Ivelisse Colón Nevárez OFS
Like life itself, this story is always under construction…
It was in a sunshine day of April of 2001. I was driving to my part-time job in a highway, and although my hands were at the wheel, my mind was wandering away with the most recent thoughts. The work of the day, my semi-unemployment situation, the sickness of both my mother and my grandfather. But most of all, I was thinking about God, about what He was trying to communicate me, since just a month ago. In that day, whatever He was saying to me, to my mind and heart, although it wasn’t definitive, it was clear enough to give an answer.
“Well, why I shouldn’t do it? What do I have to loose? Let’s give it a try…”
If you’re wondering what I was referring about, I was beginning to feel by that time, for the first time in my life, the call for priesthood.
While growing up, and my beliefs.
I was just eleven years old when I first pondered about my future life. I wanted to do many things: to work at the Disney Studios as an animator, a jockette riding thoroughbreds, to write short stories, and finally, I also wanted to be a nun. I made my First Communion just a year ago. While I dedicated myself to study at school, like any girl, I wanted to canalize my early religious restlessness by being a member of the Daughters of Mary, at my local parish of that moment.
Since such age, I became aware that I was very different from the rest of the children. Most girls preferred to play with dolls; I preferred to play with clay, toy horses and books. Most kids learned to swear and use mean words very early; I, by my own will, refused to swear. I also discovered that I didn’t accept the common prejudices ideas of the people, like to believe that men and women are irreconcilably different and that men are superior to women. I didn’t accept other ideas like racism and the hate against people who think different from me.
With all these ideas, I reached the adult life. I entered the University of Puerto Rico to study fine arts, leaving aside the other options that I considered in my childhood.
About religious life, I had in that moment profound doubts about what faith can do for me. When I became too old to remain at the Daughters of Mary, I felt that I was not happy at all with the Church and its teachings about women. Religious leaders of my country, from all creeds, including those of my own Church, said many negative things about women, insisting in women’s inferiority and our “roles” in motherhood and housework. I felt that the Church was acting as an accomplice of this generalized misogyny and I didn’t wanted to be part of it. And then, I stopped going to the Church altogether.
Could it be that unconsciously I thought all such misogyny was God’s fault, for the way women are presented in the Bible? I wasn’t sure… I couldn’t find any answers to any of my questions, and no one was able to help me. In this, I was on my own.
I wasn’t happy with what society thought about women, either. I saw that women were systematically discriminated in almost anything one can imagine. Women that worked outside their homes were blamed for the rising in criminality in our society. We were even blamed for being raped and battered by the ones who are supposed to love and protect us!! So, again, I felt that I couldn’t be part of this scheme, and I fell in a situation in which I was completely alienated from all and from everything. And overall, I felt incredibly alone.
A failed intent to live the “woman’s way according to society”.
During my final years at the University, I was beginning to wonder if I was wrong all the time about my vision of life. Could equal treatment between men and women be ever possible? Was I too radical in my beliefs? Should I give myself the opportunity to live according society’s rules?
When I graduated from the University I began to work, doing graphic art for silk-screening printing and later, creating advertising art for a local newspaper. Then, I met a young man who was a veteran from the US Air Force; he returned to Puerto Rico to begin studies in Electrical Engineering. We fell in love each other and two years later, we married in a civil ceremony. Everything went very fine the first two years, and I nurtured the hope to have children and live the “normal” life that, as a woman, was expected from me.
But after those two years, everything went far from normality, falling in a vicious circle of verbal violence, distrust and rejection, among many other things. Finally, two years later, the relationship ended in the same courtroom it began, with a civil divorce. I was alone again, with a broken heart and no self-esteem at all.
I returned back to my family, and dedicated myself to work excessively as a way to forget the past. For a time, it did work. But when a year later I lost the friendship of a very good friend of mine since my University years, everything in me broke down. The sadness, despair and loneliness were too much to bear. That was when I fell in…
…the bottom line.
I felt terrible. I was always sad. Nothing concerned or inspired me. All that I wanted was to sleep, eat and work. I lost all perspective in the future of my life. All I wanted to do is to live and wait for old age and natural death.
But there was a moment in which I decided to put a stop to this situation, and I went to find help. A doctor diagnosed me with clinical depression, and I followed the recommended treatment. I did felt better, but I wasn’t completely “healed”. Something was out of the picture. I wondered was it was. When I discovered it, it wasn’t a big surprise for me, after all God was out of the picture.
