Today, the National Catholic Reporter published a letter recently written by Augustinian Fr. John Shea in the article Augustinian priest: Teaching that women are not like Jesus is ‘heretical’. I am reproducing here Fr. John’s letter, which is a request for a theological explanation of the institutional Church’s teaching, which can be found in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.
I applaud Fr. John Shea for his courage and prophetic voice, and for refusing to tow the line on an issue of equality and justice. This kind of prophetic witness is all too much a rarity in the Church today, and is, more often than not, superseded by a traditionalist and conservative fundamentalism.
Whenever the issue of women’s ordination comes up, I always refer to St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s spiritual masterpiece, her autobiography, The Story of a Soul. Many traditional Catholics have a great devotion to the Little Flower, whose piety and sentimentality only thinly veils a core of molten courage and fiery radicalism. While some people champion Thérèse for her endearing spirituality and her Little Way, I find in Thérèse a great prophet, an avant-garde thinker who breaks through the boundaries of her time, not through concrete changes and worldwide success, but through quiet and private determination, and an honesty about her goals and aspirations, which were firmly rooted in her unquenchable desire and love for Christ. Of her desire for priesthood, Thérèse writes:
“I feel the vocation of THE WARRIOR, THE PRIEST, THE APOSTLE, THE DOCTOR, THE MARTYR. Finally, I feel the need and the desire of carrying out the most heroic deeds for You, O Jesus.
I feel within my soul the courage of the Crusader, the Papal Guard, and I would want to die on the field of battle in defense of the Church. I feel in me the vocation of the PRIEST. With what love, O Jesus, I would take 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.”
For Thérèse, it wasn’t about succeeding in her desire to be ordained a priest – that was not going to happen in her time, because of the nature of the world as she knew it and because of her illness. What is amazing is that Thérèse, despite the constraints of her era, her gender, her age, her cloister, and her illness, was so eloquently able to voice her priestly vocation. Furthermore, she was able to acknowledge that she will pass it up – not because the Church says it is wrong or impossible – but because she chooses to take the higher path of HUMILITY, in the example of our Seraphic Father, St. Francis of Assisi.
She speaks of her desires:
“O my Jesus! what is Your answer to all my follies? Is there a soul more little, more powerless than mine? Nevertheless even because of my weakness, it has pleased You, O Lord, to grant my little childish desires and You desire, today, to grant other desires that are greater than the universe… But just as Mary Magdalene found what she was seeking by always stooping down and looking into the empty tomb, so I, abasing myself to the very depths of my nothingness, raised myself so high that I was able to attain my end.”
And so, I reproduce here below the letter sent by Fr. John Shea, OSA to 180 Bishops in the United States. I am thankful for the prophets living amongst us today. I hope that they may never be silenced and that we have the grace to hear their voice with open ears and with open hearts.