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Does a woman’s vocation come less from God than a man’s?

Does a woman’s vocation come less from God than a man’s?

Read here who I am!

There has always been a conviction within the Church that genuine vocations come from God, and that it would be criminal to block such vocations.

The roots of any vocation lie in our having been created by God. Every potential in us comes from God’s hand and every call, whether to a task, a ministry, a kind of life or a special mission, arises from God’s calling out of nothingness into being the individuals we are.

Our specific vocation as Christians derives immediately from our having been baptised in Christ and so having become priests, prophets and queens/kings with him. Christian baptism includes the potential of the call to the sacramental priesthood. And since baptism is the same for women and men, both receive the same implicit and remote calling to the sacramental priesthood.

Naive conceptions

The call to the ministerial priesthood was formerly often understood in a rather magical and simplistic way. God was imagined to literally pick out candidates according to his inscrutable decrees.

I remember hearing the following story during a retreat in the major seminary.

Before the creation of the world, God called his angels together and gave them a preview of everything he was going to make, including the human beings of all future generations. The angels were allowed to ask him questions.

One angel who had studied the plan, said to the Almighty: “I see so-and-so over there (fill in your own name!) What use will he/she be? Couldn’t you just drop her from the scheme of the universe?”

God replied: “No. So-and-so is important to me. I have a unique and specific mission for him/her. I am going to call that person to be my priest!”

The implications are obvious. God calls an individual to the priesthood through a deliberate and explicit decision. Woe to anyone who would stand in the way of that divine call!

The problem with this kind of notion is that it makes God human and small. God does not act the way we do. God works through secondary causes. Since every baptised person has a remote call through his/her incorporation in Christ, God allows family, friends, teachers, spiritual writers, pastors and others to contribute to making the remote call an immediate one. “God calls you!” In one way, God’s calling and the human factors are intertwined; they become one reality.

However, this more balanced understanding of vocation does not imply that it is less from God. God may work through secondary causes: yet, at the end of the day it is God who invites us to the priesthood, not just some teachers or friends.

Whoever is called knows he or she faces God

Hear how Pope John Paul II talks about his own vocation..

What I heard in my heart was not a human call.

“I am often asked, especially by young people, why I became a priest. Maybe some of you would like to ask the same question. Let me try briefly to reply. I must begin by saying that it is impossible to explain entirely. For it remains a mystery, even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that, at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me: ‘Come, follow me!’ There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest.”

“And you can probably tell that I am deeply grateful to God for my vocation to the priesthood. Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God's people in the Church. That has been true ever since the day of my ordination as a priest. Nothing has ever changed this, not even becoming Pope.”
(Los Angeles, USA, September 14, 1987)

Sheila Cassidy was an English doctor, who lived and worked in Chile during the Pinochet regime. She describes her coming face to face with God when she understood God wanted her for his work.

"How to convey the agony and ecstacy of being called by God?"

“After five days of prayer and reflection I was asked to read and meditate upon a passage from the third chapter of the book of Samuel. I read that the Lord called Samuel three times and that the boy did not understand who was calling until he was told by his master to go and lie down and wait and, if the Lord called, he was to say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’ So it was that on a winter morning in 1975 I lay face down on a pile of leaves at the bottom of the garden in a Chilean retreat house and made those words of Samuel my own. As in the days of my childhood twenty years before I heard no voices and I saw no visions, but gradually it became clear to me that God was calling. I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that I was being asked to follow Him, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, for the rest of my life.”

“How can one convey the agony and the ecstasy of being called by God? At one moment one is overawed by the immensity of the honour, the incredible fact of having been chosen, and in the same breath one screams, ‘No! No! Please, not me, I can’t take it!’ That which seconds ago was a privilege becomes an outrageously unfair demand. Why should I be the one asked to give up marriage and career? Why me ? Why may I not lie with a man I love and bear his children? I have only one life; how can you ask me to sign it away as if it meant nothing to me?”

“As I lay there in tears, my ears and my hair full of autumn leaves, I knew that this was the end of the chase. I had chosen to come to this place and I had invited God to speak and he had. Of course I was quite free to say, ‘No, I don’t want to’, But this would be a clear and deliberate refusal. I thought about it, and I knew that I did not want to say No and that, however much it hurt, I could only humbly accept. So, as hundreds of men and women had done before me, I said my ‘Fiat’. ”
Sheila Cassidy, Audacity to Believe, Collins, Fount paperback, 1977, pp. 122-123.

Sheila Cassidy was tortured by agents of the Pinochet regime for her work among the poor.

A woman’s vocation to the priesthood

It is clear that no one can presume to have been called. Each vocation needs to be tested. The person who feels called needs to discern whether the vocation is genuine, whether it truly comes from God.

However, with regard to men, the experience of the ‘inner call’, the being drawn by God, the hearing an interior invitation is always taken as an important indication of there being a ground for serious consideration. No one would dare to simply dismiss the ‘inner call’ without assessing its validity.

The Church lays a serious duty on all members of the Catholic community to foster vocations and not to obstruct the call which individual believers may receive. The Second Vatican Council repeated this injunction.

Available as postcard! Click!

The fact that so many good, competent, holy, balanced Catholic women feel called to the priesthood demands an equal hearing and an equal openness to the Spirit. Even if some individual women may be mistaken in believing themselves called, we cannot deny that in many women it is God who does the calling. And God wants them to be priests.

If the Church may not ignore or neglect the vocations to the priesthood given to men, why would she be allowed to treat the same vocation in women with contempt?

John Wijngaards

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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