I feel as if I were called to be a fighter, a priest, an apostle, a doctor, a martyr; as if I could never satisfy the needs of my nature without performing, for Your sake, every kind of heroic action at once. I feel as if I’d got the courage to be a Crusader, a Pontifical Zouave, dying on the battlefield in defence of the Church. And at the same time I want to be a priest; how lovingly I’d carry You in my hands when you came down from heaven at my call; how lovingly I’d bestow You on men’s souls! And yet, with all this desire to be a priest, I’ve nothing but admiration and envy for the humility of St. Francis; I’d willingly imitate him in refusing the honour of the priesthood.
I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood… I understood that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places… in a word, that it is eternal!
Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!… Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place… in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!…. Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux
There was a woman in New England who was a real mentor to me back in the late 1980’s. She was married, had four adult children and, as I recall, several grandchildren. She worked for a parish as a pastoral minister, coordinating the outreach works of the parish to the bereaved, poor, sick and elderly. She dedicated most of her own time to visiting the homebound and bringing them Holy Communion. She had such a heart of compassion and was super intelligent. We’d hold a theology discussion for hours. She also worked with the diocese in offering encouragement and prayer support to priests who were in a difficult spot — maybe feeling isolated, depressed or struggling with alcohol.
One time she and I were talking about women and priesthood. She shared with me a remarkable perspective that I wrote in my journal and will replicate here. Though I can no longer obtain her permission, I am certain she would not mind my sharing it. I’ll change my journal and call her Jean. The insight seems so basic and simple, which is why it’s so profound. I’m so grateful I journaled all these years!
Jean and I talked for almost two hours about women and priesthood. Fascinating! She said that back in the 70’s she’d gotten caught up into the woman-priest movement. She told me that she felt that seeing so many women feel the call to be priests was just too strong an evidence that God was indeed calling. But she also felt a desire to be faithful to the church’s teaching. She loves the church so much. Caught between a rock and a hard place.
But in the early 1980’s she came across “Story of a Soul” and suddenly had her whole worldview shaken. She read the part where Thérèse says she feels all of these callings in her, but feels terribly limited by her one life and feels all the tensions of frustration. Something like that. But then, Jean said, Thérèse comes to this remarkable realization that her feeling called to vocations she is not called to is really an overflow of the “more excellent way” of Love Jesus had planted in her. That her attraction to all of these callings was like a reverberation of restless Love, which is the soul and fire and compelling force of every vocation.
Jean realized, she said, that the Love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” also WANTS all things, and so includes in its scope everything. If it’s really divine Love, that is, since God’s Love is catholic. And those who feel called to a vocation they cannot live aren’t being called by God to break the system He’s set up, but to remind those who feel so-called that their REAL vocation is not “this or that,” but is EVERYTHING: to Love.
Jean said that’s the real purpose of every vocation, and wherever you find yourself, even if you’re confined to a small POW cell, you can live an infinite vocation if you Love there. Jean said she suddenly saw that if she lives Love in her life, she will in effect be living out every vocation since it is Love that pulses through the whole Body of Christ. Each member of the Body who gives him or herself over to loving in their own small plot of life unleashes God’s Love on the whole Body and so on all vocations. She said that’s why 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 are back-to-back chapters. I’ll have to read them again with this in mind.
She ended our conversation by saying she realized after her epiphany that the feeling of being called to priesthood was indeed a call that, in her case, was to teach priests how to love; to support them in their call to love; and help them see, by her prayer with and for them, that Jesus loves them so much that He called them to be among His closest friends and confidants. BUT if they don’t live in that place first, they go into bad places and will never be able to fulfill their own call to be His Love beating in the heart of the Church.
What Thérèse has, I want: “O little Mother, I don’t love one thing more than another; I could not say like our holy Mother St. Teresa: ‘I die because I cannot die.’ What God prefers and chooses for me, that is what pleases me more.”
St. Thérèse, pray for us.