The old questions about why people and Church see women the way they do came again to my mind. I never had any answers to such questions; but in that moment, I decided to find them. When I realized that I was far away from God, I decide to do something about it and give Him, as we may say, a “second chance”. I wanted to see if such attitudes on women are because of His will, or if they are the result of human culture, as I suspected since childhood.
I bought a Bible and began to read it daily. I read about the two stories of Creation, about how Jews treated women and how they portrayed us. I also read some history books that I had in home on ancient history in the times of Greeks and Romans and about the way Muslims treated women. I found many similarities between the Jews and the rest of the mentioned cultures. It was too weird to find out that almost all societies treated women in the same bad way.
But when I began to read the New Testament, especially the versions of the Gospel, I discovered how different Jesus was with women. How He loved and defended us. How He sent us to proclaim the Good News. How He allowed us to serve and help Him. That was a great experience to me.
I was convinced that anything said or done against women was not the will of God. Yet I didn’t have the words or the concrete proof to express myself about it. But for the moment, it was enough to continue studying. I was just happy in thinking that God was guiding me in the process. My faith was increasing.
Later, I realized that in this way, God, the Omnipotent, revealed Himself to me as He is; a living, merciful entity, that takes in consideration our souls, our love and our faith, more than our bodies. Someone to whom we are all equal, no matter if we are men or women. God was again part of my life.
As I said before, I stopped to go to the Church. For some years, I had few or no contact at all with it, with the exception of the news published in newspapers. But some important events happened that made me return back to it.
Coming back home.
It was the year 1999. Our first and only Cardinal resigned to his position as Archbishop, because he reached the maximum age of retirement, and another person was selected to replace him. Just for curiosity, I saw the installation ceremony on TV, and after hearing the sermon preached by the new Archbishop, a relatively young man, a member of the Order of Friars Minor, I felt that he would do a lot of good things to our Church, because of his interest in dialogue, ecumenism, the promotion of our culture and the defense of our environment. I felt identified with such themes and that made me go to the Masses the Archbishop celebrated, to hear and meditate on what he preached.
Most of those Masses were celebrated in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a 500 year old minor basilica in the Old San Juan. Before the ceremonies, I took time to explore the building and to visit the different chapels inside it. I felt like home. It was a very comfortable feeling, like if someone was inviting me to remain there. Although I live in another town, I “adopted” this Cathedral as my parish; it would become, in time, my second home. It was the beginning of my return to the Church.
A year later, in February 2000, the Christian leaders of my country summoned a march, to demand the closure of the US Navy Base in Vieques, a small island-town in the East of Puerto Rico, who suffered bombardments and military practices since 1941, affecting all the civilian population. Maybe more than 100,000 people marched together. This was the first time I participated in such kind of event. I was happy to see that the churches did not conform in just preaching inside the temple, but also in going outside, to denounce the injustices. And they did it united, in a genuine ecumenical gesture.
Months later, I went to a concert that was celebrated inside the Cathedral, in honor of St. John the Baptist. It was a beautiful display of Puerto Rican music and songs, most of them with Christian messages. Once the artists finished their show, the Archbishop, who organized the concert, gave a message about art and the Church. By that time, because of the many problems I had and my depression, I stopped drawing and writing. But afterwards, while meditating on the message given by the Archbishop, I came to think that my attitude was not correct, that art, in all it’s manifestations, is a gift of God, a talent that can (and should) be used at the service of God, the Church and the whole human society. Slowly, I began to practice drawing and writing again. In time, I even developed websites showing some of my work. Thank God for giving me these gifts!
Finally, in a moment during all this time, I found in my home a book that belonged to my little sister, which she left behind when she married and went to live to USA. It was a biography of St. Francis of Assisi. I heard about him when I was a child, but the book help me remember and learning more, as I discovered that the saint and I shared many points of view of God, religion and life. Helping the Church to reconstruct and reform itself, to interact with people of other creeds and to live a simple life without wealth and power pretensions were all part of my set of ideas and also part of the charisma of what it means to be a Franciscan. I became more interested in learning more about this unique way of life and how it influenced the Church.
All this things that happened to me helped me to get closer to the Church, and to feel myself again part of it. But all of this, although important, was just the tip of the iceberg. The event that was going to change my life and my relationship with the Church and everything related to it, was about to happen.
Womenpriests: first contact.
