at length as to my reasons, but to put it simply, the Church is in desperate need of forming and preparing strong male leaders. This is not just a matter of encouraging vocations, but of preparing good men. Good men are not just priests. They also become good husbands and fathers. They become the kind of men that women deserve. Unfortunately, men of character are something sorely lacking in the Church and the world.
Over and over, I see men backing out of their role as spiritual leaders in their homes and parishes. After all, as we look around our own parish and the other parishes in the city, we can easily see that this is truly a concern. How many men serve as religious education teachers? How many serve on core teams? How many attend retreats as chaperons? How many men serve as sacristans, lectors, readers, and the like? Our choirs are all directed by women, and are largely populated by women. The liturgy committee is overwhelmingly female. The parish youth commission is overwhelmingly female. The parish staff is overwhelmingly female. The kids going to the Steubenville Conference are primarily female. Those attending World Youth Day are primarily women. It is incumbent upon the Church to do what she can to prevent this phenomenon from escalating further. Surely the Church needs women and their value cannot be overstated. But she also needs strong men.
Men are simply abandoning their responsibility to be formed in, to grow in, and to become leaders in the faith. To acknowledge this and to attempt to remedy it is not, to my mind, a rejection of the role or importance of women. It is not an act of exclusion. It is ultimately an attempt to aid the women for whom faith is important by preparing men who will serve as their allies. Our women are already doing this formation at a much higher rate than their male counterparts. It is the men who are most in need of encouragement. They receive this encouragement when we say to them, “This is a role that you must fill. I will not find a woman to do this job for you.”
So, in other words, my emphasis on men in the liturgy is inspired at its core by a desire to call men to truly be men. If they become the sort of leaders they are meant to become, so many ills in the Church and in the world will find their remedies. As a result, to occasionally abandon principles of inclusion and diversity seems a small price.