The third examiner regained his composure the quickest.
“We have several witnesses willing to testify to your various acts of blasphemy.”
She could only imagine who they would bring in to condemn her. She was not without enemies. Not all appreciated her stalwart faith and assurance of God’s blessings, even if they had believed her to be a man all along.
“Bring in the first witness,” the second judge ordered.
Isabel waited, her chin high though her shoulders trembled with the weight.
A young girl stepped forward. Isabel hid her surprise, but felt her heart break. She recognized the girl from the parish she had been serving. She could not be that much younger than Isabel herself, probably fourteen or fifteen years of age. The girl looked terrified, her small frame shaking as she slowly moved to stand between Isabel and the judges.
She wouldn’t look at Isabel.
“Tell us child, have you ever witnessed this girl commit an act of heresy against our Holy Mother Church?” the third examiner asked, wasting no time.
Isabel closed her eyes and offered a brief prayer before the girl spoke. It was not a plea for help for herself, but one of forgiveness for the frightened girl. Isabel knew how it was to be so young and ignorant…to fear those who maintained such power over others. The girl’s words would no doubt prove even more ruinous to Isabel, but they would not be spoken out of hate.
They would come from a place of fear…a fear of powerful men who believed it their rite to dictate the lives of others. To promise salvation or condemnation, depending if their rules were followed. To proclaim what would be holy, and what would be profane.
To presume to know the will of God more thoroughly than those who have heard the direct voice of the Almighty.
For several years, Isabel tried to ignore the voice of God. Her mother’s words of warning and fear proved powerful enough to drive a spike of doubt into Isabel’s mind. Yet, she couldn’t make the voice disappear. It was persistent, first cajoling, then demanding. The call was relentless, always there in the back of her mind, never leaving her for a moment.
It was maddening.
At last, Isabel reached a point where she could take no more. She opened herself back up to her calling, and resumed walking the path made clear for her. Though her own acceptance of her call brought her peace of mind and calm, she worried what her mother would think.
What her father would do.
No. Isabel knew she could not go to either of them, but she felt she must speak with someone. She had no idea how to proceed on her own. So, she sought guidance from the priest of her small parish, believing if she explained it all, he would offer her direction and guidance to help her succeed.
Isabel was left disappointed.
“Our Lord, Christ Jesus chose only men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason, the ordination of women is not possible.” Once he had finished speaking, the old man stared at her, wrinkled hands folded in his robed lap.
Isabel blinked at him.
“Ummmm…but, Father, what of Saint Mary Magdalene?”
It was the old Father’s turn to blink as if he did not comprehend her words.
“What about her?”
His tone was gentle, but patronizing. Isabel sensed that he did not take her seriously, but was humoring her.
“Was she not a favorite of the Lord? He appeared to her before any of the other apostles in his resurrected form, and she had the strongest faith of any of those close to him. Surely, she continued as a leader in the church after playing such a vital role in Christ’s ministry?”
The old priest smiled at her, but it was an indulgent smile. The kind an adult bestows on a child for doing something out of joyful ignorance.
“You are a clever girl, there is no doubt about that. However, Saint Mary Magdalene was not an apostle, and so not an official minister of the church in the way the other apostles were, as they were each appointed by Christ himself. She was, perhaps, a great helper to Peter and the others, but not a leader in her own right.”
Isabel opened her mouth to voice another question, but the old Father continued without noticing her.
“I can see how it would be confusing for such a young girl. Rest assured, my dear, that these issues and clarifications are made and resolved on your behalf by men with much more education and experience. It is the burden of those within the religious life to ask these complicated questions and determine God’s will for mankind. A burden, and a great privilege. We take on this responsibility so that you and the rest of the faithful may feel free to worship God with peace of mind, and with no distraction.”
“Yes, but Father, my question is not one of clarification…”
“It is natural for someone so young to have questions, and it is good that you have come to me seeking answers.” He reached out and patted her hand. “You are a good girl with great faith, I can see that, and I can see that you want to live your faith in the way you believe God is calling you. You have simply become confused, my dear. It is not to the priestly life that you are being called. It is impossible, and heretical, to believe such a thing, but you are young, as I have said. Your mind is easily clouded.”
Isabel frowned, but again, the old priest was speaking before she could force a word in.
“Perhaps you are being called to the religious life, in that the Father wishes you to take the veil and become a bride of Christ? There are many orders in the city that would be…”
Isabel stopped listening, frustration making her teeth clench. Though the life of a religious sister was a good and joy-filled calling for many, she knew it was not what she was meant for. With a sigh, she recognized that the man before her would prove no help. He did not believe her. He thought her a foolish child, and was too set in his ways to open himself to something new. To a different way of interpreting God’s word.
Would this always be the reaction to her call? Disbelief and dismissal?
Her frustration was overthrown by her growing anger. If she had been born a boy, there would be no question of her path…no barriers to block her way…
If she were a boy, no one would tell her she was wrong, or confused.
If she were a boy…
She shoved to her feet as an idea struck her, startling the old priest from his unending droning.
“Thank you, sir!” Isabel exclaimed, moving towards the door.
He stared at her with wide-eyes and a gaping mouth. Before he could say one more word, Isabel hurried from the room.
She knew at last what she must do, and she had no more time to waste with those who doubted her.