Priesthood

How do I Know God Wants Me to be a Priest?

Finding the meaning of life?

Love gives life its meaning. Pope John Paul II said as much: “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This is why Christ the Redeemer fully reveals man to himself” (Redemptor Hominis, 10).

And at the heart of loving is giving. It is only in giving of ourselves that our lives will be truly fulfilled. How does this apply to priesthood? A priest gives himself in order to give life to others. As ‘Father’, he brings life to the family of God through his intimate relationship with his bride, the Church. A man does not enter the priesthood because he is escaping ‘the real world’, or because he cannot find a girlfriend, or because he cannot think of what else to do. He becomes a priest because he has a sense that God is calling him to have a particular part to play in the work to save souls for eternal life.

So how do I know if God is calling me to be a priest? The following pointers might be helpful.

A desire to be a priest

Maybe you can’t explain why you have this desire, it’s a part of you, like falling in love. You just know that this is what seems right. You imagine yourself as a priest or consecrated person and it seems to fit, even if it makes you afraid or you think it would be impossible. There is a joy and excitement when you think about it, a sense that this is the right path. The idea keeps coming back – in your prayer, your daydreaming, your imagination. Some scripture passage or sermon seems to be directed at you – about the priesthood, or the call of the disciples, or service. These passages seem to stand out for you and have a kind of clarity; as if a light comes on; or it warms your heart; or it feels as if someone is pointing at you.

The desire may be long-term or gradual or recent

There are different kinds of desire. (i) Some people have always wanted to be a priest or consecrated person: they cannot remember a time when they did not have this desire; they pretended to be priests or consecrated persons when they were kids; it seems to be a part of them. (ii) Some people have gradually wanted to be priests or consecrated persons: it has grown over time; or it has come and gone; but now seems to be a bit stronger and a bit more enduring. (iii) Some people have always wanted NOT to be a priest or consecrated person. This might sound strange, but there are people who have always been fighting it, resisting, walking away, giving excuses why not; and this is because deep down they have always known it is a part of them; and at some point they realise that, in fact, people without vocations do not normally go around thinking about why they don’t have a vocation! (iv) And some people suddenly want to be priests or consecrated persons: they have gone through a life changing spiritual experience; it has never occurred to them before but now it does; the priesthood or consecrated life is something new and sudden and unexpected, but very real and almost overpowering. This can happen, but these people need to be very cautious, because after a big adult conversion experience it is easy to confuse a desire to live a radical new Christian life (which is important for all people) with a desire to be a priest or consecrated person (which is only one way of responding to this new life, and perhaps not the right one). This is why the Church asks new converts to have time to settle into their new Catholic life for a few years before seeking ordination or consecrated life.

An admiration for priests you know

You sense a goodness and holiness in their lives. You have an attraction to something they have or something they represent; even if you can’t imagine being one. They seem to be living a life worth living, in a way that speaks to you. You are drawn to them. Or perhaps you do not have any explicit desires to be a priest or consecrated person, but you are attracted to many of the things that are involved in their lives. You have a desire to serve people in different ways, or to pass on the faith, or to pray with and for others. Maybe you find less satisfaction in your work, not because it is wrong, but you feel it is not enough.

Sense of being pulled or pushed toward priesthood

This can be true even if you do not seem to have any real personal desire. In fact it might seem like something you don’t want to do, something you are fighting against. The will of God and not your own will. It is a nagging feeling that you should or could become a priest or consecrated person, that seems to come from nowhere, uninvited; an idea you can’t get out of your mind. It might leave you cold, or even repel you – in the sense that your instincts and gut fight against it. You may find yourself making excuses to yourself (and even to others) about why you shouldn’t follow it, raising a list of objections, making clear all the signs that show you couldn’t possibly do this. Perhaps you couldn’t! But it is strange that you keep fighting and resisting it (when other people just don’t bother thinking about it). It’s as if part of you knows you should; there is an inner sense of duty, or call – even if it is reluctant.

An inner desire to pray more and to take the faith more seriously

You just find that you want to pray more and to deepen your faith. Your love for Christ is growing, and your love for the Church. More and more you desire to give your life to God completely. Of course this is true for many holy lay-people! But it can often be the beginning of a vocation to priesthood or consecrated life. You are not sure why, but you have a feeling that you can’t hold anything back. For some people the idea of celibacy comes to mean more and more – not because they dislike marriage, but because they feel called to give their life wholeheartedly to serve God and others, in a way that would be difficult within the commitments of marriage and family life.

Other people affirm your vocation

When you talk to people about the possibility of priesthood or consecrated life, especially committed Catholics, they don’t look as if you are mad. They affirm it, and say ‘Of course, I could have told you that years ago’. They encourage you. In other words, from the outside, this vocation also seems to make sense – it is not just a subjective sign for you, but it is beginning to be a more objective sign to others too. Perhaps people who don’t know you even come up and suggest the priesthood or consecrated life to you, out of the blue! The simple fact that someone unexpectedly suggests it to you, or jokes about it with you, may be the first sign of a call. They may see something you can’t see, or something you are not prepared to admit that you see. You shouldn’t assume that every person speaking to you is a messenger from God, and other people can sometimes get things wrong – but the suggestions others make might sometimes help you to reflect in a more open way.

Support from a wise person who knows you well

You may not have a formal ‘spiritual director’ (someone you speak to regularly about your faith), but perhaps there is someone wise and trustworthy that you have chatted to about your vocation over a period of time; you have talked things through with them and they know you quite well. If they affirm what you have said, and it seems to them that you may have a vocation, then this is another more public sign that it may be true. It could be a sign to take things further forward.

A feeling that you are not worthy to be a priest

This might seem like a paradox, but it can be true. Sometimes someone may have a deep feeling that the priesthood or consecrated life is too much of an ideal for them, that they are not worthy, or not good enough, or not capable enough. These feelings can be a sign of humility, an indication that someone has a healthy sense of their own limitations, and a high sense of the dignity of this calling. The feeling of unworthiness may, strangely, be a sign that someone has a true appreciation for what this vocation means, and that they will be open to asking for God’s help and the help of the Church. It would be worrying if someone thought any kind of Christian commitment was easy; or if they thought they could achieve it through their own efforts.

An attraction to marriage and family life

This might seem a strange point. Obviously, an attraction to marriage and family life is not a sign that you should become a priest or consecrated person. But it is true that someone with a deep and strong pull towards marriage can be called by the Lord to become a priest or consecrated person. God is not playing games and asking you to do what is impossible – to be married and not married at the same time. Rather, you may have a very natural desire for marriage and family, it’s part of who you are as a man or woman, but the Lord might be calling you to let go of that so that you can discover another way of giving your life in love – as a priest or consecrated person. You need to look at all the other signs above; but this section is just to show you that an attraction to marriage does not necessarily mean you should rule out another vocation.

In all this, take courage, because the Lord is on your side and he will never leave you alone.

 (Photo: mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)