Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger’s story of vocation

Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger

This testimony is taken from Zur Priesterin berufen (“Called to be a Women Priest”), ed. by Ida Raming, Gertrud Jansen, Iris Müller and Mechtilde Neuendorff, Druck und Verlagshaus Thaur (Krumerweg 9, A-6065 Thaur, Austria) 1998, pp. 113-122. Translation by Mary Dittrich.

Joy in the Lord

I am the eldest daughter of believing parents and was born in Linz, Upper Austria, in 1956. Both my parents were over 30 when they married. My mother bore the stamp of Catholic youth groups, whereas my father was a so-called ‘son’ of the Kolping movement. For all the four children, Sunday Mass, early Communion and early Confession were a matter of course. My chief interest was in my grandfather’s duties as altar server, in his matter-of-course dealings with the “holy things”. I was neither frightened of priests nor respectful of them. Either I was indifferent to them, or I expected information on God and what that entails.

My entire schooling – fourteen years of it – was at the school run by the Holy Cross Sisters in Linz. I found the teaching of religion, and the life of my teachers and of some of the nuns, rather off putting. I found it off how they could misunderstand the Bible message which fascinated me. My child’s Bible. and the religious instruction I was later given, spoke an entirely different language. I was more convinced by honest personal struggle for true religious life.

I have forgotten most of the specific content of the religious education classes. But I do remember details, for instance the habit of a Benedictine, the careful teaching by a priest now married, a Jesuit who was later to take his own life, the honest prayers of a Holy Cross nun who had left the order, and the request for my blessing for a Holy Cross nun with whom I had quarrelled for years and who then contracted cancer and died.

After my primary school and the junior “Gymnasium” years, I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, and ended up doing that against my mother’s will. Mentally, I had left home at the age of about 14.

As far as possible I avoided my parents. The parish priest became for a while my wise confessor who understood how to approach my intellect. I ran a girls’ group, organised the liturgy, was elected to the parish council, and by the age of about 17 had a good position in the parish.

I have always compared vocation with a special talent: a musically-gifted person delights in music, and when she/he takes hold of an instrument and tries it out, she/he can draw agreeable tones, melodies from it. She/he enjoys making music and through it also gives pleasure to those around, even though she/he will have to practise hard from time to time. Through enthusiasm for music she/he can enthuse others to have a try at getting a response from an instrument, or st singing a song. Maybe “doing” will lead on to proficiency. I myself and not specially musical. I blow the hunting horn with more keenness than skill, but I’m not giving up. However, I do have a religious talent: “Joy in the Lord is my strength” (Ps 36,4) . Especially with priests I have tried to find understanding for my search. I have expected that they must surely understand me and my vocation. a number of confessors certainly helped for a time, but in the last resort they left me alone in all my decisions. In my youth important factors were surely, too, a stay in Taizé, Catholic youth weekends especially in the Premonstratensian Abbey at Schlägl, meetings with other seekers who, like me, had still not found all the answers.

Together with my siblings I loved playing at celebrating Mass. Using nail scissors we patiently cut hosts out of rice paper and put them in an egg cup. My brother always wanted to be a priest, but he knew only the words of the consecration by heart. Being a boy, he felt he should play the priest, but my sister and I knew the rest of the Mass texts by heart.

When I was about 14, I attended every possible religious service in the community. I wheedled my very unwilling brother into learning to be an altar boy which, being a girl was out of bounds for me. He was allowed to wear a cotta even though he still couldn’t serve. The parish priest noted my annoyance at my brother and let me serve a few times, but without the longed-for garment. A few years back I was determined to write to the Pope and ask for the ridiculous ban on girl altar servers to be lifted. Since I had no suitable address, the letter landed in my waste paper bin.

In the parish there was as far back as in the early 70s a liturgy group, in which I collaborated on the advice of the parish priest. At last I could stand at the altar, or at least at the ambo and “cooperate” in the Mass. At that period I did not yet dare to formulate the concrete wish to be a priest; for I had nobody to whom I could have expressed it. Life in an Order, liturgy, prayer in choir became the spiritual antipole of the parish activities. I wanted to buy a breviary, but had not idea of where and how. A devout friend of my aunt gave me the newly published student’s edition – I was a new woman! At once I sewed it a velvet cover with gold braid, and I read my breviary in the tram, in my lunch break, during school lessons and in bed. I made a beeline for nuns and priests, enquired into rules and convents and into chances of entering and leaving. A school mate of my aunt was prioress of the Benedictine convent in Steinerkirchen, which had been set up to afford pastoral help to the nuns in the parishes. That looked interesting to me.

On leaving school I entered the convent of the Benedictines of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I was given the religious name of “Marie Christin” and chose “the All-holiest Trinity” as title of nobility. I hoped to have achieved my spiritual wishes. I took my training very seriously, served at table, put up with the lessons of the Mistress of Novices and of a stupid Spiritual Director, cleaned the chapel, learnt how to make a double genuflection while wearing my choir robe and handling the thurible, the incense vessel and the shoulder veil, and I loved and enjoyed the hours spent praying in choir. To me, convent life was an indispensable prelude on my way to the altar. The tasks of the nuns which tended towards sole parish leadership seemed to me to be interesting. After my postulate, two years of novitiate and profession I wanted to study theology in Salzburg. There was reference to obedience, and I had to go to the Academy in Linz to train as a teacher of religion. The training was good, but not the one I wanted. There ensued conflicts with the Superiors and certain experiences that prompted me to start a fresh on my search for God. (The search for God is the sole question put to someone who knocks at the door of a Benedictine monastery seeking to enter.)