At the end of year 2000, I became unemployed, and my economical situation became very desperate. My mother had to help me with my expenses although having her own financial problems. But I became determinate to not allow this situation to harm my newly renovated faith. On the contrary, I took it as a way to test my patience. It was a hard test indeed.
I dedicated many of my spare hours to navigate the Internet and to explore and investigate about everything. One night, I was surfing the net and thinking about themes related to women and womanhood. Suddenly, an idea came to my mind, and just for curiosity, I wrote the phrase “women+priests” in a search engine, just to check out if somebody was investigating or researching on women as priests. The first link that appeared was related to a site whose URL was www.womenpriests.org
I was amazed of what I have found. Somebody actually was studying seriously the matter! While reading the diverse articles, I noticed that many of them were about what I was very interested, like the influence of culture and superstitions in Church doctrines. I discovered the existence of groups actively working on woman priesthood and became aware of the existence of books about the matter. Also, I had the chance to read the original Vatican documents about the matter and to find other resources on the Net about the same theme.
I was finally founding answers to my life long questions about women and religion. I finally understood why women were treated the way we were. I comprehended that it was not God the author of women’s role and position in society and religion; we, the human beings, are the real authors. We and our superstition, fear and ignorance. I knew this all the time, in my heart and mind, but I was not able to speak about this in any understandable words. In that moment, I was beginning to be able to do it.
First notions of the “call”.
From the time I began to read about all this matter of woman priesthood, I was becoming very interested in priesthood itself. I began to read articles on priesthood and the life and work of the priests. I began to imagine how a woman priest would function in a church and how people would receive and treat her.
I continued to go to the Church, although still just in special occasions. At the Masses, I tried to imagine how would be a woman celebrating; mentally, I substituted the real priest with the image of a woman doing exactly the same thing. I found it very natural. I found nothing wrong about it.
I was also pondering in my own situation. I just accepted a new job, which would help a lot with my economical situation. I had to travel everyday to it in the middle of immense traffic jams, very common in my country.
I had (and still have) the habit of thinking on everything and having “mental conversations” with imaginary people while driving. And in many of such “conversations”, I thought a lot about God. I was seriously considering leaving behind the negative aspects of my life and gave Him the change to mold me, to make me an instrument of whatever plans He would have for me.
Then I focused some thoughts in myself. I became curious in imaging myself being a priest. In the beginning, such images of seeing me in liturgical vestments doing priestly stuff were very funny to me. But soon, they weren’t funny no more; they became something very serious.
And here, we came back to the beginning of this story. As I told before, in that day of March, I began to understand what God wanted me to do. And I told Him that I would give it a try – it was not a definite and total answer to His call, but it was a beginning. I had no idea in which way the Lord was guiding me to – I only knew that it was going to endure a whole life, and that it would change it forever.
The first steps.
I felt, however, that even with all I was studying and with whatever I was doing to return back to the Church, was not enough. If I was really been called to priesthood, it was obvious that I should be doing something more.
First, I began to go weekly for Mass at the Cathedral. How you can be a priest if you don’t love the Mass and the Church? Because Sundays were for my mom, so she could rest for caring for my aging grandfather, I had to go Saturday nights. After a little time, I found that there was need for lectors; there were very few people available. So I volunteered myself and I was quickly accepted. Soon, I was reading every Saturday night.
It was very good, because in the past of the Church, lectors were part of the so-called Minor Orders, that included exorcists, sacristans and acolytes, all performed only by men preparing for priesthood. Thank God that we, the women, can proclaim the Word from the pulpit!
Second, I decided to learn more about women priesthood and about priesthood itself. I bought booklets and books on priesthood and to explore more the womenpriests.org website. I found that the Spanish section of the site had too few documents translated, so I contacted the webmaster, told him about my vocation and I volunteered to help with the translations. Since then, I have been translating texts for the website, something that helped greatly in my vocational discernment.
All this began in me an insatiable thirst for reading and learning. I passed many entire nights reading and reading, thinking and meditating on what I was learning. I reread the Bible to corroborate details. I examined Vatican documents and the writing of diverse theologians, in favor and against women priesthood. I still read and study today, but not with the fury of those months. It was like if I was trying to study for a theology bachelorship in just some months!
