My Journey: I was deeply touched by this beautiful story of struggle, discernment and wisdom. I relate to Nancy Small's journey. I attended Virginia Episcopal Seminary for my Doctor of Ministry Program in the 1980's. I felt the same heart tug, a sense of call to Holy Orders and at the same time a sense that I wanted to stay in my spiritual home in the RC Church. I will never forget the joy I experienced when Patricia, an Episcopal priest and the only other woman in my class celebrated Mass. Wow, I thought the ground would swallow me up! In 2006, I made the decision to pursue my vocation to a renewed priestly ministry in the Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement. Like Nancy and "Catholic women stretching conventional models of ministry with the spiritual gifts we bear, " our call to ordination in a community of equals model is expanding ministry in our church for all the baptized to celebrate sacraments. Indeed, when this happens all our ministries will continue to flourish in our spiritual home. There will no longer be a divide between clerical and lay. In our inclusive Catholic Eucharistic Communities, all are equal and are one. It is our hope that we are part of a bigger paradigm shift that is taking place now in grassroots communities of equal rites and equal rights in the church! Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP, www.arcwp.org
Nancy Small's article:
"...I started contemplating the spiritual house I was baptized into and realized how much there was to love in it. There were religious communities whose charisms and witness were beacons illumining the path of the holy in my life. There were mystics and monastics, seekers and saints, peacemakers and prophets whose words of wisdom spoke to the depths of my soul. There were spiritual practices that connected me to God and communities of prayer. And there was the treasure of Catholic social teaching, a repository so rich that my Protestant professors turned to it again and again in class. Each time they did they noted (often with apology) that the Catholics had the deepest wells to draw from when it came to social justice teachings to transform the world in which we live.
I came to realize that the spiritual house I had lived in since my childhood had shaped my faith and become my stronghold. My Catholic faith housed a spirituality that enlivened me and drew me deep into the heart of Christ.
What I had not known until then is that I already belonged to a holy, hidden priesthood by nature of my baptism. If they taught that in my catechism classes, I had missed it.
Now that I knew about this holy priesthood, I began to see things in a new light. I shared this priesthood with all women and men baptized into the Catholic community, and there was power in that bond we shared. I belonged to a parish of people claiming their priesthood and living it out in ways that stretched people’s understanding of lay ministry. I was one of a growing number of Catholic women weaving the gifts of our priesthood into the fabric of the Catholic faith.
Discovering I was a priest by virtue of my baptism did not take away the challenge of living out my vocation in a church that does not ordain women. But it validated in me a call already consecrated and a priesthood already blessed that no one could deny. Would that be enough to support my life of lay ministry? Would it be enough to put the ordination question to rest?
After graduating from seminary I made a directed retreat. Late one night I went to the chapel alone, knelt down and offered a prayer promising myself to Jesus in ministry. As I did soft tears began to flow. I did not feel the laying on of hands that happens at ordinations. But I did feel the warmth of the Spirit wash over my heart. As I knelt there, I had a strong sense that the decision I made was the right one for me.
Many years later, I am still growing in my life of ministry. Sometimes people do not know what to make of me; I do not always fit into the mold of ministry they are accustomed to.
When that happens, I remember the covenant I made with Jesus, who lived his priesthood in unconventional ways. He did not fit the mold of messiah they were expecting. He stretched people’s understanding of what ministry looked like. As a disciple, I try to follow in his footsteps and learn from others who are doing the same. I am one of a multitude of Catholic women stretching conventional models of ministry with the spiritual gifts we bear.
We are all invited to be part of this stretching as each of us lives our baptismal priesthood in dynamic and differing ways. The stretching may feel uncomfortable at times. But in the stretching we grow. And we make room for the flourishing of one another’s gifts in the spiritual house I call home."