At the end of last month fifteen years ago on what used to be St. Joan of Arc day, four of my classmates and I were ordained to the priesthood. We got together for dinner and to talk – mostly about how quickly 15 years have zoomed by. Coming out of a time in the diocese when it was unheard of that anybody would be considered pastor material until at least age 55, we thought about where we were not having quite encroached upon that age yet. One of us works down town at the chancery, two of us are pastors, one of us is a parochial vicar in one of the largest parishes in the diocese, and our fifth member, who was unable to join us, is serving as a missionary in our sister diocese of El Salvador.
As great at this sounds (and we are all very grateful for our assignments) this is clarion call that we need to do a better job of promoting vocations. We are where we are because the ranks are thinning. There is so much good to be done. There are so many people to help. There are so many truths to be told. There are so many sacraments to be celebrated. There are so many lives to be touched. And we look at each other across the table and think, “I can’t believe more guys don’t want to do this.”
There may be particular tasks that I don’t want to do, but by and large, I can’t think of anything that I could do that would be as fulfilling as being a priest. I am a later vocation and worked at various things which I loved, but none of them tops this.
I had every intention of being kicked out of the seminary. Priesthood was just number one on my list, but the list was long and if they didn’t want me, I would just move on to the next thing. (Many think once you go into the seminary that’s it! You are going to be a priest. But in reality it is a place of discernment a little bit like going to school to be a doctor and determining – on both sides of the teacher’s desk – if you’ve got what it takes.) But surprise! I made it! How fortunate fate has been.
What helped me on my journey is a history of happy single persons in my family and so celibacy was not such a big, scary factor. (And now people seem to be afraid of marriage too!) I wish people would discern better if they are cut for marriage (or even desire it) to the same extent we wish people would discern priesthood.
But truly, in the end it isn’t about us discerning what we want, but how we can best serve God and then looking for that vocation in life that best fits that calling.