Third, as I was discerning on the priestly vocation, I was asking myself if I would become a priest, what kind of a priest I should be, a diocesan or a religious. Diocesan priests do not belong to any order and obey directly their bishop, while religious ones live in spiritual communities, in an order. Because back then, I became very enthusiastic with St. Francis’ life, I wanted to participate in his spirituality. So I decided to be a “religious priest” and to belong to a Franciscan Order. But which one? I began to discern about the order to which belonged my Archbishop, which is a Franciscan order, but obviously, it would not accept a woman. I didn’t fell called to monastic life, so I couldn’t belong to the Order of St. Clare nuns. But I heard about the Secular Franciscan Order (OFS), which is for laymen and laywomen who want to follow the spirituality of St. Francis. I found a fraternity to belong, the Fraternity of St. Anthony of Padua, in a parish in the town of Río Piedras, and I began my formation.
Almost a year later, I discovered by surprise that what was happening to me happened too to St. Catherine of Siena. She wanted to be a Dominican Friar, to preach and to save souls. She even wanted to dress as a man for that purpose! Her plans didn’t happen, so she eventually entered the Third Order of Preachers as a way to deal out with her vocation to priesthood. The world is small indeed.
I went in August of 2001 to the Cathedral to attend the ordination of two young deacons – it was the first ordination I saw. I sat at the aisle, to watch closely the procession. I could bet that hundreds of priests were present, because the procession was very long.
In a moment, many of them were at my left, waiting for the procession to begin. I was quietly looking at them and, suddenly, it happened: in the middle of them, I saw a figure dress in a white alb with white stole, with long, dark hair. When I looked more closely, I saw it was me! I was part of the procession! In less than a second, it was gone, and the procession began.
I still discern about that “vision”. It was real or just the product of my imagination? Or it was a message? Only time will tell.
The people and women priests.
I’m a member of the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, a centenary organization that works in favor of Puerto Rican history, culture, arts and literature, among other things. In August of 2001, the Ateneo began a series of history seminaries related to Puerto Rican struggles to protect its national identity against the invasion of the American Empire in 1898. The first one was about the pacific resistance of a religious lay group called “Hermanos Cheo” (Cheo Brothers), against the attacks of Protestantism at our traditional and popular Catholic practices, like the veneration of the Saints and their images.
After the conference, the woman historian that run the presentation asked questions and commentaries to the public. I remarked the fact that the first person belonging to the Cheo Brothers that made public defense of the Church was a woman called Eugenia, taking in consideration that women were not allow to preach or do many things in the Church back then. I can’t remember how, but the theme of women priesthood came out, and all the people that talked, expressed lot of enthusiasm on women priests, even to the point to say that they want women priests, even women popes! So people do support women priests, I thought, and that made feel happy, although I was not prepared to tell the world about my vocation, yet.
Some time later, I talked about my vocation call to a Protestant friend. She told me that maybe God wanted me to help reform my Church. In that moment I found such remark as too pretentious. Me, a Church reformer? No way!
But later, I realized that maybe she was right. I remembered a vision that St. Francis had, inside the ruined church of St. Damien, where he was praying in front of a cross. From it, Jesus talked to him and said “Francis, reconstruct my Church, that it is in ruins”. The saint thought that He was referring to the physical structure of the churches, and began to repair and reconstruct the St. Damien church and the little Porciuncola. But later, Francis realized that Jesus was referring to the vices of the Church: wealth, power, war, Inquisition, witch hunts, etc. When the Saint preached about poverty and imitating Jesus by living the Gospel, he was, maybe without knowing it, reforming the Church. Maybe I’m called to do exactly the same, as a Franciscan, on women priesthood. To reform the Church by showing it that women DO receive the call to priesthood, by living a priestly life, by acting and living the priestly vocation, the best way possible.
In a day of November 2001, I visited my Cathedral, to pray. I went to an image of Jesus of Nazareth (a Christ carrying the cross), one of my favorites. I asked discernment and help from the Lord. Almost by impulse, I took out from my backpack a little notebook, and, in it, highly inspired, I wrote the following prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, I would like to leave a petition to you…
I feel that you call me to Your service. Receive me, my Lord, in my discernment; allow me to have the courage to follow Your will. Illuminate my mind and my heart with Your Divine Wisdom, so I can have more desire to follow Your way.
Also, illuminate de minds of those that serve you and govern Your Church, so they can understand Your Redeeming Work, that is the same for all. Let them know that everyone, men and women, are equal to You, so they can allow soon that women like me, could serve you as priests.
Thanks, and Amen.
