A few years ago, I had a freelance job editing the biographies of seminarians. It was especially difficult work, because the stories were so varied and so poignant, but my editor's pen had to be ruthless. Fifty words each, and that's all the room we had.
Even whittled down to the bare bones, story after story had one thing in common: they were all about Jesus. Jesus called me. Jesus put a billboard in my path. Jesus sent me a dream. Jesus wouldn't leave me alone until I talked to my pastor. Jesus wouldn't let me sleep until I went back to confession. Or sometimes: Mary kept sending me to Jesus.
Contrast this focus on Christ with the words of Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, the ex-nun recently profiled in the UK's Telegraph as "the female priest defying Catholicism for her faith." Here is what Mayr-Lumetzberger says about her vocation:
“I had felt called by God to priesthood since I was a small child,” she says simply, “and I wanted to be a priest before I died. If I waited for the male priesthood to allow that, it would be impossible."
As the great Elizabeth Scalia points out, "That’s four I’s in two sentences, and not a “Jesus” in sight, in the whole long piece, except as necessary to provide the vaguest of explanations for our teaching on ordination." It's all about what she wants, what she feels, what she wanted to happen. Nothing about Jesus, at all.
What else is startling about how she presents her vocation? The worthiness she appears to feel. When I was homeschooling, my mother gave me the comforting thought that the main thing about homeschooling was that it was impossible. That thought gave me the strength to carry on through many difficult days, weeks, and years. You're doing a bad job? Of course you are! No one can do this perfectly. It's too important, too monumental; so do your best and be at peace. And I was.
This is ten thousand times more true when we're talking about a vocation to the holy priesthood. It's too big, too important, too monumental. It's impossible for a mere human to do what needs to be done; and so we surrender our weakness and unworthiness to God and beg Him to fill our emptiness. When we can do this (no matter what our vocations), we can be at peace.
What a different sort of peace Mayr-Lumetzberger radiates: the contentment of self-satisfaction.
The interviewer says,
She’s certainly an optimist, but is she also a natural rebel? “Me, no.” She laughs at the thought. “I’d rather be seen as a prophet. I’m doing the right thing, only a little bit too early."
"Rather be seen as a prophet"? Again, Scalia reminds us that prophets, like seminarians, tend to have something in common: they are mighty reluctant to take the job that heaven foists on them. Says Scalia, "If they eventually find joy in their obedience, their first response is usually, 'oh, hell no.'” Prophets may certainly feel called, but they do not feel worthy -- and they do not expect to slither comfortably into their vocations.
And what about the message they're called to proclaim? It's always about God, and God's just punishements, and God's tender mercies. Show me, if you will, the true prophet of the Lord who opens with a Mayr-Lumetzberger, "Behold, I am here!" Nope. What we hear from a true prophet is: "another is coming, whose sandal straps I am not worthy to unlace." That's what the seminarians all said, too: "I was afraid I wasn't worthy." That's what we say before we receive Christ in the Eucharist: "I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the world and my soul shall be healed." I'm not worthy. Please heal me.
We start with our unworthiness, and we proceed to God's mercy. That is the only path. There is no other path.
The article is silly and full of foolish phrases and ideas, but one struck me as especially sad. It opens with this:
Excommunication is traditionally reserved by Catholicism for the very worst of sinners, and is a sanction rarely invoked today. So I’m expecting an encounter with a fire-breathing radical when I meet Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger . . .
What I get, though, confounds all expectations. Mild-mannered and softly-spoken, if not slightly mumsy, she wants to talk not about her stand-off with the church that no longer wants her as a member.
It does seem that this is how Mayr-Lumetzberger really sees the situation: that the Church has cast her out because it does not want her. In truth, the opposite is true: when she incurred a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication after ignoring threats that that is what would happen, she showed herself the door. She's like a child who refuses to eat, and then insists that her parents want her to starve.
Please come back, Mrs. Mayr-Lumetzberger. The Church wants you, very much. She wants you to be able to use your true gifts as member of the family, rather than playing house outside in the cold. And she wants you to have true peace, which never comes through showing ourselves to the world, but only through the words, "I am not worthy" and "I shall be healed."