|Christ on the Road to Emmaus|
Tonight, I had dinner with a young man (whom I was hoping to snag for the seminary!). I had the privilege of receiving him into the Catholic Church last year when I was a pastor. Tonight, we had supper together and talked about his recent engagement (to a wonderful young woman) and about his impending departure to become a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Missionary. To say that I was looking forward to getting together with him would be an understatement.
This evening, as we had supper together and discussed all manner of things, I thought to myself, "Who am I that should be given such a privileged relationship?" Here is this young man who showed up on the doorstep of the parish where I had been pastor, he became a Catholic, and is now preparing to become a Catholic missionary on college campuses. And, he asked me to offer his Nuptial Mass next year. How is a crumb like me put into privileged situations like this? Pure joy.
As we were talking about his conversion, he told me that in the period when he was thinking about the Catholic Church, he came occasionally to my old parish. When he heard me preach, he thought, "This guy is too serious or too tough. I think I will go somewhere else." We had a good laugh over that as we sat eating dinner tonight, comparing our chosen beers and discussing what qualifies as a really good IPA. The conversation left me thinking how beautiful the life of the Church is. Either I was a priest whose preaching was ultimately vindicated or he was a man who could look beyond my poor preaching. Or, maybe there was some mixture of the two. Either way, Jesus saw fit to have our paths cross, and he did something beautiful to form a Catholic friendship among us.
I can't speak definitively on what the vocation of every priest is like. But for me, tonight was a little parable of how my vocation has played out. Living close to the people has been a distinguishing characteristic of priestly life for me. I know, of course, that Jesus has used me to minister to these people, but--and I'm sure that this surprises them--Jesus uses them to instruct and to encourage me. And this is true of people of all ages. In my life, I am profoundly moved by the example of so many people. Today, I had a man in his late 80's from my first assignment (seventeen years ago) call me just to talk. This evening I had a beer with a young man in his twenties and talked to him about all that God is doing in his life. Be they men or women, young or old, these people are powerful signs to me of the joy of the Gospel.
My priestly vocation is nourished and sustained--in part--through the witnesses that Christ places in my path. I had one of the best Lents ever this year because it was spent surrounded by young college aged Catholics who were making great efforts to follow Christ with greater intensity and fidelity. Their humble example encouraged me.
Fairly often, somebody stumbles upon my blog because they googled something like, "How do I know if God is calling me to be a priest?" All I want to do here is simply to say that the priesthood is an awesome vocation! Among other things, you have the privilege of standing very close to the people whom Jesus loves and chooses. Tonight, a young man--whom I had the awesome privilege of receiving into the Catholic Church and confirming last Easter--had dinner and a couple of beers with me. We discussed priesthood, marriage, being a college missionary, the spiritual life, the scriptures, evangelization, conversion, and all sorts of things together. Then, after walking back to my rectory in the pouring rain, we stopped in the parish church, knelt before the Blessed Sacrament together for about fifteen minutes and were lost in prayer and joy.
My experience of the priesthood is living life in a fraternity and friendship that is given to us in a totally gratuitous way by Christ. And this gratuitous friendship, like the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, is lived closely to the Word of God, is lived with a burning heart, and is nourished by and leads to the Eucharist.
Is God calling you to be a priest? No one approach can answer that question adequately. But, perhaps one question to ask is this: Does the thought of walking closely with other disciples, encountering Christ, sharing the Word of God, and living a Eucharistic life cause your heart to burn within you? These things do not necessarily indicate a priestly vocation, but they are certainly part of a priestly vocation.
(And, since I mentioned somebody specific in this blog post, I sought out his permission before posting this!)