St. Therese, Little Flower and the ordained priesthood
by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
In her superb autobiography "Story of a Soul," Saint Therese of the Child Jesus shared her desire to live diverse vocations in the Church out of love for God: “ . . . I feel within me other vocations. I feel the vocation of THE WARRIOR, THE PRIEST, THE APOSTLE, THE DOCTOR, THE MARTYR.”
She also acknowledged that she had been summoned to be “Carmelite, Spouse, Mother.” The Little Flower explained her wish. “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 St. Francis of Assisi and I feel the vocation of imitating him in refusing the sublime dignity of the Priesthood.”
Saint Therese was not attempting to refute the Church’s ancient doctrine that declares that ordination to the Sacred Priesthood is reserved only to men. Instead, she confessed her relentless prayer to do as the priest does, namely, to give Christ to hungry souls.
Even if she could accept the God-given gift of the ordained priesthood, she asserted, she would refuse because of her personal unworthiness to become an alter Christus. Saint Therese referred to the example of Saint Francis of Assisi who consented to being ordained to the Diaconate but not to the Priesthood.
What can ordained priests as well as other disciples of Christ learn from the Little Flower's moving sentiments?
Priests come away with a renewed sense of their own unworthiness in the sight of the Lord. Who can really claim the privilege of acting in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”)? When priests offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, they take the place of Christ; they possess the awesome authority to “command” Jesus, in the words of Saint Therese, to “come down from heaven.” No priest can presume to have earned this precious grace, which hails from God alone.
Other members of the Church also are enriched by meditating on this paragraph in the "Story of a Soul." Because of his Baptism, each Christian is called to share the Gospel with his neighbor. This is a serious obligation, not a polite recommendation. With genuine concern for the honor of God and the salvation of souls, one is to “carry” the Savior to others, thereby helping to contribute to their eventual everlasting salvation in Christ.
Saint Therese had a true sense of her own identity: she suffered from no illusions as to what the Lord required of her in her personal vocation as a “Carmelite, Spouse, Mother.” She wanted nothing else than to do the Almighty Himself directed her, realizing that submission to the Divine Will is the path to Heaven.
Whether a member of the clergy, a consecrated person or lay person, each of us has a pressing task: to reveal Jesus to those around us. We imitate the “Little Way” of Saint Therese in sharing the Messiah with others, confident that He will bless and strengthen them as He has fortified us.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, pray for us!
Msgr. Charles M. Mangan is a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, SD. A prolific writer, Monsignor is a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. He has an S.T.L. in Canon Law and is currently completing a doctorate in Mariology.
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