And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. - 1st Kings 19:11-13
“My earliest recollection of wanting to become a priest dates back to my middle school years. I recall listing to a missionary who had come to our school to speak on his experience working with the poor in missions. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember Jesus placing into my heart a desire to become a missionary. Although this desire waned form years, it never really left my heart.” – Fr. David Raymond, Pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation, St. Agnes, & St. Paul.
“I was convinced that I could find everything I needed to be happy in the world around me. It wasn’t until I reached a very low point in my life that I realized something was missing. That something which could bring true joy and fulfillment, I quickly learned, was not a thing at all, but God Himself.” – Deacon Matt Gregory, Seminarian
“I began lectoring in high school. I first thought about the priesthood at around 13 years of age. The feeling would come and go, but never truly went away.” - Kevin Upham, Seminarian
SOME SIGNS OF CHRIST’S CALL TO PRIESTHOOD
While every priest has a unique vocation that is specific to him alone, there are common signs and indications that are shared by most men who are called to serve at the altar. And there are some obstacles that would indicate that Christ is not calling a man to priestly ministry.
The best way to discern these signs and indications is with a capable priest spiritual director, who can discuss what is going on at length and help the discerner to determine whether he should more seriously pursue discernment of the priesthood by contacting the vocation director and discussing the possibility of entering the seminary.
It can be difficult to find a spiritual director in Maine, because priests are often stretched thin. If you would like help or guidance in finding a priest who would be able to meet with you and help you to work through your discernment, please contact the vocation director, Fr. Seamus Griesbach, and he would be happy to try to help you find someone.
In general, however, there are some basic signs and indications that would help indicate whether a man take the possibility of his call to the priesthood more seriously. Some of these general signs might include the following:
A desire to explore the deeper questions of life and to get to the heart of the matter, rather than living superficially.
A nagging sense when at Mass or praying, a kind of spiritual hunger that seeks to give more, to live the faith in a more radical way.
A sense of being fully alive and excited when speaking about Jesus, the Church, or the lives of the saints.
An awareness of many flaws and sinfulness, but a desire to seek holiness despite these limitations.
An energy and joy when leading groups or collaborating with others on projects, particularly in service to God and neighbor.
A desire to be of service when thinking about the great spiritual and temporal needs of the many families that live in the state of Maine.
It is important to address some of the mistaken signs many men think indicate that they are not called to be priests:
“I like women and want to be a father.” – Great! It is important that a priest is healthy and balanced. Liking women and being drawn to the family are important qualities for priests. Parishes are full of women and families. If our priests did not value them, they would be miserable. To appreciate and value something does not mean that you need to possess it for yourself. The celibate priest appreciates and values marriage and the family; it is precisely this appreciation that allows him to joyfully spend his life serving the marriages and families entrusted to his care.
“I’m not holy enough.” – No one is. That is why priests go to confession too. Certainly if a man is struggling with serious sins he needs to work on addressing those issues before entering the seminary. But a sinful past does not keep a man from being ordained, and becoming a wonderful priest. Many of the greatest priests, such as St. Paul, St. Augustine, or St. Ignatius, have proven that!
“I’m too young. I need to experience life first.” This is a little more complicated. It is important for a man entering the seminary to be at peace and not feel that he is ‘missing out’ on something important. On the other hand, if a young man has a strong desire to serve the Church and a healthy maturity, postponing entering the seminary until after he has ‘experienced life’ can do great harm to him. Experiences with sin and evil can become wounds or scars that will have to be healed later in life. If a man desires to explore other possible pathways to holiness – to explore dating or a career, for example – this can be an important part of his discernment process. However, postponing making a serious commitment to discernment simply out of a desire for pleasure, comfort, esteem, or wealth – Christ warns us that such a choice will not help us to follow his will, but will enslave and distract us, making it impossible for us to follow him in the end. We postpone seeking holiness to the peril of our salvation. The time to follow Christ is now.
“I have gifts and talents that will go to waste.” A capable spiritual director will be able to help a man to answer the question of whether his gifts and abilities are incompatible with priestly service. It is important not to overly restrict our idea of what the life of a priest is like. While certainly priestly ministry is centered on the sacraments and pastoral ministry, many times a priest’s talents, areas of interest and hobbies become very fruitful parts of his ministry too. Priests in our diocese are artists, musicians, outdoorsmen, and bakers and many other things. They experience in the fields of medicine, finance, engineering, teaching, politics, and law enforcement. All of these interests and experiences enrich our presbyterate and help our priests to connect with those they serve in ways that they would not be able to if they only had experience and interest in the sacristy. If a man is being called by Christ to serve as a priest, he can rest assured that none of his gifts or experiences will go to waste. In mysterious and beautiful ways, God makes it possible for every part of a priest’s life and experience to bear fruit.