Monday, December 08, 2014
The following story is submitted by a traditional seminarian who wishes to remain anonymous. Within the next year, he will be ordained to the priesthood. Please keep him in your prayers.
By the grace and mercy of God I have been chosen to this holy vocation of the priesthood, and my ordination will take place later this spring. I will tell some of my life background and some of the story of how I came to decide to apply for seminary at all, and how I continued the discernment process during seminary. It is only the story of one unique person, but perhaps similar in some ways to others’ stories. I pray that this will be profitable and encouraging for those young men who have not yet made a choice for their state of life.
Thanks be to God, I grew up in a practicing Catholic family of six, though we were as badly catechized as most have been nowadays. My mother converted to the Catholic Faith when I was 4 years old, so from my childhood perspective, she was always Catholic. As a family, we almost always ate dinner together, praying the meal blessing, and when my two brothers and my sister and I were very young, my father would pray briefly with us before we went to bed. My father and mother were good parents. They were watchful and cautious, but on the other hand, they were not overbearing. They also taught us good manners and expected us to use them. My grandfather, who died when I was 12, was a pious Catholic.
After learning of his cancer, he lived for 7 more years, much longer than was predicted, and during those years He went to daily Mass. I have memories of him also praying with us when were little. He also had much love and respect for priests, and I remember seeing so many priests at his funeral. Several years later, probably around the time I was preparing for my Confirmation, I recall a couple of times when my father asked me if I had considered becoming a priest. A little later, while still in high school, I was asked again, but by a visiting priest. I also remember a time when our pastor preached about answering the call of God to a priestly or religious vocation. During those times, I had such a poor understanding of what the priest is and does, that I could not appreciate why a man would give up the possibility of marriage for such a life. Moreover, I had always desired a family of my own because I admired very much my parents and I had a great love for family life.
By the time I got to college, I had no idea what I should study. I was annoyed by the pressures to “try and get a good degree so you can make a good salary.” I soon became bored and frustrated with college because I had no desire to pursue a career which required many years of school, and although I wanted to marry, I did not know any good catholic women who were available or interested in marriage. Then one day, I decided to go on a retreat run by the university Newman center. Overall, it was a good experience, or at least God made good use of it for me. I came out resolved to get more active in the parish there, and one of my resolutions was to sign up for a weekly hour of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (first time in my life). It was during some of those holy hours that my life began to really change for the better. I stumbled upon a few good traditional Catholic books about the Rosary and the Holy Eucharist, and while reading them I was impressed by the seriousness and the sense of the supernatural which pervaded them. I had never read anything like it. I was consumed with the desire of learning more and more. The most surprising and wonderful discovery was that of the Traditional Latin Mass.
Incidentally, I had heard of the Latin Mass before because one of my ex-girlfriends from high school had mentioned it to me back then when her family started attending it, but I had forgotten about this. I did a lot of searching on different traditional Catholic websites, some of which were more helpful than others. It was difficult for me because what I was learning, regarding the Mass especially, did not seem to fit well with what I was seeing every Sunday. The crucial point was when I read the English translation of the 1962 Missal side by side with the Novus Ordo missal. I saw how much was altered or taken out and I was upset that all these beautiful things were taken away, in my case hidden away, and I wanted to worship God at that Mass. Besides, there was not a Traditional Mass near by, I had no car, and I knew no one at that university who liked or desired the Traditional Mass.
Because of the Mass, and for other reasons as well, I moved back home where there were several Traditional Masses at a reasonable distance. I will never forget the first time I went to the Traditional Latin Mass. It was a first Friday, Sung Mass of the Sacred Heart. The beautiful traditional style Church, the simple beauty of the chant, the complex beauty of the ceremony, and especially the silence, all impressed me very much. I had trouble following in the missal but I realized that I could just pray and be in wonder, especially during the silent Canon. After a few more times I got more accustomed to it and I was sure that this was the Mass I should attend.
After three semesters at a local university, I had been attending the Latin Mass for a little more than a year, and I realized how much happier I was in general, because even though I still did not know what to do after college, I at least had some direction in my life with respect to eternity. Then before long, I began to pay a little more attention to that annoying thought about the priesthood that kept coming up. When I finally accepted the possibility of trying a priestly vocation, I considered it only in the context of the Traditional Latin rite because it was this rite of Mass which got me to love more the Mass and the Priesthood. Initially, I intended to finish college first, but eventually, the thought bothered me so much that I could not ignore it anymore. So I took off a semester and visited a few options for seminary. I reluctantly visited the diocesan seminary, at the insistence of my mom, since I knew there was practically no chance of receiving any traditional formation in doctrine and spirituality, much less liturgy.
