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The call to priesthood of Margaret Barry

Margaret Barry

The Child and the Call

I was born in the United States in l937, the oldest of four children, in a small Vermont town. My parents were poor working class people, who insisted that we children go to church every Sunday, even though they didn't. We were blessed in being able to attend a free catholic school for eight years. My time there did not seem very remarkable then, but after reflecting on my experiences there, I can see how the Lord works, but takes much of our lifetime to accomplish His goal for us.

I remember the Call to the priesthood at about the age of nine. I did not dwell upon it, but there would always be reminders one way or the other. They would come to mind when looking through the Sunday Visitor. The advertisements and applications for information about The Maryknoll Fathers begged my attention. I would fill them out but never sent them in. (I hadn't seen any women priests around.)

The environment of home life was at the opposite end of the pole of school life. The Catholic school had taught me values and introduced me to a wonderful person called Jesus, a person who cared. I wanted to be close to Him.

One day while playing in the school yard, the priest who was the assistant pastor called me over to talk with him. He asked about the game the kids were playing and then he asked me if I was going to be a nun when I grew up. I said "no" in a hesitating manner. Then he asked me what I was going to be when I grew up. Without hesitation I said, "I want to be a priest." I still remember his reply which was somewhat puzzling to me at the time, but now about fifty-five years later it means a great deal; for he said to me. "The next great revelation for the church will come from outside the church." (I think lay people were considered outside the church in those days.) He was a kindly priest who died at an early age. I shall always remember him for his kindness and gentle manner, and be grateful to him and the good sisters, especially those who were patient and understanding with this dreamer and slow learner. The positive effect that these wonderful and dedicated people had upon me is that they really and profoundly formed my life, along with a beautiful aunt who lived a good example of the Christ like life. But it is Christ who saved my life.

High school did not offer much beyond what I had already learned in the catholic school. I had been offered a scholarship to college, and I thought it would be my chance to serve perhaps God and country, but my relatives sputtered and fumed at me, "Who do you think you are that you should go to college?!"

I forgot about college and married a sailor. Thoughts about the priesthood were forgotten. The soul needed to evolve and that would take many years. It was only going to happen as a result of life's learning experiences, with its pain and joy, good and bad, tragedy and triumph, unpleasant and the pleasant, the fullness of what is human and the intervention of the divine.

The Experience

My story about the call has to do with nuptials, weddings, or what otherwise might be called unions with God; and the sacraments here are internalized, deeply personal and spiritual, not ritualized. It is also a sensual story and at the same time sacred.

It began with an innocent and naive child of about six years, in her first year of school. She really loved to listen to people talk, and she loved to learn. It felt good and exciting. One of the things she enjoyed hearing about most was the goodness and greatness of God ...how big He was, and the wonderful things He could do.

Sister Carmel told the children that this wonderful person who made the whole world and everybody and everything in it, cared about each one of us, that He loved us and wanted to talk to us, and that He wanted us to talk to Him. Sister said God would make us wise and intelligent if we listened to Him. And a little girl at the age of six, who did not feel at all smart, made a wish in her heart that God would talk to her and make her intelligent. And there was a sweet voice within her which spoke, and said, "When you're older, God will talk with you. " "Older", seemed like a long way off. She wanted to be intelligent NOW. She wanted God to talk to her NOW. There was just silence. But, she did believe what she heard. She would wait, in hope, to be intelligent.

One day at Sunday Mass, as she was kneeling in the front row of church, and her eyes just were just able to see over the kneeling board in front of her, she looked up at the mural on the church ceiling,... and there was God, with His long white beard and stern look. The child needed to talk to Him. But she couldn't look at Him. So she lowered her head and closed her eyes; And in the quiet of her heart she said, "God, my daddy is not good to my mummy. I don't want a husband like him. Please send me a good husband when I grow up." And she repeated that little prayer many times during her young life.

