Called to Be Set Apart
After being a seminarian for the last 5 years, I can now say with much experience that, when people hear that you are going to become a priest, they look at you with the same expression they would have, if a lion walked into the room. The idea surprises people. Some genuinely admire the individual for taking this step, while others wonder if this person has completely lost his head. In my opinion, both are right. It takes courage and boldness to take the step to becoming a priest, but only a person who is crazy (for the Lord) will take such a step in life.
I was leading a perfectly normal life. I was a full time pastoral worker for Couples for Christ India and came from a very good Catholic family. My dad had just started out with his new business and so I had a potential job waiting for me. I had a girlfriend who knew me for about 5 years and loved me very much. Yet, there was a sense of emptiness within me. I felt no joy in what I was doing or in the way I was living.
All that changed when, one fine day I felt the Lord call me. It wasn’t a voice from heaven or something radical that happened, but in my heart a little desire kept springing up. For me, it was the moment when God went down on His knees to propose to me and the love He had for me was like a magnetic field. I just couldn’t say no. Many would think I was crazy to leave all I had and join the priesthood. Many who knew me personally would think that God was crazy to call me to become a priest after knowing all that I had done in my life. But 5 years down the line, I am still here in the seminary, praying to see that one day, I will serve at the altar as a priest.
So let’s see what are the most frequently asked questions with regards to the vocation of priesthood. These questions troubled me as well and some still continue to do so but I will try to answer them from all that I have understood and been directed regarding the priesthood.
- Am I really being called or am I hallucinating?
This is a tricky question that nobody will be able to give a conclusive answer to. Some get called when they are young, some feel called in college, or others like me might feel it after graduation, while you are in a relationship and thinking about what’s next in life. Whatever it is, we cannot judge the ways in which God calls people.
If you feel a slight desire or inclination towards being a priest or a nun, I would say: go into a room, lock yourself up, get down on your knees and pray. If God is calling you, ask Him to call you louder. God will call you through His Word, through people around you and through your hearts desires. No one can conclusively say “I was born to become a priest“. Yes it is a huge leap in the dark, but it’s a leap worth taking because if you ignore it, you will be settling for less than what you are called for.
It isn’t like an offer with an expiry date, so do not make a hasty decision. Take your time, pray about it and find yourself a spiritual director or guide who will help you discern. However, don’t shy away from trusting God and answering His call.
- I feel I am unworthy to serve God as a priest/nun
This question troubled me the most. At times it still does, knowing that I am a sinner and yet God calls me. But if you go to think about it, who really is worthy to serve the Lord as a priest or a nun? Vocation is a gift and it is given not to the worthy but to those who are willing to say yes to His call. God calls and we respond. The vocation in reality is a response to the love of God. As St John writes in his first letter,
“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
It is His love that makes us worthy to be priest or a nun.
None of us merit becoming a priest or a nun based on our own capabilities or achievements, but rather it is due to the grace that God bestows upon us. The criteria to be a priest or a nun aren’t similar to any other profession. God doesn’t conduct an entrance exam before calling people to serve Him, but He waits to see if the individual is willing to let work through him/her. Vocation is not about what I have to offer to the Church, but about how much I allow Christ to work through me to serve His people.
- How do I tell my family?/ What about my family?
We are a family of three siblings, I have two elder sisters and I am the only son of my parents. I don’t understand this extra focus on me being the ONLY son, but it is something I get asked about a lot. Family support is crucial and of utmost importance. It plays a huge role in nurturing a vocation. I know at times families hesitate to offer up their children to the call of God, but what every parent really wants is the happiness of their child. The calling to become a priest/nun brings great joy and happiness and therefore, even though it is difficult for them to accept, they eventually will. I would say we must pray for our families and especially for our parents/ guardians who look after us. It is not our job to convince them about our vocation; that is for the Holy Spirit to do. However, if we have decided then we must pray that they receive the grace to accept it. Joining the priesthood doesn’t mean that we have to give up our families. We are just called to expand our families and now, accept the entire church as our own family. It is much easier said than done. We often tend to focus of what we will have to give up rather than realizing that we have so much more to gain. If we actually understand what we are gaining we will realize the gift God has in store for us.
- Will I find joy in doing this?
These fears are natural and they are bound to surface time and again. Joy is more of a decision. Yes, there is a real side to being a priest or a nun. There may be moments of loneliness or stress related to work, but in these moments we still have the church. I can personally say I feel so safe knowing that I now have so many people to relate to. The joy is in knowing that I matter to them all, that I am given an opportunity to make a difference in their lives. The joy in knowing that I can be there at the most important moments of their lives, be it at their marriage, funeral, baptism etc. makes it worth it in the end.
The seminary/formation house is an amazing place. We get people from various cultural backgrounds; however they all share a common goal. It is these friends who will sustain us in the ministry and it is these very people who become our immediate family.
I would also like to mention that unless you join and are in the seminary or under formation, you cannot really say if you will be happy or not. I mean how do you know if you are really good at soccer unless you put on those studs, get on the field and start playing? If you feel it isn’t for you, then walk out with your head held high because you know that you were still discerning. The seminary formation is a period of discerning and so, just because you joined the seminary doesn’t mean that you have to end up becoming a priest/nun with no way out. I know that many look at leaving the seminary as a taboo, but I think it is time to change that mentality. Personally, have the courage to go and see, and as the community at large, if our brothers and sisters return back, it is our Christian duty to embrace them with open arms and respect their courage.
- Why become a priest or a nun when we hear of so many scandals in the Church?
This is not really a valid question. I mean so many couples cheat in their marriages and end up asking for a divorce or annulment. This does not mean that one should never get married. Similar logic can be used for wanting to join the priesthood. Priests and nuns are like planes; there are so many flying high daily and doing a great job, yet the one plane that crashes gets all the focus and attention. No one appreciates that everyday there were so many that flew just perfectly fine.
I believe that what we want to be is in our hands.
We were created for greatness, not comfort. (Pope Emeritus Benedict)
We shouldn’t settle for mediocrity but strive for excellence. Therefore, be excellent in whatever you are called to be. Be excellent at your job; be excellent as a father, mother, sister, brother; be an excellent friend; be an excellent priest or a nun too. To be excellent or not depends on no one else but you.
Also, we may have heard of a hundred priests and nuns who have some problem or the other, but I bet we all know of at least one good priest and nun. We all know of at least that one person who was true to the calling and did their best to live it out. Then all we need to do is follow in their footsteps. To consecrate your life to God is hard. It is not something every individual is called to do. But if you feel you are, then don’t be scared or nervous about it. Picture a beach or a lovely garden with Jesus down on one knee, proposing to you to spend a lifetime with Him and experience the love He has for you more intimately. Heaven awaits your reply with bated breath.. Will you say YES?