Girls and Guillotines: Glorifying God

If you’re not subscribing to The Catholic Answer Magazine (which you should because it’s a little six-times-a-year gem of Catholic information on scripture, doctrine and tradition, but I won’t scold!) I hope you’re at least liking the OSV Twitter account so you can click on to some of its goodness!

The July/August edition is particularly rich, as it examines Eucharistic Adoration, Concupiscence, the Eastern Churches and the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne. Much of that is behind the paywall — which is why you should subscribe, she nags — but my little reflection on the Nuns of Compiègne, who went to the guillotine, one after another, singing God’s praises and offered their deaths for the end of “the terror*,” can be found here.

It’s not really about the martyrs, but about their priesthood, and the priesthood of all women.

The great Catholic laywoman Catherine de Hueck Doherty came to a more startling awareness after her conversion: “During those days I was in the throes of hearing the Lord say, ‘Sell what you possess … come follow me,’ and I was running away from Him. One night, while dancing with this man, I heard … what I thought was the voice of God laughing and saying: ‘You can’t escape me, Catherine, you can’t.’ I pleaded a headache and went home. Some new phase of my life was about to begin.”

What was beginning was her priesthood. She spent the rest of her life championing the oppressed, the poor and marginalized in America’s ghettos, and preaching the Gospel so unapologetically that she was pelted with rotten vegetables. “Preach the Gospel without compromise,” she would say, “or shut up.”

The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne (featured on Pages 22-25) remind me of Catherine de Hueck. Offered enticements to compromise, they refused. Dispersed and de-habited, they quietly continued their subversive activity of prayer and worked out their priesthood, “preaching” all the way to the guillotine. They didn’t shut up until the blade fell. Our disoriented modern sensibilities equate nuns with meekness, not strength; it discounts the power of their priesthood (and the priesthood of all laywomen) because it is informal, unadorned. For some, priesthood is a prize of attainment rather than a surrender to service — a right to be won, rather than a gift bestowed. Unless their preaching is done from behind a pulpit, they think, it is devalued and illegitimate.

Catherine de Hueck might have called the pursuit of female ordination a distraction and a waste of opportunity when there is so much to be done, when we are all called and the work of our priesthood is already before us. The Carmelites of Compiègne understood this, as did St. Catherine of Siena, Dorothy Day, St. Teresa of Avila, Elisabeth Lesuer and Sister Dorothy Stang, none of whom waited for someone to hand a priesthood to them.

You can read the rest here.

*They ended about ten days later.

About Elizabeth Scalia

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