Life moved on, and it was about three years later that this little girl left school one day, apparently in a happy mood, for she was skipping across the school yard over toward the church and suddenly she stopped when she heard a rather imperative voice which said, "You will be my priest." (Where did that come from?) `Hmmm, that's a good idea ...looks like a good life; Father has a nice house, - lots better than mine. And I could have a dog too,-like he does.' And she continued to bounce down the walkway. But the impression of the thought would be stored her mind.

The CALL is to the Priesthood of Christ, as Peter tells us, You, are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light". And again, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchidesek." In this priesthood we are called to (another Nuptial) being ONE with the Father, as Jesus is ONE with the Father.

Now this young lady kept in pretty close contact with God through the years especially in her aloneness, and when there were problems. When she was thirteen years old her mother was killed by a drunk driver who ran over her with his lumber truck. There had been a warning about it the evening before when she said good night to her mother... that voice again, "That's the last time you will see your mother alive." And so it was. The aloneness was terrible. Dad drank too much and his friends from the bar were scary to have around.

High School years came and went. A young man proposed marriage. It seemed like an answer to a prayer. (How little we know at eighteen.) But a commitment had been made, and there was the resolve to, "make the best of it." Then, something more fulfilling was needed and wanted. The nesting desire had set in. There were many miscarriages and doctors said it was unlikely that there would ever be any children. Belief in the power of prayer, faith in God's goodness would bring results! Mary would listen, and tell Jesus about this matter, besides, I promised to name my first baby girl Mary She was perfect and beautiful, -another answered prayer. A couple of years went by, and there was a very strong desire within me to "do it again". But Al was still in college with another year to go, and he had no desire for another child. But a seed had been planted, and Love does win out.

I believe God wants all His people to know the beauty and sacredness of sexual love, and that God truly is present and active in this union. The calling of God to a man and woman into this spiritual experience of sexual love is none other than the revelation of God in humanity. It is an absolute necessity that this information about sexuality be taught by the church to the people of God. In actuality, a vast number of Christians already know by experience that they have encountered the spiritual, the mystical, the holy One in their act of love for one another. Yet some have had this experience and cannot name it! How is it that teachers of God have not,( because they cannot?), inform Gods people of such matters? (Our church must learn and teach more of this vital truth to God's people and shout it from the rooftops! It must honor the beauty of sexuality, sexual love, and Gods image in and with man and woman.) So there was David, then Barry, and Deborah, and Timothy, and Daniel. David died in a car accident just after his twentieth birthday. Baby Daniel lived but a day, and I had almost died when he was born.

In between children I used to wonder if I could only please God by pleasing the church regarding birth control. What is meant by natural? Is everything that is natural right and good? There were lots of questions and lots of prayers. Then the time came when I said, Jesus, you have got to tell me! Finally there came the challenge. "I want you to tell me what to do. I'm only a human being with human limitations. You said you would help if I asked. I remember your words...! "Ask and you will receive, Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened for you". You gave your word; I want you to keep your word! Days and weeks of begging, pleading, bartering, and demanding an answer of God went by. But through all the seeking and frustration there was emerging some new thinking, which had little to do with my demands about an answer to the birth control problem

. Lovely, new, beautiful awesome., inspiring thoughts were filling my mind. Was the world changing? The change was the world within. Light was being let in. New Life was being revealed. Eyes were being opened. All things were becoming new ....amazing and wonderful. Familiar words came to mind; "I am the Light of the world." And this lady began to wonder if God Himself might be seeing His creation through her eyes, and delighting in all that was being taken in through her senses. (That was Feb 23. 1965)