I ask you, my readers, to use this pray. Pray it every time you remember us, the women called to priesthood, and those who feel like me, make it yours.
In that time, I worked as a graphic artist in a studio in Santurce, a county of San Juan, the capital of my country. Near to my job, there was a parish in which Mass was celebrated every noon. Wishing to receive the Word and the Body of Christ in a daily basis, I went on foot to the parish. Just in front of it, is located the principal church of the Episcopalians of Puerto Rico.
Sometimes, I stopped in front of that church, to meditate. Every day that passed, I saw more opposition from my Church to women priests, and I knew that the Episcopalian Church did ordain women. I found on the Internet more information on that church. I also discovered the existence of independent Catholic churches, that for whatever the reason, got separated from Rome, and on which women could also be ordained.
I used back then to ask myself, if in reality I was wasting my time fighting against Rome, and if I should try to follow God’s will to me in another creed. After all, I knew that thanks to the teachings of the Council Vatican II, our Church was not the only source of salvation. I thought that maybe Jesus would understand me and would accept me in another church.
But I meditated and concluded that such churches had already solve their problems with women; at least, in reference of women priesthood. If I went away, who could fight for my Church, which still had such need? The words of my Protestant friend resounded in my mind. Isn’t that what exactly the Roman Curia wanted, that women went somewhere else? What is more valuable, to remain and fight or going away and to left everything behind? I remembered Jesus in Gethsemani; He didn’t want to die, but He gently accepted His Father’s will. Should I do the same, to remain and fight, even knowing that I would going to suffer?
And for what? To have doctrinal discrepancies with such churches all the time? To practice a faith that, in reality, I didn’t feel nor defend, while inside of me, and for all my life, will be beating the heart of a Roman Catholic? It would be like having a double life, or, as transsexuals would say, being of one gender while living inside the body of another.
At the end, I didn’t fell in that temptation. It is my Church who needed me. I didn’t feel that the right thing should be abandoning it. So the Lord helps me remain always faithful to it, even if I’m a dissident.
The definitive yes.
In March of 2002 was the first anniversary of my call of priesthood. I knew this was an important moment, but I didn’t have an idea of what to do. I searched the Internet and I found that many women priesthood organizations celebrate the 25th of March as the World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination. Ok, there is no women’s ordination group in Puerto Rico yet, but it occurred to me to go to the Cathedral and do some prayer. After all, March 25 is the day of Annunciation, in which we commemorate the moment when Angel Gabriel announced Mary that she was going to be the mother of Jesus.
At home, I prepared an art showing an illustration of Jesus with Martha and Mary of Bethany, when He visited them in their home. I added a Gospel text taken from St. Luke 10:38-42. It goes like this:
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
I added to this text a small prayer for women priests. Then I bought a big glass candle and wrapped it with the art I just created and printed out of my computer. I brought it to the Cathedral for the Mass of the Annunciation. I lit it up and said my prayers. I left it under the image of my loved Jesus the Nazarene.
Later that day, I returned to see my candle, and it was no longer there. I have no idea of who took it away. Maybe it was somebody who didn’t like women priests. I’ll never know. But I was grateful anyway. Grateful of the fact that Jesus called me. Grateful to the fact that I could trust Him completely, and to be like St. Francis, who left everything behind to follow Him.
Yes, I was grateful. And happy. I was asked to do something for the sake of the Church, and that gave me a reason to live. And, because of that, my previous “I’ll try it” became a definitive “YES!”
My first Chrism Mass.
In the year 2002 was the first time I heard about the Chrism Masses, in which the sacred oils for the sick, the baptized and the future priests and deacons are consecrated by the local bishop, and where the bishop and his priests renew their priestly vows. I went alone to the Chrism Mass of my Archdiocese, in a huge church at the town of Carolina. It was so full of priests, deacons and lay and religious people that chairs were put outside and giant projectors were installed, to allow them to see the Mass outside the church. Because I went early, I was lucky to seat inside, and I went close to the altar.
The Mass began, and I was amazed to see so many priests, and sad to see that none of them was a woman. At the moment of consecration of the bread and wine, all the priests went to the altar; they barely fit in such space. And all of them joined the Archbishop in the consecration, talking all at the same time. Then, it happened; I didn’t know why, but all the religious and lay people began to recite the words of consecration too, alongside with the priests! Maybe they though they could, because the collective priests talk. The point is, I found that wonderful! I also joined the people and the priests in their pray. I thought that it could be the only time in the year that all the “priests” of our Church, ordained or not, join together in the consecration pray, as one real Body of Christ. It was an immense experience.
