I was recently shopping for a card for my mother. I read one that was nice, but I found the last line a little disturbing. It said, "[Mom,] you are so much more than a mother to me."

I was taken aback. I thought, "What does that mean, 'more than a mother?' What is more than a mother?"

In October, we honor our Blessed Mother, Mary. Motherhood is one of the most beautiful and special vocations to which God has called women. God allows mothers to actively participate in His creative process.

A woman once asked me, with a somewhat angry tone, "Why does the Church not allow women to be priests?" I have heard this question many times. I believed the question was sincere: She seemed to think of the priesthood as a matter of higher status than other vocations in the Church, and was therefore outraged that only men can attain this.

As soon as we begin to think of our own status or power, there is a major problem: We are thinking in very worldly and sometimes self-centered terms. What about God's will?

The short answer to her question is that we are a Church dedicated to Jesus Christ, not to our own ideas. Since Jesus did not ordain women, the Church has said it does not have the authority to do so.

But is the priesthood really above other vocations? The vocations to motherhood and priesthood are similarly holy. In the beginning of Luke's Gospel, the angel Gabriel appears to two people: Mary and the priest, Zechariah. It is interesting to see the two interactions side by side, as there are many similarities.

In both cases, the angel announces a birth. To Zechariah, he announces the birth of Zechariah's son, John the Baptist, and to Mary, he announces the birth of Jesus. It was surprising news because, in both cases, a miracle was necessary.

Afterward, both Mary and Zechariah ask a similar question. Mary asks, "How can this be?" Zechariah asks, "How shall I know this?"

But there are some important differences:

•  Zechariah asks out of doubt and Mary asks out of wonder and awe. Gabriel lovingly answers Mary's question, while he silences Zechariah.

•  To Mary, Gabriel extends the greeting, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." To Zechariah, Gabriel answers, "I am Gabriel, who stands before God."

•  To Zechariah, Gabriel asserts that he is with God. To Mary, the archangel says, "The Lord is with you."

How incredible. Gabriel was acknowledging Mary's true position as queen of heaven and earth. She really is above him. But isn't it interesting that the highest created being is a mother? This is not to diminish the priesthood; it simply shows how flawed our worldly ideas are.

The root of the problem seems to be a flawed modern idea of equality between men and women that denies essential differences. It is not the idea that men and women complement each other and equally participate in God's love and plan for them; instead, it treats men and women as virtually interchangeable, as if any differences between them either don't exist or don't matter.

This brand of equality seems to be most prevalent in our culture today. The reality is that we are all equal in value, but we are not the same. We are all members of the Body of Christ, but the parts are not interchangeable, as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians. God calls each of us to humbly embrace our vocations and all of their challenges and triumphs, and not worry about which is more or less powerful.

As a seminarian, I know that the priesthood comes with a heavy cross. It is not for the weak or selfish, it requires courage. Far from respect, status or power, the priesthood often elicits suspicion and even contempt. We must imitate Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He says, "Your will, not mine be done."

Mary said the same to the angel Gabriel: "Be it done unto me according to Thy Word."

(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.)