|These Friends Recently Got Married and I Love this Picture! To Me, It|
Says So Much About the Church, Marriage, Priesthood, Love. Awesome!
Perhaps you stumbled across this blog post because you were searching for some clarity as to whether God is calling you to be a priest. If so, welcome! Before you read any further, please be assured that I am praying for you. Whether God is calling you to be a priest or not, your openness to this possibility is itself something for which we should all be grateful. Without having any surety as to what your vocation in life is, you already have a sense that God has a plan for your life, that God speaks to your heart, and that your life is caught up in the drama of salvation. I am happy for you.
Each man's vocation story is different. Some, like St. Paul, had an earthshaking experience whereby they were knocked over and underwent an immediate and profound conversion. This conversion also brought with it a call to priestly ministry. For me, and for many others, our call came rather gradually. Somewhere along the way, we encountered Christ. Perhaps like Peter and Andrew, James and John, we saw Christ. We heard him speaking and were attracted by his words. Perhaps in front of him, we felt an intense love or a bond that seemed impossible. When he looked at us and held us in his gaze, we suddenly realized that our life was changed. We could never forget this look upon our life. No matter how we would respond, our whole life going forward would be judged by this gaze. Whether we turned away, refused, or ignored this gaze upon us, our whole life would be forever hounded by its memory. This gaze, unmerited and undeserved, simple and pure, opened our eyes and made us experience life as something far more dramatic than we had ever known before. There is no going back.
This is the first thing I would like to say about your vocation. If you have experienced this look upon you, there is no forgetting it. To ignore, run away, refuse, make excuses etc, all do violence to our heart. It's a little maddening actually. There are some really good excuses not to follow. Just to mention a couple:
1. "Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man" (LK 5:8). These words were spoken by Peter. As Jesus looked upon Peter, Peter felt the weight of his own unworthiness. To say, "Yes," to our priestly vocation is to say, "Yes" to the lifelong suffering of knowing that, as St. Paul says, "We hold this treasure in jars of clay" (2 COR 4:7). We will spend our life wounded by the superabundant love with which Christ has looked upon us.
When you listen to the humble confession of a contrite sinner and utter words of absolution, you will intensely feel your own unworthiness. When you stand at the bedside of a dying person and commend his soul to God, you will intensely feel your own unworthiness. When you look into the chalice and say, "This is my Blood" and see your reflection there, you will intensely feel your unworthiness. When you climb into the pulpit and preach the words of everlasting life, you will intensely feel your unworthiness. To walk into tragic situations knowing that you are the presence of Christ the Good Shepherd to a flock scattered, wounded, and afraid--you will intensely feel your unworthiness. When--in the name of the Church--you witness a man and a woman become united through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony or you live a friendship with your flock (a friendship that you know is beyond anything that any of you could create)--you will intensely feel your unworthiness.
Yes, if you have experienced Jesus looking upon you and calling you to share in his priesthood, you probably also feel like this gaze of love has pierced your heart. If you say, "Yes" to this call, this wound will not heal. This wound will only deepen. You will never become accustomed to this gaze. You will never arrive at a moment when you will say, "Ah, yes now it makes total sense why Jesus called me." No, you will spend the rest of your life increasingly surprised that he chose you. The wound of his pure gaze upon you will continually deepen and its sweetness will also increase. If you are considering a vocation to the priesthood, one question that might be good to ask is this: If in my heart I have already felt this gaze upon me and experienced its wound and its sweetness, will there ever be anything else that could possibly replace this? In the words of Peter, "Lord, to whom else shall we go" (JN: 6:68)?
2. "He went away sad, for he had many possessions" (MK 10:22). These words were spoken by the Rich Young Man. We are told that Jesus looked at him with love, but the Rich Young Man's face fell because he had many possessions. Before the call of Christ, we can find countless possessions that will cause our face to look away from his gaze. None of these possessions is in itself evil. In fact, they are good. They are countless. Our bodies that could be given over in love to a woman and for the propagation of new life. Our intellectual gifts and human skills that could be used to make a better world. Our future, our youth, our aspirations, our plans, our ideas. All of these and so many other magnificent possessions make us rich!
St. Mark tells us that Jesus looked at the Rich Young Man with love and told him, "Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Christ looked upon him with love. In that moment, the young man must have experienced that wound with all of its sweetness and with all of its infinite meaning. But, his face fell. He looked away from the gaze of Christ and instead looked upon his many possessions. He looked upon all of his options. He looked upon his plans, his youth, his future, his dreams and aspirations. He looked upon what he could build. These many good and noble possessions were his. They were not clay. They were not fragile or dependent upon another. In comparison, the gaze of Christ was entirely dependent upon another. What if one day Christ no longer looked at him with love? What if one day this adventure promised by Christ fell flat? What if one day this gaze was not enough for him? Wouldn't it be better to take the safe bet? Wouldn't it be better to go with the sure thing rather than to risk everything on Christ's call? He could still do good things, but take a safer path.
As we know, the young man who earnestly desired to do what was good and to be good, nonetheless went away sad. All of the good things which he possessed ultimately became the cause of his unhappiness. Perhaps in your prayer life, you have felt the Lord Jesus looking upon you with love and, in your heart, you know that he is calling you to follow him as a priest. In the face of this, perhaps you are tempted to take out the pen and the paper and start writing a list of pros and cons. If I may, let me suggest that this is not how to go about it. This is what the rich young man did. He looked away from Christ in order to make an inventory of his possessions. This led to sadness.
If I were to offer some advice to a young man who is in this position (and by "this position", I do not mean one who is simply and honestly open to whatever God is calling him to, but rather one who has had this very personal and powerful experience of Christ gazing upon his life and extending the invitation to "follow me,"), I would say this: keep your eyes on Christ and follow him. Don't try to talk yourself out of what you've encountered. The memory of that look is never going to depart from you. If you've experienced this look, no matter what you come up with to explain it away, deep down, you're always going to know.
It's all a bit maddening, isn't it? It would be easier if it were all spelled out in advance. It would be easier if you could have some safety net to fall back upon. It would be easier if you knew that you were deserving of it and well-qualified to carry out. But, you are not going to get any more than Peter and Andrew and James and John got. They got a look and a call. They left their safety nets behind and brought all of their weaknesses and failures with them. They followed and lived life entirely dependent upon the merciful gaze of Christ.
And you, what are you going to do?