I fell in love with the Chrism Mass, and I had gone to all of them since then. In the Chrism Mass of this year 2004, I saw that the lay and religious people didn’t join the priests in the consecration prayer; maybe they felt they were doing the wrong thing. But I took the change and silently, joined the priests in their vows, renewing my call to priesthood and the promise I made Jesus, a year after my first Chrism Mass that I would prepare myself to be priest, the better way I could.
My letter to the Archbishop.
After that, I decided to become more active in Church activities. I continued my studies and participation in the OFS and started to go every Saturday to the Cathedral, to help in anything the Church needed. Also, I began to visit more frequently the church-home of my OFS fraternity and to be more active in the Order.
At the Cathedral, I found that there were no altar girls. I thought then, “Maybe I could be an altar girl”. Yeah, except that I was 34 years old! But because I see that there were adult altar servers (although all men), I thought that I should give it a try. I asked the Rector of the Cathedral about it. He was not sure about me as an altar server because of my age, and he told me to write the Archbishop to ask permission to it.
When I was thinking on how to ask the Archbishop about it, I remembered that in the womenpriests.org site I read about things that a woman should do if she feels called to priesthood. One of them was telling your parish priest and/or bishop about your vocation, so I decided not only to ask my Archbishop permission to be an altar server, but also to express him my ideas and feelings about my call to priesthood. So I wrote a letter about all this and sent it to him.
My Archbishop is a very busy man that travels a lot, but in few weeks, I received an written answer. As you can imagine, he did concur with the official Roman doctrine, but, as a good Franciscan he is, he did not address the matter in a hostile way, as some people do. All the contrary: he recommended me to consult with my spiritual director on the theme. In other words, he didn’t tell me to forget about it or to stop thinking about it, just to find counseling. I found this good enough, at least for the moment.
Also, he told me to find other ways to test my vocation, in women orders (because unfortunately there is no women order suited for women called to priesthood, this became out of question to me). And, believe it or not, he did grant me permission to be an altar server!
So I quickly began to be prepared for the service. I bought a book on altar servers and told Rector that I received permission for being an altar girl. That was one of such instances in which you learn that is not easy for a woman to serve in Church, because the Rector insisted that I should use an alb for woman and for almost a year, I was pushing him for a model to make such alb. Finally, he brought me the model from other parish and one of my aunts sewed it.
Finally, I did answer to my Archbishop letter. I wrote him that I was very grateful for his permission and comprehension for my situation, but that anyway I would continue studying and discerning about my priestly vocation.
I hope one of this days, I could have an audience with him about this matter.
My profession to the OFS.
In October, my fraternity of the OFS celebrated the Feast of St. Francis. The Order would profess the new members in the Mass of the 3rd of October. I was supposed to be there because I was going to be initiated in the Order; the rest of the new people were going to make their perpetual profession.
After work, I had to go quickly to my home to pick my mom and go quickly to the church for the ceremony. I barely got it in time. For my surprise, I discovered that I was not going to be initiated; I was going to make my perpetual profession.
After the homily, the Capuchin priest that was celebrating Mass called the professants-to-be and began the ceremony. We all made our promises to work in the Order and then, the priest gave each one of us a crucifix. When I received mine, I finally realized that I entered, as one sister told me, in the “mystical body of the Church”; I was no longer a simple lay, I was the member of a religious order.
Then, I didn’t know what happened to me, but I felt so full of emotion (or maybe I was just full of the Holy Spirit) that I began to cry. And I continued crying through the end of the Mass. I felt so happy. Again I remembered St. Catherine and her decision to be a Dominican Tertiary, and I knew that I was doing the right thing.
The Extraordinary Ministry of Communion.
When I was young, I went to a Mass in a church in the rural hometown of my parents, I remember that, at the moment the Eucharistic Prayer ended and the distribution of the Communion began, the priest handed the deacon and some lay people cups filled with consecrated Communion wafers. I was very surprised when I saw that one of those lay people was a woman. I thought then “How good is to see women distributing communion!” I wasn’t aware back then that such lay people were what we call today extraordinary communion ministers, people that not only help distributing Communion in Masses, but that also brought Communion to the sick and elderly that cannot go to a Church.
