Summary: There is a special set of charisms and sufferings for those called to pastoral office in the Church.
Christians, especially Catholics, should never be surprised by suffering and pain. If we are surprised, it ought to be if we do not suffer pain and disappointment and grief. Jesus told us that during His absence, we would weep and lament while the secular world rejoices. St. Teresa commented that our life, at best, is like a bad night in a cheap hotel. That’s why, when all is wonderful, as in the Easter season, we still fast or abstain or do some other penance every Friday. That’s why we always should remember and do something to have solidarity with our brother and sister Catholics around the world who are persecuted for their faith. I grieved, and I know you did as well, when we heard that over a hundred fifty Christians, many of them Catholics, were slaughtered for their faith in Holy Week by Islamic radicals in Kenya. I am told that in our day, tens of millions of human beings are refugees from violence, much of it anti-Christian violence in places like the Middle East and Africa. If we aren’t suffering, we ought to be doing something about relieving the suffering of others. Saint Peter was spot on: “when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
Today I’d like to talk about the calling of Jesus Christ, and specifically the call to the priesthood. I realize that in this congregation, imploring you to talk to your young unmarried men about the dual vocation to reconciliation and sacrifice, the Catholic priesthood, is a bit like encouraging folks in Karnes City to allow drilling for oil on their land. You are probably already doing that, and for that I thank and commend you. But many of us are too old or too married to be priests, and may not have young men close at hand to encourage. To all of us, however, I need to say: priestly vocations must be close to the top of our priority list. So you need to hear clergy preach on the subject.
There are three clerical vocations, three major orders, in the Church today. (I know that orders like the Priestly Fraternity still ordain subdeacons, but they are all on their way to becoming deacons and priests.) Jesus Christ is ordained servant/prophet, priest, and king/leader. There is a particular, special ministry associated with each of these offices. Let’s set aside the king/leader office for a moment: the bishop specially fills that role, and there are charisms and sufferings particular to it, especially these days. One must be a priest before being called to the episcopacy, and the vast majority of priests are not so summoned.
We’ll also give short shrift to the diaconate, which is almost exclusively the preserve these days of married men. Our call is to serve, especially to serve the poor. You see me in my liturgical function here, giving communion each week, and preaching once a month. But my service role is larger–teaching at a public high school and in our RCIA classes, and developing an audience for my homilies on-line, with between one and two thousand views each week. Every deacon has a different service. To service we are ordained, and serve for life with gratitude and without compensation.
To be a priest is a very special calling. Priests have particular gifts and sufferings. These days, because of the horrible actions of about 1% of priests, they are often subject to the most callous of calumnies. I’ve known both saints and rascals in the priesthood, and far more are the former than the latter. And I have hope even for the rascals, because they are just like you and me, sinners in the process of becoming saints. So let’s talk about becoming a saintly priest.
First, you must be called. The call begins, as with Elijah, in silence. An almost inaudible voice will summon you to follow Jesus. At first, it is almost always a general call. You feel an emptiness in your mind and heart that can only be satisfied by the presence of Christ. Your need for strength to fill your weakness, wisdom to fill your foolishness, becomes palpable. You spend more time in prayer, and before the Blessed Sacrament. You read religious tracts and books and good Catholic blogs. You ask questions of priests and deacons and consecrated religious. The call may be external. Something you read. A letter from a friend, a conversation with an adult relative. Someone suggests you ought to be a priest, or look into it. And that does one of two things. It either scares you to death, because you are not worthy–nobody is–or you like girls–all true candidates should, or it attracts you viscerally. It either feels terrifying or it feels right. That’s the time to find a wise priest and get spiritual direction. From there, everyone who is called will have a slightly different path. Some will find good reasons to take a different journey; some will reject the idea more than once as they grow. But the Holy Spirit is gentle and persistent. He wants all to be happy; all to be saved. But some are special instruments of salvation, of reconciliation, healing and sacrifice. Perhaps that’s you, or someone you know.