After close on five years I left the convent at the end of my profession period, heavy hearted at again having failed to find what I sought, but richly endowed with spiritual discoveries. In my inner self I have remained a Benedictine, even though I have discarded the external habit. My profession, with its serious commitment to God, is still valid to me.

During the last year of my studies I was teaching religion in a special needs school. I became closely involved with Michael, my husband. I learnt to love him, moved in with him and married him after completing my studies. He was divorced from his first wife, and had four children. My “missio canonica” was withdrawn. To add to this difficult situation, Church people distanced themselves, there were conflicts with the Institution about possible jobs, desperately needed for economic reasons, and there was complete lack of understanding in the Catholic surroundings. And yet my marriage was certainly also an intentional act of solidarity with a man who, in Church terms, was a failure. Where was the Christian solidarity with me?

After some years of grieving I slowly began to cooperate in the parish again. a new parish priest did not make things easier. Professional competence and experience helped me, but they stayed a thorn in the flesh of the top authorities. About seven years ago I started to help with hospital pastoral work, again voluntarily. There for the first time, my experience with new people in new field of pastoral care was unequivocally good. Yes, the work suited me. I was accepted by patients and derived from it strength for myself. At the same time the longing increased to become a parish priest of a real small community. Since that time it is clear to me that my vocational wish is just to be a priest and parish priest. I can do it and that is what I want.

“Joy in the Lord” at Mass, in proclamation, in personal faith, hope and charity and in the loneliness that brings these I have felt all through my life. Until into my convent life I was unable to formulate as such my wish to be a priest. Work in a parish would have been enough. But the more a Church job receded, the greater the force of “I want it all”. In the services prepared by me, of course I preached. And I have attended a course on conducting liturgies (my registration was by chance, and I think that at the time there was no official commissioning of those joining, since that would have meant my exclusion.) And from time to time I have conducted liturgies in the community. To me it is quite natural when the nurses in the state hospital refer to me a as “the priest” and the patients expect me to dispense all the sacraments to them. And I had a tunic made so as to conduct the burial service of my mother-in-law. As the years pass, priestly behaviour becomes increasingly a matter of course, and more and more a part of myself. From time to time I wonder if I am allowed to do all this; usually the questions and requests of people make a reply superfluous.

In all these years I have always been dreadfully sad when confreres have relinquished their duties in order to marry. How could they give away something that was out of my reach?

For some years I have gone hunting, and so I am often in the company of men who are none too keen on the Church. Somehow many of them have got wind that I, a woman, am “something like a parish priest.” Often I hold catechesis sessions at an inn table. An interesting cogitation by the hunters was, one day,whether my blessing was as good as one by a parish priest. They decided on “yes”, because I, too, have a “vestment”. That being so, they asked me to preach at their St Hubert’s Day Mass. In my experience “ordinary believers” accept priestly behaviour and the wish for ordination much more easily than so-called professional Catholics, especially priests.

In particular while I was in the convent, I dared not voice my wish for ordination, because the serving role of woman was clearly defined. An urge to serve as a priest at the altar was felt to be presumptuous and fitting humility was invoked.

At regular intervals I also wonder whether the urge for ordination is not a product of my arrogance. Must I really stand in the front row? And sometimes the temptation to laziness crops up too: do I need all that? Hasn’t “Mother” Church already caused me enough suffering; injuries, disappointments? After all these years, it might be time to retreat into private life without church, community, Sunday duties. And anyway, in present circumstances there isn’t the faintest chance of my getting Church employment or some office. My ecclesial teaching ban is still extant, and it will not be lifted. Certainly, were I to get divorced the facade would be fine, and then in the eyes of the Church I would one more be “clean”.

After losing my teaching authorisation I was jobless for ten years. There was no appointment within the Church, and I stood not a chance as a state kindergarten teacher. By a stroke of luck(?), however, about six years ago when I was already 35, I got a pretty good job training kindergarten teachers. At the same time there was a reform of higher studies, so I could train belatedly, as a secondary school teacher. Now I teach in the special needs school, and I have registered to train others, because there is such a demand in this field. However, in these last few years the wish to be a priest has steadily strengthened.

Many years ago my fellow nuns inscribed “Beloved by God” on my profession candle, because I was always talking of that. Many a “chance happening” I have not understood. But afterwards invariably a knot has untied and it has become clear that nothing is meaningless. Thanks to my pretty good state job I don’t depend on the Church for employment. I do work – voluntarily – in various church spheres. Nobody can forbid it. The Bishop knows of my activities, but can’t discipline me – how could he? Slowly I am beginning to understand this freedom.

