4. Moreover, Mary "is the icon of womanhood" itself (285). That is, by looking at her, we see the idealized position that women should occupy -- above both priests and bishops.
5. According to Francis, this realization opens the door to women assuming unprecedentedly powerful positions in the church.
6. He writes, ". . . we need to create still broader opportunities for more incisive female presence in the church (103). So he urges "pastors and theologians . . . to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church's life" (104).
As one of those theologians the pope references, I suggest that his words in other parts of his Exhortation direct us to put women in charge of the church as a whole -- including the papacy itself. After all:
" "The church is a mother, and . . . she preaches in the same way that a mother speaks to her child" (139). (Why then expect men to preach like a woman?)
" The faith of the church is like Mary's womb (285). (This means that faith nourishes Christians in a uniquely feminine way.)
" ". . . (E)very Christian is . . . a bride of God's word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister . . ." (285). ("Every Christian!" Is it possible to issue a clearer invitation to men -- including the hierarchy -- to recognize their own feminine qualities so essential to Christian identity? And who can better exemplify and evoke those qualities than women leaders?)
" The "female genius" (with its "sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets") equips women more than men to be the out-going missionaries the pope's Exhortation centralizes (103).
" And since "missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church's activity" (15), it seems that women "more than men" are uniquely equipped to embody the essence of what the church should be doing in the world.
My conclusion from all of this is simple. Regarding women, Pope Francis is far more radical than most realize (perhaps including himself). In fact, Francis' "preferential option for women" actually mirrors Jesus' choice expressed so fully in today's gospel. There Jesus chooses a woman as an apostle ("one sent") and preacher. Her simple words referencing her own uniquely feminine experience ("everything I've ever done") persuade her village neighbors to meet Jesus and spend time with him. They then draw their own conclusions. They say, "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves . . ."
All of this indicates that truly following the rabbi from Nazareth means thinking for ourselves and moving even beyond the pope's perception of his words' implications. Those words imply that the church and its mission are more feminine than masculine. They suggest that if only men (because of their physical resemblance to Jesus) can perform the newly demoted function of priest, then women's physical resemblance to Mary uniquely qualifies them for offices "more important than the bishops."
In the church hierarchy, what's above a bishop? A cardinal, of course. And the pope is always drawn from the College of Cardinals. Hmm . . . .
Move over, Francis, make way for Pope FrancEs THE FIRST!