After my profession to the OFS, the Rector told the volunteers of the Cathedral that the Archbishop wanted to form a group of lay communion ministers, to help him and any priest in the distribution of the Communion in the Masses, especially those in which almost hundreds of people assist. By fits and starts, I was serving as an altar girl, but I thought that being an Extraordinary Minister of Communion will put me closer to priesthood, by helping the priests and the sick and elderly people. I began to study the ministry, for a full year, at our local theology and pastoral institute. Indeed this ministry has many attributes similar to priesthood, and I’m anxious to live it and began to put in practice those aspects of the priestly vocation that can be used in the ministry of the sick and old.
The second year.
In March 2003 began the second year of my Fiat. Again, I was all alone and with no one to join me. But I didn’t mind. St. Francis, when he received his first disciples, he said that “the Lord has sent me brothers”, so I thought that I will receive helpers and partners in the future. Maybe it is not the time yet.
At afternoon, after a hard day at my job, I went to the Cathedral. It was closed; but because I’m an active voluntary, one the Rector’s helpers opened the door and allowed me to remain all alone inside the temple. I took long time praying the Rosary and meditating about my situation. I walked through the whole building in meditation. I visited the principal altar and the little chapels. Then, I returned again back to the place I was praying before.
I was pondering about my call. Then I began to talk to Jesus, hoping He would listen to me. “I know that you have been calling me, and I have been always willing to listen and to obey, and to do whatever it’s needed to do in order to fulfill the call. I’m preparing myself: I’m studying, reading, learning from the example of good priests, trying to improve my behavior and trying to be an example for others, among other things that only You know. But there will a moment in which I may be ready for the job, like one of the wise virgins that had her lamp full of oil, waiting for her bridegroom to come. What will happen then? I can do nothing without the Sacrament, and the Curia want nothing with women; they don’t really love us. But I have faith you, and I know that you’ll provide. You’ll open doors and show me paths to follow in this way. I have no power to deal with them, but You do, and if you call women, you’ll know what to do.”
I took the reference of the wise virgin waiting for her bridegroom from the Gospels, from Matthew 25:1-13.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’
While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Women called to priesthood should not worry too much if they would receive the Sacrament of Order or not; they should get prepared, and be ready for Jesus, because it is for Him to whom we’re going to work, and if we work and fight for the best of our Church, He will provide. We may not receive the Sacrament in our lifetime, but we’ll open doors for other women behind us, and that is the most important thing of all.
What about the future?
Had you read the biography of St. Francis? Do you know about what Franciscans call the Night of Spoleto? Francis was about to participate as a crusader in a battle against Pulla, under the orders of Pope Innocent III. Then, he heard God in a dream, asking him what he was about to do. Francis answered that he was going to fight for the Pope. God asked then: “Who may serve you better, the lord or the servant?” When Francis answered that the lord, God asked again: “Then, why you serve the servant and not the lord?” Realizing that what God said was the truth, Francis asked humbly: “My Lord, what do you want me to do?” God told him to return to Assisi and to wait for His orders. And Francis obeyed and returned back to his hometown.
God didn’t tell St. Francis His plans for him, so the saint had no idea of his own future. Francis just accepted God’s will. And this allowed him to become the great saint we all love and try to imitate.
Women called to priesthood face this same dilemma. The Roman Curia tells us that our “call” is a by-product of the fights for the emancipation of women, a consequence of feminism, and that it has no real value; women should blindly obey Rome and reject the vocation of ministerial priesthood. But the Roman Curia is a servant of God, and then, again, God calls women to priesthood. To whom women called to priesthood should obey, the Lord or the servant?
Although he always remained faithful to the Church, the attitude of St. Francis to obey God, follow closely the Gospels and his insistence in living in absolute poverty brought him problems with the Curia of those times, to his brothers and to his Orders. But his ideas were finally accepted by the Church, and now, Franciscan ideals of peace, ecumenism and simple life are highly regarded by even non-Catholics around the world.
For me, the answer of the question about who I should serve was not easy. But St. Francis gave me an idea on how to deal with it. God is the supreme authority; even the Popes cannot be above Him. So I decided to follow God, allow God to guide me, and He will provide, if I remain faithful. That is why I remain in the Church, to be there and being ready for the day women could become Roman Catholic priests.
May God’s will be done.
Ivelisse Colón-Nevárez, OFS
May 3, 2004
Day of Apostles James the Lesser and Philip
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