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Reflections on a womans call to the priesthood

Reflections on a Woman’s Journey to Ordination

In the Catholic Church the journey to priesthood for anyone takes a long time, deliberately so. Ordination is a weighty undertaking and one a person is asked to mature into. At any stage along the process another vocation may show itself more clearly. If you, as a Catholic woman, are feeling that the ordained ministry may be your vocation, albeit one that you know to be thwarted at present, expect the calling to mature and grow over time. A discernment made about priesthood is not about something static but about something that will continually change and grow. Fidelity to the imperative of the original calling is what will be most important, not rigidly defining its boundaries.

It has never been easy for anyone to hear a call from God. So many distractions get in the way and the calling is never comfortable. A calling to the priesthood carries its own particular difficulties. When the thought first occurs, all sorts of fears and feelings of inadequacy come up. ‘I wouldn’t be good enough to be a priest’, ‘I’m not holy enough’, ‘What if I didn’t get through the selection process?’, ‘I’m afraid of the demands it will make on me."What on earth are my family and friends going to think??’

For a Catholic woman wondering whether her vocation could possibly be to priesthood, these thoughts and feelings of anxiety are magnified a hundred-fold. Not only is this calling a difficult one to accept in regard to all her own limitations and failings, it is one she is not supposed to be hearing at all! Pope Paul VI in Inter Insigniores declared that a woman who believed she was being called to ordination may be sincere but was very much misguided. John Paul II restated in 1994 that the ‘Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women’.(Ordination Sacerdotalis §4) The official line then follows that if the Church cannot ordain women then God cannot be calling them.

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It would be easier for a woman in this position to decide that it was better to pay no attention to it all. Yet sometimes God can be very insistent. No one is ever worthy of priesthood, it comes as a free gift (some would say not always initially a very welcome one) and God sometimes chooses the most unlikely of people (think of that list of the twelve apostles!). If everyone backed off because of their own unworthiness or because the task appeared to difficult, then there would be no priests at all. Eventually there comes a time when all the one called can do is to say with Mary, Yes, ‘Let it be done unto me according to your word.’ For women around the world today there has come a point when they have had to say to God, ‘I know it is impossible, but if You want it to happen then I will do Your will.’ In other Christian denominations, this courage has been turned into a recognition of the ordained ministry for women. In the Catholic Church, women are wondering when it is going to become a reality for them.

Discerning a vocation of any kind is a process which happens over time. There may be a blinding moment of insight like St Paul on the Damascus Road but even after that there still comes all the questioning and decisions about what do next. Paul himself had to wait to meet Ananias and then go up to see the disciples in Jerusalem, before embarking on his missionary journeys and discovering that he had a vocation to convert the gentiles. For most of us, vocations happen more slowly and unfold over a period of time. It is often hard to pinpoint a moment and say, ‘That was it, that was the moment when it all began.’ On the other hand, it is often the case that some singular event occurs in a person’s life when he or she can say, ‘That was when I knew for sure what God was calling me to.’ The same is true for women in the Church today who reach the point of knowing that the true name for the vocation they seek to follow is priesthood or ordained ministry.

I am a woman who has herself been struggling with this vocation for more than seven years now. There are other women I know of in their sixties and seventies who have been struggling for a lifetime. This is not an easy calling and there are no simple answers. One of the first Scripture passages ever to speak to me was a line from the book of Ecclesiasticus, “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal” (Eccles 2:1). Women’s ordination will in all likelihood become a reality in the Catholic Church, as it has become in other denominations of the Christian tradition, but we do not know how long it is going to take. It may not be in my lifetime or yours. We could be in for the long haul. The whole Church has to be ready if women’s ordination is to become a truly ‘Catholic’ reality. That preparation will have to be done by many people, by people in parishes, by priests, by theologians, by ecumenical consultation, by bishops and, perhaps, by a Council. Much preparation will need to be done by women themselves, those who seek to come forward for ordination and those who wish to support them in it.

See also: What steps should a woman take if she thinks she has a calling to ordination in the Catholic Church?

Colette Joyce

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?


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

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