Today I was at a sushi bar and a Dominican priest was seated one chair away from me. I knew he was Dominican because he had a white robe and a large wooden rosary- like other Dominicans I have known.
I wonder if I should greet him. Why? I'm not Catholic. He doesn't know I'm clergy (no collar on today). He probably wants a peaceful lunch. I want a peaceful lunch.
I do not leave well enough alone. I ask if he is, in fact, Dominican. Yes, new in town (of several months). We know someone in common. We talk briefly about where we're from. All good. No problems.
I'm reading from a Nook and he has a paperback by Wallace Stegner.
Him: We're thinking about starting a Theology and Literature group. I'm checking out Stegner.
Me: (Trying to make a joke) So, not Father Greeley. (A Roman Catholic priest who is a prolific writer and some of whose novels are famously or infamously sexy.)
Him: No, not Father Greeley. Too many breasts.
Me: (Raising my eyebrows) Well, breasts don't usually hurt people.
Him: No, but the breasts are all anyone can think about.
Me: Well, there are vows about that.
Him: Well, what are you reading there?
Me: (looking at my screen, open to a historical romance/novel): It's full of breasts.
... and it kind of trailed off from there and we ate in silence.
I was fine with our conversation until he said, "There are too many breasts." If he had said, "There's too much sex." That's a different thing and, for me, it would have been putting men and women on an equal sexual plane. To say that there are too many breasts, though, and that the breasts are distracting was very irritating to me. Perhaps there is a preponderance of breasts in Greeley novels, but it never seemed that way to me. Yes, I'm reading into an encounter with a man I don't know, but his response to me (focused on women's bodies as distractors) seemed rooted in distaste. So was it women in general or just me?
I finished lunch first and so I attempt to offer an olive branch by saying, "It was nice to meet you. I hope you enjoy your time here. Happy Advent." He murmured the pleasant responses and then I said, "Dominus vobiscum." (Latin for "The Lord be with you") I had hoped that he would respond, "Et con spirito tuo," (and with thy spirit), to show a sense of shared history (in Christ) and collegiality in ministry. The thing is that in Catholic tradition, only the priest would normally say the phrase I spoke. And I did know that.
He looked at me and said, "Nice translation."
Was I as nice as I could have been? No, I was not. I had hoped for a shared conversation with someone close to my age about what it means to live as a religious leader. I have not yet come to accept that this will never happen with someone who believes that my ministry is not valid (good, but not valid) and that, in any count, it exists outside the One True Church.
And there is something sad about a young man who has taken a vow of chastity, uttering the phrase, "But the breasts are all anyone can think about." Does this come from sacrificing his own sexual desires for the sake of his vocational call? (Possibly) Does it stem from teachings that may still exist in some Catholic churches or seminaries about women, women's bodies and female sexuality? (Possibly) Am I way off the mark? (Possibly)
The story that made me a little giggly at first now makes me sad because I feel the great divide between myself and a peer who will never see me as an equal. And it's a loss to both of us to learn from one another and to the catholic Church as a whole that we are so divided.
The other thing that occurs to me, though, is that I need to wear my collar more often. I was just reading on the Miss Representation website about the absence of women in certain roles and jobs in society. For the most part, if you can't see it, you can't be it. Meaning young women often don't consider careers in which women are less visible or non-existent.
My visibility as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ matters because people need to see women in this role. Girls and boys need to see women clergy- in the pulpit and on the street.
And if you see my collar or stole and all you can think about is the breasts, that's your problem.
Mary didn't feed Jesus Similac.