Why can’t I be a priest?

I was 7 or 8 years old when I had my feet washed as part of the Maundy Thursday mass. I remember being thrilled and fascinated at the idea, and feeling very special. When the elderly priest washed my feet I can honestly say I felt humbled – even at that young age. Acting out the story definitely pulled me deeper into the scripture of the last supper.

I also remember at that age announcing to my mum that when I grew up I wanted to be a priest.

“Bwaaaaaahhhhh! Well that’s never going to happen!” Confused, I asked her why… “Because that’s the way it is I’m afraid. Be a nun instead” And that was it. 

Being a nun really didn’t appeal to me at that age because my impression of nuns was one of humourless statue like creatures who never raised their voices or laughed, or did anything really. Not at all like priests…
Fr. Donald Calloway – (one of the coolest priests currently on Gods earth).

I’m not exactly sure why I wanted to become a priest. Perhaps it was the drama and the ritual of the mass (which kids absolutely love btw). Or perhaps it was because I thought the holy priests in our parish were cool. Maybe it was because I saw how my parents respected priests. Perhaps it was because I was a true tom-boy, and would never have been seen dead in a dress – which is ironic really because everybody knows the coolest priests wear cassocks! Or maybe it was that I was just a bit of a bossy boots and wanted to be in charge! It definitely had something to do with the awe and mystery surrounding transubstantiation and the real presence in the Eucharist. All I remember is that I felt a very strong calling, and interpreted this as wanting to become a priest.

Fast forward a couple of years to when I was 12. My younger sister (age 8) had become the first female alter server in our parish. Confusingly, I was deemed to old. Perhaps it was because they didn’t want me to get any funny ideas about wanting to become a priest?! Maybe it was because I had boobs?!! No one ever told me why. I remember feeling rather left out, and jealous of my sister – especially as my mum seemed so proud of this landmark event in our church. But I also remember asking my mum “Is it ok for girls to be on the altar? Does this mean they will have women priests now?”…

Pretty soon after that, like many teenagers, I made a shambolic confirmation and promptly decided that the church was a complete load of rubbish and I wanted nothing more to do with it. During my teenage years I was surprised to find myself with a new vocation idea. While all my female friends were aspiring to be doctors or models or life-guards, all I wanted was to be a wife and a mother. It was at this point that I began to see the advantages of the differences between male and female roles. 
Fast forward again to age 19 – a year after I came back to the church. My boyfriend and I were talking about marriage and both found ourselves agreeing that he should be the one to go out to work while I stayed home with the kids. Our friends at the time thought this was just hilarious and incredibly “retro”.

The real turning point came in my mid-twenties after the birth of our first child when I read ‘Theology of the Body’. This text was just revolutionary to me in a completely saturated world of sexual “freedom” and “equality”. (The sex education we received in our all girl’s Catholic high school taught us that we MUST pump your body full of hormones AND use a condom in order to avoid that dreaded thing called pregnancy. But if we did have the unfortunate mishap of being let down by our contraception, there were services that could ‘help’. I never really bought that idea.)

I suppose it was a combination of reading Theology of the Body, and having actually just gone through the process of being open to life, conceiving and then becoming a mother that tipped the scales for me. I began being horrified at questions like “So, when do you think you will go back to work?”. The thought of leaving my baby appalled me. In fact there was no question of it. We didn’t have much money at the time but we both decided that baby’s need their mothers.

It is when I started reading the church’s teaching on the family that the penny really started to drop: “The family, is so to speak, the domestic church.” (Lumen Gentium 11). In our house, our little ‘domestic church’, everyone has their own separate roles. As our family grew the dynamics in the house began to change. In a strange way, my husband and I had never felt so close but so far apart at the same time. This is because our roles of Mother and Father, of Husband and Wife were developing. When we got married we both worked full-time, we had the same social life, the same activities, the same everything really. In the view of the world we were completely “equal”.  But as the children have come along and our marriage has developed that has changed. I can now see that back then we were not so much “equal” as “uniform”. (The difference between equality and uniformity is of course, one of the most blurred and misunderstood notions of the modern age.)

So this is what Equality looks like then?

So this is what Equality looks like then?

