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

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

1 . Listen. Listen to God’s word as it speaks to you. Like Samuel, we may not recognise what it is at first and we may need to go to the Elis in our life before we find out that it is God who is calling us. We must also not be too alarmed to begin with if we are told several times that we are not being called (cf. 1 Sam 3: 1-21). Be patient. If the call is a genuine one it will come become plain to yourself and to others. We have a right to ask God to show us more clearly what our calling is. However, God in turn has a right to reveal these things in a timing not of our making.

2. Pray. Pray about what is happening. Prayer is crucial at every stage of the process. In the early stages of a discernment it is helpful to pray as Thomas Merton did that even if we fear we are getting things wrong we can be assured that our desire to please God does itself please God. Although we cannot know the way ahead, we can trust that God can lead us by the right road though we may know nothing about it.

3. Discern. Begin the process of discernment. This process will take a lifetime. No priest has ever discovered once for all what it is God is calling them to do with his or her life. There are some initial questions and self-tests that can help start you off. Test out your thoughts and feelings about other vocations in the Church. If you are single, ask yourself whether your vocation might be to consecrated life. If married, ask how your partner will feel about your vocation. If you are in religious life, test the implications for your vocation of remaining within your congregation

4. Learn. Find out all you can about priesthood that is helpful to you. Much of what is true about ordination for men will apply to women also. The way is slowly being forged for a feminine understanding of priesthood in the writings of modern theologians and in local discussion groups. Women carry a different historical baggage and come from a different sociological perspective to men. Explore the issues which are arising for you from your position as a woman. Reading some of the books and documents written for candidates to the priesthood and substituting ‘she’ for ‘he’ can help to check out if this is still a vocation which resonates with you from your self understanding as a woman.

5 Get Guidance. Find a good spiritual director. This is crucial. A good spiritual director can make all the difference.

6. Look for role models or a mentor. A mentor may also be your spiritual director but the relationship is a different one. A mentor will be usually be a woman you admire who is more experienced than you, willing to help you grow and in a position to enable you to do so.

7. Meet Others.

Support other Catholic women who are responding to the same calling. They need to learn from you. You need to learn from them. Talk to other women ministers. They have walked the road to ordination. They know about the problems and the pains as well as the joys. Listen to men. There are many already ordained who are ready to accept you working alongside them in ministry. Find out who they are and learn to dream with them. Support those who, like you, cannot come forward for ordination, perhaps because celibacy is not their charism or because a Church which denies the ministry of women is not one they are prepared to serve in. Stand with them in their marginalisation. Challenge them to stand with you. Look for the kind of people who will be completely honest with you about your vocation. Find people you can pray and celebrate liturgy with, so that all the time you are bringing your vocation before God in the company of others.

8. Study. The Second Vatican Council recognised that, “The desired renewal of the whole Church depends in great part upon a priestly ministry animated by the spirit of Christ and it solemnly affirms the critical importance of priestly training. ” (Optatam Totius §1). At some stage it will become essential to gain some theological or philosophical study and whatever other qualifications you think you might need. When ordination becomes a possibility then a solid grounding in relevant studies will give you a good head start. The same studies necessary for priests are oftentimes helpful for other lay ministry and even secular jobs, although sometimes a choice to pursue this path involves risk to livelihood and career plans. Even if ordination does not become an eventuality in your lifetime, then you will have helped prepare the way for other women who can walk further along the path you helped to carve out, as well as contributing to the Church in the present day. There is a note of caution, however. Many courses in the theological or philosophical sciences are extremely male-orientated (in language and choice of writers for study), even when they are open to women. This can be difficult to cope with. Seek out carefully the kind of courses that will be lifegiving for you.

9. Care for Others. There are many people who are more marginalised than you in the Church and the world. Though you may have struggles of your own, owe your first care to them. To be like Christ you should direct your gaze more often to the lost and lonely than at those who seem more privileged in the Church than you. Do not be afraid. Christ was prepared to teach and challenge the Pharisees, the professional religious people, as well as the sinners and the outcasts, the ordinary people, but he spent more time with the ordinary people.

