"I am often asked, especially by young people, why I became a priest. Maybe some of you would like to ask the same question. Let me try briefly to reply. I must begin by saying that it is impossible to explain entirely. For it remains a mystery, even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that, at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me: 'Come, follow me!' There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest.
And you can probably tell that I am deeply grateful to God for my vocation to the priesthood. Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy that to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God's people in the Church. That has been true ever since the day of my ordination as a priest. Nothing has ever changed this, not even becoming Pope."
Feeling a call from God is a scary reality. Why is that? Why do we immediately feel fear and anxiety when we even think about the possibility that God is calling us into a life as a priest or consecrated religious?
The simple answer is that we are weak, living our life as a fallen human being. It is so much easier to just live as the world does - serving self, living from one high or rush to the next. Fallen human nature will always tend toward the fallen path. But God is calling us to something greater, to a more dignified and honorable path. That path is the way of the cross - that is why we fear.
You have taken that first step - you have cracked your heart open in search of answers. You are looking for the source of that little whisper in the depth of your soul. That is God who says to you, "My son, my daughter - I LOVE YOU! I am glad you are here, remain in my love."
Discernment - or probing the heart for truth - is the journey you are embarking on. Let the fact that 1.2 billion Catholics are praying for you right now assure you that you are not alone. Let the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary has taken you by the hand to lead you to her Son assure you that you don't have to figure it all out in a vacuum. Be not afraid, venture into the deep and let the Lord Jesus reveal to you his deepest desire for you in this life.
The only way we can know what God is calling us to is if we go to Him and ask. Prayer is essential to probing the mystery of our vocation, the mystery of who we are. Daily prayer is the cornerstone to proper discernment. Attend Mass, every Sunday of course, but daily if possible. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament - most especially Eucharistic Adoration - is life changing. Devotionals, novenas, Sacred Scripture - these are other essential prayers for the discerner.
It is important in this phase to begin regular spiritual direction with a competent and authorized spiritual director. The role of a director is to help you wade through the many movements of the heart. In this time everything seems like a legitimate whisper of God. The evil one knows of your vulnerability in this time as well. A director can help you recognize God's true voice amid the many others that you are or will be hearing.
The vocations office leads several visits to both seminaries and convents throughout the year. It is very important to experience what it is like to be at a house of formation. We can read all we want, but human beings are very tangible creatures - we need to experience things as well. Set up a time through the vocations office to make a visit.
This is always a good policy. We are called to be fully, actively and conscious participators in the liturgical life of the Church. Everything - all activity in the Christian life - has its source at the altar of sacrifice and everything flows back to the altar of sacrifice as its true aim and purpose (source and summit). That oft quoted line from the Second Vatican Council directs the Catholic faithful to live the entirety of their lives in the reality that all comes from the Pashcal Mystery and all should find its aim and goal in union with the Paschal Mystery. Volunteer in the parish to help with not only lector and greeter at Mass, but feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. One called by God to a life of service cannot properly answer that call if they are not willing to serve even now.
1. Listen for the deepest desire of your heart
In prayer, let your heart speak to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Within each human heart are desires - sometimes we have desires for multiple vocations. Pretty much every priest had a desire to be a husband and father. Every religious sister had a desire to be a wife and mother. What we search for as we discern God's particular call for us is the deepest desire of our heart. We find out where that intersects with the greatest need in the world. The point that those two things intersect is our vocation.
2. The test of time
We must really reflect - is this just a fleeting idea? Or is this something that is long enduring in my heart. God will continue to knock on your heart - over and over He will knock. Allow the call time to rest on your heart. There is no rush - the life of faith is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Time - in prayer, direction, adoration, conversation with friends, on retreats - will help clarify the deepest desire of your heart. A fisherman must learn to be patient, otherwise he will never eat.
3. Reality check
Always keep in mind that a vocation is a call from another, a call from God. This call comes through the intended spouse: Holy Mother Church, a religious community, or a particular man or woman. We might think we have figured out God's intentions, but the other may have discerned something all together different. This reality check - that it is not about me but the other - is a good reminder for us in discernment. Answering a call from God is about submission to the Father's will, not about pleasing me. Remember, Christ learned obedience through His suffering - Christ followed the will of the Father perfectly in His espousal to humanity on the cross. A true call is always about the other, always about glorifying God by submitting to His will.
Deacon Daniel Gilbert, 1st Theology
St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology
200 Hill Drive St. Meinrad IN 47577
Hometown: St. Agnes Parish, Scottsbluff, NE
Dillon Spies, 1st Theology
Kenrick School of Theology
5200 Glennon Drive Saint Louis, MO 63119
Hometown: Resurrection Parish, Grand Island, NE
Chas Canfield, 4th College
Conception Seminary College
37174 State Hwy VV
Conception, MO 64433
Hometown: St. Leo's Parish, Grand Island, NE
Alec Hamik, 3rd College
Saint John Vianney College Seminary
2115 Summit Avenue
St. Paul, Minnesota 55105
Hometown: Prince of Peace Catholic Church, Kearney, NE
Justis Crome, pastoral year
St. Patrick's Catholic Church
415 North Chestnut
North Platte, NE 69001
Hometown: Sacred Heart Parish, Greeley, NE
Follow a seminarian for a day to learn what it is like to live in a seminary community as you continue to discern God's call. Watch the video below to see life in the day of a seminarian.
