Some time ago I published a series of three articles on why the Catholic priesthood is not open to women. (Since this continues to be an important issue, they can be found under the Priesthood section of this blog). Recently, a woman wandered over to our blog because she was looking for an answer to this question. She said that she would play priest as a little girl and, in her own words, “I wasn’t pretending, I was practicing.”
Although without knowing the woman, I see no reason to think that what she describes is not a genuine and holy desire. Priesthood is a incredible way of life, why would a young girl not aspire to live such a beautiful life? I almost wish that more women and girls felt a longing for the priesthood. Yet her experience begs the question of why God would permit a young girl or woman to feel a desire to serve Him as a priest, if God had already decided before the foundation of the world that priesthood was a mission He would never give to women, but only to men?
As I was reflecting on this, I remembered that there are other women who have felt a desire for priesthood. My own sister, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, wrote about her desire for the priesthood in her autobiography, “Story of a Soul.” She said,
To be Your Spouse, to be a Carmelite, and by my union with You to be the Mother of souls, should this not suffice for me? And yet it is not so. No doubt these three privileges sum up my true vocation: Carmelite, Spouse, Mother, and yet I feel within me other vocations. I feel the vocation of the WARRIOR, THE PRIEST, THE APOSTLE, THE DOCTOR, THE MARTYR. Finally, I feel the need and the desire of carrying out the most heroic deeds for You, O Jesus. I feel within my soul the courage of the Crusader, the Papal Guard, and I would want to die on the field of battle in defense of the Church.
I feel in me the vocation of the PRIEST. With what love, O Jesus, I would carry you in my hands when, at my voice, You would come down from heaven. And with what love I would give You to souls! But alas! While desire to be a Priest, I admire and envy the humility of St. Francis of Assisi and I feel the vocation of imitating him in refusing the sublime dignity of the Priesthood.
(Story of a Soul, Washington 1996, p. 192)
St. Thérèse particularly desired the priesthood, but she was also passionate about martyrdom and she desired to be a missionary. After describing all that she would love to do, she finally ended by saying “Jesus, Jesus, if I wanted to write all my desires, I would have to borrow your Book of Life, for in it are reported all the actions of all the saints, and I would accomplish all of them for You.”
Listening to such an incredible soul it is easy to think that she would have made a great priest, even a bishop, and a magnificent preacher, but instead God created her as a WOMAN, which made this impossible, and then He gave her the vocation of a cloistered nun who could do nothing heroic for God except get up in the morning and live her daily life. St. Thérèse volunteered to leave France to found a new missionary Carmel somewhere in Asia, but she suffered from some health problems (which God could have taken away in a moment) and so her superiors were never able to approve her for this work.
What Thérèse discovered is that ALL her desires would be answered: her desire for priesthood, her desire for martyrdom, and her desire to serve God in every way written in the Book of Life, would be answered in the plan of God. She was able to see this when she began to think outside the box of her own personal life and see herself as part of the much larger life which is the Body of Christ.
Her insight anticipated the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which saw that not only does every Christian have a vocation to holiness, but every Christian has received a sharing in the PRIESTHOOD of Jesus Christ. Lumen Gentium n. 11 said, “Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, [all Christians] offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It.” So every Christian is given the power, along with the priest who is celebrating Mass, to offer the Eucharist to God.
St. Thérèse saw that all she needed to do to have her desires satisfied was to embrace her hidden and quiet vocation as a Carmelite, Spouse, and spiritual Mother. Her vocation was to be the burning heart of the Church that constantly praises and worships God. Her vocation was to be love, and because it is love that motivates priests and missionaries, mothers and martyrs, to accomplish all that they do, through her love she was able to receive and participate in every vocation. St. Thérèse said, “Astounding works are forbidden to her; she cannot preach the Gospel, shed her blood; but what does it matter since her brothers work in her stead and she, a little child, stays close to the throne of the King and Queen. She loves in her brothers’ place while they do the fighting.” Jesus had made her part of His Body, which is the Church, and through fully embracing her own small place in the Church, she had a share in every other vocation that has been given to the whole Church.
The saying that, “Christ has no hands on earth but yours” is true of every Christian, but it is true in a special way of a priest, whose hands have been given to Christ so that He can bless the children and continue His mission. These hands belong to Christ as part of His Body, which is the Church. When you go to Mass next Sunday, take some time to look at the hands of the priest and reflect that “Those are MY hands, because they are part of my body which is the Body of Christ. MY hands are celebrating Mass and offering the Eucharist.” +
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