Now we have very different roles as Mother and Father, but we are both equal in dignity and could not carry out our roles without the other. We rely on each other’s differences to enrich our family. If I was to try to do my husband’s role as well as my own I would only be reaching half my potential over two roles. The same goes for my Husband. By allowing each other to fulfil our separate roles as husband and wife, Mother and Father we actually GAIN as a family. We complement each other rather than trying to compete with each other. My husband’s vocation is to lay down his life for his bride, and my vocation as bride is to support him in doing that. When we both fulfill our roles in the way God meant us to, we are able to give more.

Men and women, Husbands and wives, Mothers and Father have different roles because they are different. Marriage is in fact a celebration of the differences between men and women. I am dignified as a wife and a mother simply because I am a woman – something my husband can never be. And vice versa. I could never be a husband or a father in the same way as my husband can because I am not a man. It is not just the physical differences, but the emotional and psychological and spiritual ones too.

As gay marriage becomes law here in the UK next week, I will weep at the dilution and abandonment of the roles of husband and wife, mother and father. And I will weep for the children who, because of their ‘parents’ rights, will be denied either a mother or a father.

A man can never fulfill the rule of mother like a woman can. A woman can never fulfill the role of father like a man can.
And then it struck me – A woman can never fulfill the role of Fr. like a man can. As a church, we are a family. We have men and women each with their own specific gifts and talents – and roles. Just as in my own little domestic church, the role of father is reserved for a man – my husband. So it is in the wider church.
If we started mixing up and blurring gender roles like what is happening in the secular world next week, we will only stand to lose. The church as ‘bride’ would suffer a great loss. As children of the church, we would suffer a great loss.

So you see, as a woman I could never claim the right to be a Father, or a Fr. because to do so would result in loss, and only be motivated by my own selfish desires. I guess the real hurt for me comes from wanting to be as close as possible to Him – specifically Eucharistically. But take the example of Faustina – she wasn’t a priest, and her relationship with Jesus was something most priests can only dream of. Every human being yearns to be united with their creator (whether they know it not). But it seems to me that the closer one draws to Him, the greater the yearning becomes – it must be love! 

And so what about the calling I still feel? Well, I don’t know… watch this space…


“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!” – St. Catherine of Sienna


14 thoughts on “Why can’t I be a priest?

  1. This is the essence of pastoral catechises! We need more humble, simple, and sublimely practical teaching from lay Catholics like this. Of course, we can always go into a Thomas Aquinas discertation on Sacramental Theology and the lack of the ontological capacity of woman to receive ordination and… etc. etc. But most people can understand something like this without much celestial science. It’s beautiful. Bravo.

  2. Great article! I love the idea of the “domestic church.” That’s a powerful reality if families take the time to make it happen through praying and reading scripture together.

    The first thing I ever wanted to do was become a Priest. I can still remember pretending to do Mass at the dinner table for my parents.

    I really liked this article.

  3. The answer to your perplexity about ‘being a priest’ is that htat is what you became when you were baptised and confirmed. The priesthood of the laity is universal among the baptised, and it involves being the sacramental presence of Christ in places and situations that the sacerdotal priesthood cannot reach – praying with your family, forming your children in faith, and bearing witness to Christ in the day to day nitty-gritty of your life.

  4. I have felt some confusion about the priest thing because I have a spirituality that is well…very priestly. Everything in my life revolves around the Mass, the Eucharist and the idea of sacrifice. I do not feel that God is calling me to marry and feel drawn to a life of celibacy. I ask the Lord to give me solidarity with His priests. I long to be everything that they are. This gets very confusing and is a source of suffering for me, though I fully accept the Church’s teachings and know they are 100% correct. The idea of a woman priest actually abhors me. So yes, I really don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing… Thanks for the beautiful post and may God bless you.

    • The real hurt for me comes from wanting to be as close as possible to Him – specifically Eucharisticaly. But take the example of Faustina – she wasn’t a priest, and her relationship with Jesus was something most priests can only dream of. Every human being yearns to be united with their creator (whether they know it it not). But it seems to me that the closer one draws to Him, the greater the yearning becomes. It must be love! xx

  5. Thanks for writing and for sharing. Pray for the Church. Pray for the world. …When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Lk 18:8). May God bless and sustain you.