10. Minister. Develop the ministry you are in so far as you are able, so that this will be fruitful and fulfilling. Look around at the needs of the world. What skills do you need to develop to address them? Use whatever gifts you have. The world has need of them all - music, poetry, art, crafts, home-making, caring, writing, preaching, teaching, sewing, science, gardening, environmental awareness, counselling, facilitation, communication technology.... Find something to do that makes you happy. Keep listening to your inner voice. There are calls within a call to priesthood. Live out as much of yours as you can. In England, bodies like the Network For Lay Ministry are working to provide professional opportunities and personal growth for people working for the Church (or hoping to) who are not ordained. Find out what organisations exist in your country.

11. Dream. What is your dream for the future? Think about the shape of the ministry you would like to have. How will you collaborate with others? How will the men and women around you work as a team? What will be your part in that? How will you respond to those who come to you for pastoral care? What gifts do you bring to the liturgy and what will be the shape of the worship you promote? Can you learn to facilitate the vocations of all those who come to you looking for help and guidance in finding ways to serve God? Try to become the priest you want to be.

12. Know your limitations. Conserve your energies. Try not to fight in the battles you cannot win. Don’t try to take on every cause at once. Take other people with you and never fight for yourself alone. Guard against discouragement. Maintain your integrity.

13. Recognise which objections are valid and which are not. There are some people who will always oppose all thought of women’s ordination. It is not easy to find ways to cope with their opposition. Sometimes we are just have to walk away from it. However, it is important to learn to differentiate between indiscriminate objections made about women in any aspect of the priestly role and those which may be valid for you personally. Take plenty of advice on the latter. Not everyone who challenges you or advises you against pursuing ordination is automatically against you. If someone you trust voices a doubt about some aspect of your suitability, see whether there is something you can do about it. It is quite possible to take steps to improve. However, it is still the case that not every woman who feels called to priesthood now would be ordained if the priesthood were open to women.

14. Let go of the calling if it is not for you. For some women there is a great sense of clarity and certainty about their call and it is readily attested to by those around them. For many more there is the initial inkling of the idea, perhaps half listened to. More young men consider priesthood than proceed on to ordination. Our priesthood is held in common by virtue of our baptism. It is therefore no surprise that women, too, should give due consideration to whether God is calling them to the specific step of sacramental priesthood. It is also no surprise that many should finally decide, or discern with others, that ordination is not their call, but that a deeper discipleship in the priestly people of God is.

15. Witness. Take whatever opportunities are presented to you to speak out about your calling. You are a light for the world and no-one lights a lamp to hide it under a tub. Talk to your parish priest, a vocations director, your bishop. Ask how they will make use of your God-given talents and gifts in the Lord’s service. You may be pleasantly surprised how much good will and support there is among those already serving within the Church for women who seek to join them. You may also get into trouble, you may be criticised. Jesus suffered this fate and he was entirely without blame, who are you to try and avoid it? Listen to those who are negative towards you. In some things, at some times, they might be right. Always remain humble. Know your limitations. But stand firm about the graces God has given you and do not deny them. You are privileged to be called. Trust in God to give you the eloquence you need before those who seek to criticise you and remember that a faithful life speaks more than a thousand words.

16. Campaign. You may feel called to make more public your stance in support of women’s ordination. Decide what you feel would do most good. There are campaign groups in England, Ireland, Australia, U. S.A, New Zealand and Germany.

17. Trust in God. Put your trust in God first and foremost to do the work for which you are just a vessel. Gamaliel, in his intervention to the Sanhedrin at the trial of Peter and John, said, “If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of its own accord, but if it does in fact come from God you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-9)

18. Love. Above all, seek to grow and deepen in your love of God and neighbour. Learn more about Christ and hold fast in your relationship with him. To be his minister and speak in his name, you must know who he is for you and how to find him in other people.

‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.’ (Lk 10:2-3)

See also: Reflections on a Woman’s Journey to Ordination

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?

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