Why this new thinking? Why was I overcome by it all? Why was God so intense in my mind? What does it mean? I went to see Fr. Philip, (a Vincentian priest, in Panama at that time). As I spoke, relating the events of my new thinking he began to cry. Thinking that I had said something wrong, I asked," Why are you crying? " ." You have seen God ", he said. Shaking my head in disbelief I said, "I have seen His love". "God is Love" he said. For the first time in my life, at the age or twentyseven, I had heard, "God is Love"! (Why hadn't anyone told me this before?) After a while he gave me a Bible. I began to read it. The Holy Spirit began to give new life to ancient words! have seen His love". "God is Love" he said. For the first time in my life, at the age or twentyseven, I had heard, "God is Love"! (Why hadn't anyone told me this before?) After a while he gave me a Bible. I began to read it. The Holy Spirit began to give new life to ancient words! Immediately the flood gates of heaven were open! God is Love!? But LOVE is everywhere! The honeymoon began. I began to KNOW God! And in knowing God, his greatness, his goodness, his love and beauty, one becomes humbled, even humiliated by ones sinfulness, and the recognition of ones littleness. There is immediate contrition at this awareness. Then, with contrition, a blessing!

What is experienced here is what Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about, "Amen Amen I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of the water and the Spirit. And again John the Baptist says of Jesus. "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

In Rev. we read, "The Spirit and the Bride say Come. Let all who hear answer Come. Come Lord Jesus Come." Everyone needs to Ask Jesus to come into their life. He will. That's all you need to do is "ASK" and the Spirit of Christ will take us to Himself, and enrapture us, His bride, with a powerful and mighty love.

So at the age of twenty seven, at last I was OLDER. God was talking to me. I was listening. And I was talking to Him. A child's prayerful wish had come to be. I was intelligent! The Living Water flowed. Jesus said to the woman at the well " Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Gifts of the Holy Spirit became continuous and intense ....There were inspirations, insights, personal and cosmic revelations, prayers, prophesy, wisdom, teachings, writings, there was strength, patience, pain, joy, suffering, growth in Truth; BUT as Paul tells us in Cor.13, the greatest gift is LOVE ...Because Love is the gift of God Himself, living and active within us.

Is it any wonder that Jesus commanded us to Love. "Love one another as I have loved you." He wanted us to exercise this most powerful of energy, Love, -exercise the Spirit of God, our creator within, and spend this energy building a better life for a new and better world.

Awareness of the Beauty of this Loving union with God still overwhelms. Excitement still surges through my being when I'm engaged in spiritual intercourse with Him. There is openness, and oneness in our relationship. Jesus knew this experience well, "I am in the Father, the Father is in me."

Having Jesus in my life is the greatest blessing and experience of my life. It has not always been easy. My husband was not a baptized person and he did not understand my experience.., he was even fearful and told a clergyman about it, who advised him to put me away. So I spent six weeks in a mental institution, even though the psychiatrist there wanted to send me right back home. In my anger I had decided to stay. Thank God for Women's Lib. The law no longer permits a husband to `put his wife away' for any reason, not even for speaking about the coming of Christ into her life. After seventeen years of marriage there was a divorce. It was a difficult time worrying about how I would manage with the children, the mortgage the bills and all, but even, and especially then, God did not leave me, and when I went to Him in desperation, He revealed His Love and mercy.

So, for about fifteen years and more, the Spirit was continuously teaching me, but I was not always able to tell anyone about it, it was taboo to speak about God, especially for a woman, and I was forced to write. The old pastor told me to go home and do my dishes and take good care of my children. In looking for a spiritual director from 1965 onward (as I was advised to do by the priest in Panama,) it only led to disappointment after disappointment, and I wondered if some priests had ever received the Holy Spirit. When Charismatic prayer meetings came along it was a joy for me to be able to share my thoughts of God. When prayer meetings faded away I began to turn off the Spirit (Truly God is too much to bear without telling... ) and I became engrossed in my work as a printer, for more than a dozen years I had little or no time for church, or clergy. I was not accepted, not able to be involved. The clergy or the church was not involved with me. It seemed like the message of the church was, lay people must not speak about the Good News, that would be reserved for clergy alone.

Overview Signs of a Vocation A woman's journey Steps to take Answering critics Writing your story
Six options for Catholic women who feel called to the priesthood?

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