“Have you ever thought about being a priest?”
“Me? No. That’s not for me…”
This all too often reaction is something to be looked at; what does it say about the perception of the question of priesthood in a young man’s life? For a young man, perhaps in high school or college, to openly discuss a desire to become a Catholic priest is certainly not the norm. While there are young men out there who have felt God’s call from a young age and are convinced that after high school they will enter the seminary, that is not to say that others are not being called. The greater majority of men may actually ignore the question entirely. Yet, how can one know the answer if the question is never asked?
It is no secret that there is a great fear of commitment among people in modern society. Men and women are getting married much later than in past generations. Couples are postponing childbirth until it is most convenient. Perhaps the underlying issue here can be rooted in a fear of making a life-altering commitment; making a choice that takes “ME” out of the driver’s seat and puts someone or something else as the number one priority. Especially when that commitment entails sacrificing personal goals and desires, it can seem too daunting to pursue. The question is quickly shut down and avoided… “No, that’s not for me.”
Looking back on my own experience with God’s calling in my life, there were many times when I chose to ignore the question of priesthood and used the response “No. That’s not for me,” without really asking the question. I was asked several times by priests and others if I thought about priesthood. For instance, when I was a young altar server and the priests at my parish would mention it to me, I would smile and laugh as if they were joking. I had many other things on my mind as a young kid – mostly baseball and playing with my friends. As I got older, however, my perception of the question of priesthood shifted from something I just laughed off. I began to perceive that question as a threat.
In a way, the call to surrender one’s life to Christ is threatening. God asks us to surrender our hopes and desires for our lives, the very things that we believe will bring us happiness and hand them over to Him. In exchange, we must trust that His will is what leads us to ultimate fulfillment and happiness. In discerning the priesthood, a man must surrender the idea of getting married, having children, and pursuing his own career path, among other things. This can be threatening. It threatens our pride, our ego, and our own desires.
The problem with being threatened is that our fear of losing those ideas (marriage, family, career, etc.) causes us to cling to those things ever more tightly, thus “rebelling” against the question. The ego will tell someone in this situation that “I can handle this on my own.” This cannot be further from the truth. The Lord made you, created you in the palm of His hand. He has a plan for you, which is far better than anything you can imagine on your own.
I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like as a seminarian and a priest. Listening to priests talk about their time in the seminary makes me think that it would have been a lot of fun and a unique experience. It also would have been very challenging. As I witness men going through their formation and studies, there is no about that. I like to think that I would have made an amazing priest-administering the sacraments, walking alongside people through the ups and downs of life, and being a part of the great brotherhood of priests. At one point, part of me may have wanted to be a priest, but God had other plans for me. When I finally asked the question, “God, are you calling me to be one of your priests?” The answer, which came over the course of several years, was “No.” If I never asked, I would have never known the answer and I would have gone through my life regretfully thinking and wondering, “What if I gave it a shot?”
Through my relationship with the Lord, I was able to recognize that God calls lovingly not through intimidation or threat. He calls in a gentle whisper to the heart. The answer does not come at once, but gradually through discerning our life’s experiences and relationships. Once I actually opened myself up to discerning that call, it helped form me as a man—as a Christian disciple. It made me into the husband and father that I am today. My period of discernment taught me to not be threatened by God or the question of priesthood. In fact, it wasn’t so much about what I was giving up as it was about what He was giving me. What has He given me? God has blessed me with joys greater than I could have ever imagined myself. He grants me the peace of knowing with conviction that I put everything on the table and allowed Him to direct my path. He has given me the joy of knowing Him, serving Him, and loving Him through the vocation for which he created me.