Women's Ordination & the Role of the Laity

An exchange this morning on the subject of women's ordination with a friend in Catholic publishing focused on the contrast between the job/"position of power" conception of the priesthood versus the vocation/"washing of the feet" concept. In the former, the priest is fundamentally the parish power-broker, and women cannot be seen to have equal dignity with men so long as there is a "glass ceiling" on their ambitions.
This, by way of free-association, reminded RC2 of her contention that for all we have heard in the post-Conciliar period about "the role of the laity," this fundamental idea of the Council is still not even remotely understood. To wit: a few years ago, RC2 had the opportunity to lead a small Gospel reflection group with some prominent Catholic women. It wouldn't be right to name them, but as the Symms like to say, they are "names you must know." One of them --a prominent lawyer who has unquestionably made a tremendous contribution to the culture of life, sometimes as a lone voice-- made a telling comment in private conversation. "Over the years whenever I have tried to get involved in my parish, " she said, "my pastors have always had the same response. They want me to quit my own apostolic work and dedicate myself to doing pro-bono work for the parish. Your group is the only one I have found that doesn't want to co-opt me, but wants to help me form myself so I can do what I am called to do better."
It's great that we have moved beyond 1950s-style clericalism in which (accepting the stereotype for the moment) holiness and missionary work were only for priests and religious, and the faithful just did what Fr. told them. But is it an improvement that most of us --lay and priest alike-- now think the "role of the laity" means "compelling" the priest to delegate his responsibilities and duties to others? This attitude still fundamentally means that the only "job" worth having in the Church is that of priest. And Fr., if he's nice or humble or obedient enough, will let you have a piece.
Pardon me, but this is why JPII kept and Benedict keeps shouting at us to go back and read the documents of Vatican II. In the "Decree on the Laity," we find that the fundamental mission of the laity is to "endeavor to have the Gospel spirit permeate and improve the temporal order." Not to demean parish service in the least, but is it really that demanding to serve as a lector or eucharistic minister? You're at mass anyway (or should be).
The real role of the laity is to penetrate those areas of society that a priest or religious can't go --and in our de-Christianized age, that is almost everyplace, isn't it? Years ago my spiritual director pointed out to me that most of us fundamentally misread Christ's promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. We think: "Circle the wagons, hold on tight and eventually Christ will come and save us." SD asked, "Have you ever seen gates attack anyone?" Whoa. Mind-blowing thought. No, they are defensive weapons. It is the gates of hell that can't withstand the onslaught of the Church --not vice versa. In other words, there is no human reality that cannot be uplifted by the light of Christ and no human heart so hardened it can't be penetrated by the light of Christ. The role of the laity is to take Christ to those realities --into the laboratory, into the classroom, into Hollywood, into Congress-- not so much by preaching, but by the presence of witnesses in those fields who are both good at what they do and personally holy. People who show by their very lives what the true destiny and dignity of the human person is.
The priest is there to give us the sacraments that make this life possible for us, and the priesthood --especially in the Confessional-- is a beautiful adventure for those called to it. But for us lay-people, why is there so much focus on who gets to serve on the umpteenth parish advisory council? That's not where the action is.