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This person shouldn’t be a priest—and not for the reason you may think

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 09/07/16

Another woman is touting an attempted ordination to the Catholic priesthood:

Mary Alice Nolan will soon be ordained a Roman Catholic priest. The 64-year-old’s ordination will not be acknowledged by the Catholic church, which only allows men to become priests, but the lifelong follower of the faith is not letting that stop her. The San Rafael resident plans to press onward with the ordination, to be conducted by a female bishop of the Western Region of Roman Catholic Priest, in October at an Episcopalian church in San Francisco. Though skeptical that in her lifetime she will see the church modify its rules of who can take the priesthood, Nolan said she hopes one day the church becomes more inclusive. Q Why do you want to be a Roman Catholic priest? A I want to start using inclusive language. When I say Mass, I want to invite everyone to the table. I have been a nurse for 35 years and my specialty is end-of-life care. In addition to my nursing, I now want to administer to people in a spiritual way. Spirituality at the end of life is a really good healing tool. So now I will be able to anoint people when they’re sick and hopefully follow through with being able to do their funerals. Q What inspired you to want to become a priest? A My husband and I went to see the movie, “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican.” It was a wonderful movie being shown in San Francisco. It was story about a woman who was a nun in South Africa who was the first doctorly prepared woman professor at an all-male seminary she taught at. She realized, “Wow, I’m teaching them how to preach, say Mass, what the liturgy means. Why can’t I do this?” Her story really inspired me. My husband said, “You can do this. You should go for it.” Q As a “cradle Catholic,” do you have family and friends trying to discourage you from doing this? A Actually, no. It’s interesting, everyone I’ve met has been incredibly supportive. I think it’s time for a change and people — they’re very optimistic for change. I think Pope Francis is responsible for helping that optimism.

There’s more. Read it here. 

A few points worth making:

First, it’s not an ordination. The rite will have no validity or recognition from the Catholic Church, any more than dousing a doll with water can be considered a baptism. Also, the person doing this will no longer be in communion with the Catholic Church—i.e., she will be excommunicated. In effect, she will be choosing to separate herself from the institution in which she wants to minister.

But then there’s her answer to the very first question.

Why do you want to be a Roman Catholic priest? 

This is how a newly ordained priest in Cleveland answered:

Jesus called me to be a priest. I began to hear the Lord inviting me. People began asking me if I ever thought of becoming a priest. Those questions planted a seed and over time I couldn’t ignore the fact I was being drawn in this particular direction.

Or there’s this, from a seminarian in Chicago:

I was reading in church one day, and I read something to the effect of: if you are going to try doing something for God, make sure you do it 100%, because holding something back for yourself defeats the purpose of doing something for God. Bam! I was caught, a fish out of the water with no escape. I would not really be happy with my dream career, because I was doing it for me, and not God. A light turned on in my head, a neon sign actually blazing: PRIESTHOOD. For the first time in a while, I felt at peace.

Or for a broader sense of vocation and calling, there’s this from a woman in England who decided to become a nun:

Entering religious life as a nun, sister, brother or priest is ultimately a decision of love. Like any love, on one level it’s a bit mysterious, and hard to explain to someone who doesn’t share it. If you asked a married couple: “So what made you decide to get married?”, they might be able to list one another’s qualities, shared interests, and so on, but all that would not be enough to explain the simple fact that stands at the heart of their relationship: that they love one another. On another level, though, it’s quite straightforward. If you spend all your time with someone and rearrange your life around them, if you start to share friends and interests, then you might – eventually – think about marrying them. Entering religious life was, for me, an acknowledgement that I had met this kind of life-shaping love.

Then there’s Mary Alice Nolan: “I want to start using inclusive language.”

Really?

Wait. There’s more.

“When I say Mass, I want to invite everyone to the table. I have been a nurse for 35 years and my specialty is end-of-life care. In addition to my nursing, I now want to administer to people in a spiritual way.”

As countless people will attest, the call to a vocation is the call of Christ, “Come follow me.” Ms. Nolan says nothing about Jesus, or God, or the whispers of the Holy Spirit in her heart. Love isn’t mentioned. Prayer isn’t mentioned. The inexpressible something that pulls you out of ordinary life to do something extraordinary is absent.  She’s also reducing the priesthood to merely a job.  It’s stuff to do! No. It isn’t.  It’s so much greater than that.

And: Mass isn’t something that is merely “said.” It’s celebrated, offered, prayed.

If a seminarian just weeks from becoming a priest offered that kind of an answer, he would be asked to pick up his toys and go home. Ms. Nolan reflects an understanding of vocation that is not only unformed, but fundamentally flawed. It misses the point.

I’m reminded of something a newly ordained priest said a few years ago. He described the moment when he lay prostrate on the floor of a cathedral as he was being ordained, and he realized suddenly that this would be the posture of his life—he was laying himself down to be a bridge. He would exist to help people make their way to God. It’s a posture of submission, service, obedience and faith.

It says: I’m here to serve others. I am a path, a road, a route. The minister of God is merely a means to an end, and everything points to The One who is that end.

For future reference, if anybody asks:  that is why you should want to be a Roman Catholic priest.

Photo: Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal

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