Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Reflection On My Vocation to Priesthood

The following is a reflection included in my parish bulletin for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord / Vocations Awareness Week.
I will never forget my bus ride to Columbus, Ohio to begin my first year of seminary formation. Between Chicago and Valparaiso I sat next to a women who engaged me in conversation. In answer to her question about why I was going to Columbus I explained that I was beginning studies to become a Catholic priest. Of course, the usual conversation ensued about religion. But what is memorable about the conversation was her parting comment. She said: “You’re such a nice young man. It’s too bad you’re going to waste your life as a priest. You’d make such a good husband.” Uff-da!
One of the things I have come to realize is that in no way, shape or form do I feel that I have wasted my life. After my first ten years (over half of which I have spent in my current assignment) I can say in all honesty that I am glad that I first heard and then answered God’s call in my life.
To be sure, this life isn’t what I chose for myself! I was open to the possibility (mostly), but it was not something that I pursued of my own choice. So, how did I come to hear and answer this call?
First of all, from the time that I was young, my parents made it clear that GOD COMES FIRST. I can actually count on one hand the number of times we missed Mass in my first 18 years of life. We were active in our local parish, but more importantly, my parents modeled a life of charity in our local community. We were also taught that because Church is important, being a priest is a worthy way in which to spend our lives.
As I went through junior and senior high school I got sidelined (maybe inevitably?) by those incredibly attractive creatures known as females! As God designed, I really became attracted to the idea of marriage and children. No doubt my parents were somewhat disappointed that I seemed to have left behind the idea of priesthood, but time would confirm that their patience and prayer was to be rewarded.
As I began life as a college student I continued in the habits my parents had cultivated of being active in my local parish. In fact, four months after starting school in Eau Claire I had a job playing organ for one of the local parishes. It turned out that I had to take a humanities course and so I chose an Old Testament scripture course. A few weeks later my room mate predicted that I’d become a priest. I told him that he was crazy! However, my parents taught me well. My ears were open and even though I was very happily dating God called to me during Mass one day. I bartered, I kind of tried not to listen. However, two things my parents and parish priest had taught me kicked in at this moment: 1) obedience; and 2) God wants you to be happy. So when He calls, it is out of love and a desire that you be as happy as possible.
Of course, there were plenty of people who shook their heads at this. More than once I heard as a refrain the words of that lady on the bus. However, I came to realize, as I pondered what they had said, God want those who will be “Father” to his children to be loving and respectful towards women and children. As I’ve come to ask parishioners: what kind of priest do you want in your parish? What kind of man do you want pastoring your wife, your sons and daughters?
Some people ask if I don’t get lonely living alone. To this I answer that there is a different between living alone and being lonely. I interact with people on a pretty intense level most every day. As a result, I relish the time that I can be “alone” with my greatest love—God.
You see, if I am to give witness to the relationship to which God invites us I must be fully engaged in that relationship. As we’ve discussed, this takes time, just as it does in a marriage relationship. That means lots and lots of heart-to-heart communication with God (aka: prayer).
Also, if I am to serve God’s people well I need to be fully immersed in the Gospel I have been called to preach. I also need to be attentive to the teachings of the apostles (our Holy Father, and our bishop) so that I will know what the issues are that I need to be addressing. Finally, I need to know the issues that affect the people to whom I have been sent. That means studying the news carefully—be it agricultural issues, politics, moral issues of the day, or business trends—if I am to effectively engage the people to whom I have been sent, I need to know more than just a little something about what is affecting their lives. These mean averaging a couple of hours of reading each day.
Of course, we are called to relationship with God and with one another. That means getting out and being with the people to whom I have been sent. With two parishes/schools and the several other responsibilities that go with modern parish/diocesan life I don’t get to do nearly as much of this as I would like, but I certainly try and I appreciate your invitations to your homes and to those events which are important to you.
As you’ve heard me say many times, I am very happy that God called me to serve Him and you as a priest. I hope that this is evident in my attitude and joy. I also hope that it gives you confidence to encourage the young men in your life to keep their ears open for God’s call in their lives—and to answer when He calls. They, and you, won’t be sorry. I can guarantee it!

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Comments are most welcome! As always, be charitable and remember the 8th Commandment (Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor).