From the Parish House

Last week at the Second Assembly of the Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia, an impasse was reached.  The motion was put to the floor of the council regarding the equal dignity of men and women.  As part of that motion the suggestion was made that the Church in Australia consider the ministry of the diaconate for women, should this be approved by Pope Francis.  The diaconal ministry has its origins in the New Testament and is a ministry of service.  That is what the Greek word diakonia means.

The impasse came when the consultative vote passed the motion with the necessary two thirds of the members voting in favour.  The deliberative vote of the bishops at the council did not reach the necessary two thirds.

This Sunday’s Gospel is Luke’s account of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha.  Those two women from Bethany, along with their brother Lazarus, seemed to have a special relationship with Jesus.  We also hear about them in the Gospel of John.

In his Gospel, Luke tells us that Martha complains to Jesus that Mary has left her to do all the serving (diakonia).  Would he ask Mary to assist her?  Jesus’ response is to tell Martha that she is anxious and worries about many things but in fact Mary has chosen the better part in sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Barbara Reid’s commentary on Luke’s Gospel is challenging.  She suggests that Luke’s text is putting Martha back in her place.  Martha’s serving in the Lucan account is not just about serving at table.  It suggests that she is taking some leadership role in the house.  She is hosting a meal and Reid’s commentary suggests that does not preclude understanding her diaconal role as a form of an honoured ministry.  “Attending at table in early Christian circles is often a form of religious leadership, rather than a servile task, as is obvious from developing meal practices, including Eucharistic practices, in the [church]”.**

From a critical feminists reading of the text it could be that Luke is reinforcing the role of women that is subservient and better suited to sitting at the ‘feet of the master’ rather than being in the diaconal role.

But the text doesn’t have to be read in that way and Reid acknowledges that also.  The text can be seen as an example to both men and women that being a follower of Jesus requires both the contemplative and the active service (diaconal) dimension. This is consistent with the life of Jesus himself who both took himself off to quiet places to pray as well as setting out on missions of teaching and healing and announcing the in-breaking of the way of God into the world.  Both men and women are called to discipleship in this way.

The Plenary Council revisited the motion on the equal dignity of men and women on the last day of the assembly.   This time the two-thirds majority was reached by all, the baptised faithful and the bishops alike. The impasse was overcome.

The way forward for the diaconate for women is still unknown.  The Gospel of this week can be both a challenge and a key to a way forward.

Fr Brendan


** Barbara E Reid OP, Wisdom Commentary: Luke 10-24, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2021, page 356.

Parish Priest


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Michael Paul McNamara

I'm sure I'm not the only one bemused by this. Why is it necessary to put this into a motion ? Taking this action, putting it to a vote, formulating it in these words concedes that they are not equal and something must be done, though what is unclear. Is this really the Holy Spirit at work or the spirit of confusion, strife and division ?

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