Thursday, September 20, 2007

In this little essay Charles Mangan explains misinterpretation of the passage from St Therese Autobiography, picked up by those in favour of women-priests, that St Therese had a desire and vocation for the priesthood.

St. Therese and the Priesthood by Charles M. Mangan

Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, in her renowned autobiography Story of a Soul, asserts strongly her deepest feelings to exercise various vocations for love of God and the Church. The Little Flower contends: "I feel within me other vocations. I feel the vocation of the WARRIOR, THE PRIEST, THE APOSTLE, THE DOCTOR, THE MARTYR." It may seem strange to the twentieth-century believer that this humble, French Discalced Carmelite nun experienced a forceful attraction to be a priest. After all, the present-day "wish" on the part of some women to become priests is part and parcel of the rampant dissent which has run wild, mostly throughout North America and Western Europe, and which routinely scorns the longstanding teaching of the Magisterium. Therefore, because this text from Story of a Soul has been used to defend the notion that women are indeed invited by God to participate in the ordained priesthood of Jesus Christ, we do well to examine precisely just what Saint Therese wrote a century ago.

The Little Flower explains her desire. "I feel in me the vocation of the PRIEST. With what love, O Jesus, I would carry You in my hands when, at my voice, You would come down from Heaven. And with what love would I give You to souls! But alas! while desiring to be a Priest, I admire and envy the humility of St. Francis of Assisi and I feel the vocation of imitating him in refusing the sublime dignity of the Priesthood." Saint Therese certainly is not challenging the ancient doctrine of the Church that only men are to be admitted to the ordained priesthood. Rather, she confesses her relentless prayer to do as the priest does, namely, to give Christ to hungry souls. She acknowledges that even if she could accept the God-given gift of the ordained priesthood, she would have to refuse, given her own unworthiness to become an alter Christus. She cites the moving example of Saint Francis of Assisi who, as a deacon, would go no further in the hierarchy evident in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. When reflecting on the Little Flower's comments, one sees clearly that both the priest and those not ordained as priests can benefit spiritually from her poignant reflection. Priests come away from the text with a renewed sense of their own unworthiness in the sight of the Lord. Who can really claim the privilege of acting in persona Christi? When priests offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, they take the place of Christ; they possess the awesome authority to "command" Jesus, in the words of Saint Therese, to "come down from heaven." No priest can presume to have earned this precious grace this amazing gift comes from God alone. Those who are not priests also are enriched by meditating on this paragraph in Story of a Soul. Every Christian by virtue of his Baptism is called to share the Gospel with his neighbor. This is not a suggestion but a serious obligation. With genuine concern for the honor of God and the salvation of souls, one is to"carry" the Savior to others, thereby helping to contribute to their eventual everlasting salvation in Christ.

Saint Therese had a true sense of her own identity. She knew exactly to what she was called as a consecrated religious. She had no illusions as to what the Lord required of her in her personal vocation as a "Carmelite, Spouse, Mother." She wanted for nothing other than to do as she was directed by the Almighty Himself. Then, she realized, she would be well on the way thanks to God's abundant grace to authentic holiness. The Little Flower's burning passion to bring the Redeemer to others is to take root in our souls. Whether as a member of the clergy, the consecrated religious, or the laity, each of us has an urgent task: to reveal Jesus to those around us. We imitate the "Little Way" of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, devoid of pride and ambition, in sharing the Messiah with others, confident that He will bless and strengthen them as He has us. Saint Therese, fully aware of your divinely-inspired vocation to carry Jesus to others, pray for us!

Father Mangan is a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.