Soon after, I decided to apply for the traditional seminary I had already visited earlier that year and I got a letter back a month later that summer saying that I was accepted for the coming fall semester of that year. Even before receiving the letter, I began to have many doubts about the seminary I had chosen and I began thinking of dropping this discernment of a priestly vocation all together. After awhile I became very anxious and miserable. Thankfully, a good traditional priest encouraged me to just go and to trust in God’s providence. So I decided to go and at least give the seminary a try for a year. After the first year, I was still a little unsure about continuing. I was more certain that I had a priestly vocation but I was not sure if this was the right place to continue.
Over the next few years, it was a similar pattern, times of consolation contrasted with times of doubt, sometimes about whether I should try a different seminary or community, or whether I should leave and pursue marriage instead. In every case, it was the same kind of trick the devil used, insinuating doubts which led to anxiety and sadness. When I struggled with these doubts, I never felt peace, and I have learned that the loss of peace is always a good sign that it is not an inspiration from God, or at least, one cannot, at such times, make the best decision about one’s state of life.
By the time I was ordained a deacon, I had grown a bit more, and I had learned to trust more in Our Lord and His Will, which is almost always manifested in objective circumstances and through the teaching and advice of His ministers. We do not judge ourselves well because we do not observe ourselves from without but from within. This does not necessarily mean we see ourselves falsely, but often, we do not see the whole picture clearly.
I give thanks to God especially for my first spiritual director in the seminary, who was my director for almost all of my formation until the year of my diaconate ordination. Without a doubt, I would have left the seminary long ago, if it were not for his patient direction. My current spiritual director has also helped me tremendously. Another important thing I have learned in seminary, regarding the discerning of a priestly vocation, is that God does not call certain men to be priests because they are more holy or more worthy than others. As the pastor of my home parish put it one Sunday many years ago, “God does not choose the qualified, but He qualifies the chosen.” He may often choose men who are very virtuous, who are, thus, in a way, more prepared for such a vocation, but God chooses whom He wills for His own reason, which remains a mystery to us.
No one is worthy of the gift of the sacred priesthood. As St. Paul said, “God has chosen the weak things of the world, that he may confound the strong.” Likewise Our Lord Himself told St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you; for power is made perfect in infirmity.” So if you feel you are too sinful, do not be afraid, because if God wills that you be a priest, He will undoubtedly give you all the graces you need and more. When St. Peter protested “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man,” Our Lord responded, “Fear not. From now on you will catch men.”
I have chosen to keep this story as anonymous as possible, including the name of the seminary, for several reasons, but I do not think this will detract from the possible utility for those who read it. For all those young men out there who may read this, I appeal to you to be thoughtful and generous when considering the possibility of a priestly vocation. If you are not yet married, are in good health without great financial debts or family burdens, have at least average or normal intelligence, and are willing to do something great for Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, then why not contact a seminary and inquire about applying? Obviously preferences, but more importantly convictions, have a lot to do with one’s choice. For me, once I realized how much better the Traditional Liturgy was, and why it was better, I could not reasonably choose a seminary without it. So I decided to apply to a seminary where I would be ordained to offer the Traditional Liturgy. Why not offer God the best when you have a choice?
Regarding the desire for marriage, I recall another point that stayed with me from that first college retreat, when someone told us during the vocations talk, that many of the good qualities of a good priest are the same as those of a good father. Even if you may not at first have a great desire to be a priest, you may come to desire it while learning about the priesthood at seminary, or perhaps not, but nothing is lost in trying and much will be gained. If you leave the seminary after an honest try, chances are, you would end up being a better father if you married. I never heard a voice in my head telling me what to do, but I started discerning by taking an honest look at the circumstances in my life, then I investigated the requirements for entering seminary, and finally, I made up my mind to just go try the seminary.
The rest of the discernment is easy, in a way, because your spiritual director helps you a lot, and ultimately, your superiors who evaluate you end up deciding whether you are to be accepted for ordination. The only thing that remains after that is to trust Our Lord and say “yes” with all your heart, as Our Lady did when she agreed to become the mother of God saying, “Let it be done to me according to thy word.” Please pray for me as I prepare for my priestly ordination. May God bless you and may Our Lady guide you in your discernment!