Precisely as regards the ordination of women, this freedom is of the greatest importance. If a community, a group, “two or three” should ask me to celebrate a Eucharist with them, I shall do that. I have talked to women who already do this. They and I are empowered to do so by baptism and confirmation, that is, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’m aware that this is forbidden by Church law, and can draw down ecclesial punishment. But what can separate me from the love of Christ? (Rom.8,35,39) These words of Paul have encouraged me. I was able to talk to women employed by the Church. They put their hopes in women like me, who need not fear for their livelihoods if they do what the Lord has instructed us to do – celebrate his memory.

By now I am 40, and for 25 years I have fought for my dream of being a women priest. I have hoped so very much that the time after the Second Vatican Council would remain a time of awakening and renewal. I was so happy to be young just then. I rejoiced in the renewal of the liturgy, and was full of hope that things would continue. John Paul ll was elected Pope while I was a nun, and almost from that very day the forward surge was halted; and since then it has been in continual retreat. I left a convent that was different from the one I had entered.

I am afraid that my time will run out before the Church again moves ahead. Admittedly, I’ve felt the surge in myself and in many another person, but shall I live long enough? I don’t want to stand at the altar as an ancient woman and preach to people to whom the Gospel is already entirely strange and uninteresting about a Church which administers the testament of Jesus. I’d like to talk about a Jesus the children learnt about from their parents. I fear my generation is the last one to invest so much energy in the Church. I have already used up so much strength. I fear I shan’t hold out until a brotherly-sisterly Church develops in which I can partake in ordained ministry.

Whatever happens, I shall register for the 1996 winter semester at the Theological University and try to get through academic studies side by side with my job. I wouldn’t like my admission to ordination to fail for lack of study.

These are my visions of the Church of the future:

  1. In a brotherly-sisterly Church it will be immaterial whether I am male or female. It will be important whether I am seeking God and want to proclaim his message.
  2. Male bishops experience a conversion of heart; the “Holy Ruach” (ie Holy Spirit) is come on them in a new Pentecost. They have an entirely fresh understanding of Jesus’ message, and understand the needs of humanity. Unnecessary burdens will be lifted from the shoulders of the struggling and burdened. Failure is in the Church of Jesus Christ a matter for the mercy of God, and no longer for human (in)justice.
  3. Conflicts will be resolved in the spirit of Jesus. Efforts towards mutual love will be accompanied by experienced spiritual guides.
  4. Conversion and a new beginning are a splendid holy opportunity.
  5. Priestly men and women will no longer be forced to lead celibate lives. They will choose freely how they wish to live. Nobody is forced any longer to wear some kind of mask.
  6. Holders of ecclesial office do not need to use force. They have authority because they are competent. The Magisterium is soaked in wisdom, not in schoolmasterly sophistry.
  7. Priestly persons will be chosen by their lifestyle. In each community there are several priests, men and women, as happens to be necessary and possible. They are well trained theologically and adept in practice, but not enforcedly academic. Most of them have another calling and a family, hold their “surgery” in the evening and live with the people to whom they are administering spiritually. They take turns in presiding at the liturgies in their parish churches, and usually they celebrate the Eucharist in reasonably sized groups. They know the people they as priests care for, know their problems and visit the sick. The priests accompany the group leaders and voluntary workers. They have learnt to delegate, and can rejoice without jealousy at the success of others.

I myself would like to work in a small community. a residential district, a hospital or chaplaincy within boundaries. I would not like to be worn down as a church multifunctionary because apparently everything must be subordinate to the priest. Ordination is no substitute for competence. There must surely be people who are more suited to administration and organisation than to the priesthood.

I would like to be on the way to God with people, celebrate the sacraments with them, clarify life questions with them as a sister, because I know that just like them I need the love, mercy and forgiveness of God. I know that I am loved, called, chosen by god, but also marooned. Again and again I have to search for myself too, for access to the mysteries; for to have found them simultaneously means to have lost them. I want to be a priest in my precise situation, for those I love who are given and entrusted to me, for my specific time with its questions and problems. I wouldn’t wish to fight for the Church a century ahead, because I am living now. I want to use the time I have, not chase after phantoms.

I have written this despite strong inner resistance and having to prevail on myself. I am giving away so much about myself and the mystery. But I know it is necessary to discuss the ordination of women, and that real women with an honest story must stand behind that. And that is how I would like my story to be understood.

Benedictines always close their written work with a quotation from the order’s Rule: “ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus” – that God be glorified in everything!

Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger – 1997

Note by webmaster. Further developments:

  • On 29 June 2002 Christine, with six other women, had herself ordained priest by Bischop Romulo Braschi of the ‘Catholic-Apostolic Charismatic Church of Christ the King’. Read the full report here.
  • On 21 December 2002 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at Rome excommunicated all seven women. Read the text of Rome’s Decree here.
  • On 27 June 2003, Christine confirmed that she herself and Gisela Forster, one of the other seven women, had been ordained bishops “during the first six months of 2003 – in secret”. The name of the ordaining bishop is not known. Through this act Christine risks putting herself in open schism with the Catholic Church, though that may not be her intention.

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?

There is no more 'man' or 'woman' in Christ. Gal 3,28

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