Spiritual: " “For every priest his spiritual formation is the core which unifies and gives life to his being a priest and his acting as a priest” Pastores Dabo Vobis 45
"Those who aspire to be sent on mission, as the apostles were, must first acquire the listening and learning heart of disciples." Program for Priestly Formation 107
"To live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit is far more than a personal or individual relationship with the Lord; it is also a communion with the Church, which is his body... their spirituality draws them into the priestly, self-sacrificial path of Jesus. He is the one whose service finds its high point in giving his life as a ransom for the many. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep 'so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.' He is the bridegroom who loves his bride, the Church, and handed himself over for her'." Program for Priestly Formation 108-109
"Intellectual formation . . . is a fundamental demand of man’s intelligence by which he ‘participates in the light of God’s mind’ and seeks to acquire a wisdom which in turn opens to and is directed towards knowing and adhering to God” Pastores dabo vobis 51, citing Gaudium et spes 15
"The basic principle of intellectual formation for priesthood candidates is noted in Pastores dabo vobis, no. 51: “For the salvation of their brothers and sisters, they should seek an ever deeper knowledge of the divine mysteries.” Program for Priestly Formation 137
"The overall goal of every stage of seminary formation is to prepare a candidate who is widely knowledgeable about the human condition, deeply engaged in a process of understanding divine revelation, and adequately skilled in communicating his knowledge to as many people as possible. Moreover, continuing education after ordination is a necessity for effective ministry" Program for Priestly Formation 138
Human: "The foundation and center of all human formation is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. In his fully developed humanity, he was truly free and with complete freedom gave himself totally for the salvation of the world." Program for Priestly Formation 74
"...the human personality of the priest is to be a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of the human race." Pastores Dabo Vobis 43
"In general, human formation happens in a three-fold process of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-gift—and all of this in faith." Program for Priestly Formation 80
Pastoral: "The basic principle of pastoral formation is enunciated in Pastores dabo vobis, no. 57, in its citation of Optatam totius, no. 4: “The whole training of the students should have as its object to make them true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher, priest, and shepherd.” To be a true “shepherd of souls” means standing with and for Christ in the community, the Christ who teaches and sanctifies and guides or leads the community." Program for Priestly Formation 238
"I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband."
2 Cor 11:2
"The Consecrated Life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one — are made constantly "visible" in the midst of the world and the eyes of the faithful are directed towards the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven.
In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father's call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an "undivided" heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:34). Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society." St. John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 1
"In a deservedly famous page, Tertullian has well expressed the greatness of this conjugal life in Christ and its beauty: 'How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? ...How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.'...
...Indeed, by means of baptism, man and woman are definitively placed within the new and eternal covenant, in the spousal covenant of Christ with the Church. And it is because of this indestructible insertion that the intimate community of conjugal life and love, founded by the Creator, is elevated and assumed into the spousal charity of Christ, sustained and enriched by His redeeming power...
...Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers. Of this salvation event marriage, like every sacrament, is a memorial, actuation and prophecy: "As a memorial, the sacrament gives them the grace and duty of commemorating the great works of God and of bearing witness to them before their children. As actuation, it gives them the grace and duty of putting into practice in the present, towards each other and their children, the demands of a love which forgives and redeems. As prophecy, it gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ."
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home." Mt 1:20
Marriage is not just a default institution for everyone not called to priesthood or religious life. It too is a call from God Himself. God calls real men to answer the call to be a true husband and father to the next generation of the human race. The art of true manliness is rooted in Our Savior Jesus Christ. It is only in a relationship with Jesus Christ that a man find His true identity. True masculinity cannot be verified in the weights and measures of the world. It is formed and nurtured in the fires of Christian virtue, walking the way of the cross.
To be an authentic husband requires a man to receive the heart of a woman as Christ did the Church on the cross. Christ gave every ounce of his blood for His bride - a true man called to be husband must do the same. He must have heroic courage and a well formed heart so that he can take a wife and love her to the point of death.
To be an authentic father requires a man to give of himself - he will have to sacrifice time and energy. He is the true teacher of the next generation of the qualities of honesty, integrity, and work ethic. He is the hand of justice within the family unit - and to use this office well, he must know the heart of Jesus Christ.
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Lk 1:38
Like the call to be husband and father, God also calls real women to be wife and mother. The call to marriage for women is a call into a new reality, a reality in which the next generation is given its human form through the womb of a woman. The woman is the carrier of life, the nurturer of life, the entry point into existence of the creative power of God the Father. It is in the act of the receptivity of the Son to the will of the Father that the feminine heart is rooted. It is Christ's active receptivity of the love of God the Father on the cross that the woman finds her true identity as participant in the creative love of God.
To be an authentic wife requires a woman to open herself in vulnerability to the will of God acted out through the heart of a man, just as Christ surrendered to the will of the Father on the cross. It was in this complete vulnerability that Christ received all that the Father is. By opening up and surrendering his heart in this way, He returned all that He is to the Father - and this action bore fruit in the outpouring of the Spirit upon the Church. The woman must have heroic courage to open her heart completely to her husband, even to the point of death.
To be an authentic mother requires a woman to give of herself - her body in the pregnancy and the nurturing of the infant, her time, patient endurance, and most especially her tender love. She is the teacher of the human heart, helping the next generation how to open up in vulnerability before the Savior of the world. The feminine heart, so gentle and kind, instructs the other to authentically respond to the love of God infused on every human heart.