U.S. Catholic magazine.Reprinted with permission from
Catharina Broomé, O.P., in a two-part article in Spirituality magazine (May/June and July/August 2000), points out that Saint Thérèse of Lisieux--named a Doctor of the Church in 1997--often expressed her desire to be a priest. Excerpts follow:
To her sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, Thérèse writes, "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 Saint Francis of Assisi and I feel the vocation of imitating him in refusing the sublime dignity of the priesthood."
Thérèse's desire to be a priest is clearly glimpsed in one of the plays she wrote, titled "Saint Stanislaus Kostka." It told the story of a Jesuit who at one time became ill and longed to receive Holy Communion. Saint Barbara came, surrounded by angels, and gave him Communion. In Thérèse's play, Stanislaus tells this to one of the brothers, who expresses astonishment over the fact that it was a woman saint and not one of the leading angels who gave him the sacrament. Stanislaus answers that in the kingdom of God this is possible and "perhaps Saint Barbara, when she lived on earth, had longed to share the high duties of the priest, and the Lord wanted to fulfill her desire." Doctor of the Church Thérèse does not see gender as an obstacle--on the contrary, "The Lord wanted to fulfill her desires."
She shared this confidence with her sister Genevieve in her final year, when she was only 24: "Don't you see that God is going to take me at an age when I would not have had the time to become a priest. ... So in order that I may regret nothing, God is allowing me to be sick; ... I would have died before having exercised my ministry." Faced with the knowledge of her early death, she finds comfort and meaning in the thought that it is related to her vocation to be a priest.
With the genius of a saint, Thérèse found a way of living with an impossible vocation. But it was not a question of resignation. Thérèse knew that she had the right to want this, knew even that her desire came from God. She could not deny it.
Pope John Paul II spoke of Thérèse's "supernatural boldness" and declared that she was a "teacher for our time," "a woman who tackled the gospels and could find there hidden treasures with realism, with depth...and with brilliant womanly wisdom."
In this way the Holy Father emphasized the importance of the new Doctor of the Church specifically as a woman, her boldness, her "unique unerring judgment." Because of her clarity of vision, this special gift of the Spirit which makes her the greatest prophet of our time, we can also dare to trust her deep conviction that even a woman could be a priest, and that there is nothing in scripture that gives men a special place in that matter. John Paul II has, with his words and deeds, guided by the Holy Spirit, confirmed that this woman was sent by God to assist us in interpreting the signs of the times and to come "closer to the will of God."