A Guide for those not Discerning (Part 1)
Sisters & Brothers,
I'm a 36 year old discerning a call to the vocation of priesthood. I get a lot of questions every day and I thought I'd compile a list of the questions I get a lot and try and give you some answers or insight into what this all means. This list isn't comprehensive and really just encompasses the most popular questions I get. I am sure there will be another post made as I travel down this road of discernment. Enjoy!
Q: What did your parents & family say?
A: My parents, brother and extended family have been amazing. Lots of questions for sure but at the end of the day I truly believe that my mother and father just want me to be happy. I am. And while I didn't need their blessing (being 36 and all) I wanted it and they gave it to me. My brother said "what took so long?". We laughed, I explained, we laughed some more but he understood.
Q: Aren't you too old to be a priest?
A: No, in fact the average of a seminarian being ordained this year was 35 according the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and their Annual Class Report. The report even goes on to say that the average ordinand thought of becoming a priest around the age of 17 (the same as me!) and were ordained or schedule to be ordained 18 years later.
Q: What can I do to support you?
A: If you pray then pray for me. If you don't pray send me some positive energy. While I'm the happiest and most at peace I've ever been I'm also simultaneously crapping my pants. Don't stop being you be the person you've always been in my life. Know that I appreciate you and everything you are. Hugs are also awesome and contrary to popular belief I love giving them and receiving them.
Q: Does going to seminary mean you're going to be a priest?
A: The whole idea behind seminary (beyond priestly formation and studies) is to give the discernment process a high octane injection and for you to be able to focus on where God is calling you exactly. As you can imagine for an older vocation such as me this is quite the big life change. Leaving a career behind to pursue something that might not come to fruition is harrowing but as far as I can tell and feel I am being called to be a priest.
Q: What if seminary doesn't work out?
A: Well one thing is for sure, I want to be involved in the church in some way, shape or form. Teaching, working, a priest, etc. It'll all work itself out.
Q: You have to quit your job to go to seminary?
A: Yes. My boss already knows of this plan and I appreciate all of the support he's given me. I couldn't ask for a better boss and feel blessed to have him in my life.
Q: I always thought you should be a priest, what took so long?
A: This isn't an easy question to answer. Long story short I wasn't ready to answer God's call. I was sure I was being called at least 18 years ago but something in my heart kept putting that call on the back burner, until I could no longer do that and here we are. I've received many kind words from friends like: "you're going to look great in a collar", "the church is lucky to have someone like you", "I always knew you'd become a priest I just didn't know when". Your kinds words are much appreciated and affirming. Thank you.
Q: Are you going to try and convert me? Do I need to act differently around you?
A: No and no. If you want to have a conversation about faith me then I'm more than willing to have that conversation with you. Please don't act differently around me. You're who you are and I don't want to spend time with someone who is constantly worrying about acting properly around me. Just be you, that's why I love you in the first place.
Q: Do you pray all the time?
A: Short answer? Yes. Long answer: there are many different types of prayer that I observe on a daily basis. The rosary, morning prayer, evening prayer, night prayer (compline), contemplative silence just to name a few. Prayer is a major part of my life, much like you watch TV at night with your family, I pray at night to my God.
Q: Do you go to church every day?
Q: Should I go to church?
A: This isn't my call. Do you feel you should go to church? If so then I'd encourage you to go. Haven't been in awhile? Find a parish that suits what you're looking for and welcome home. This could be an entire post in and of itself (and probably will be).
Q: Why do you want to be a priest with all of the other child abusers?
A: This is a pretty broad statement that I'd challenge you on immediately. Due to a few bad apples the catholic church has suffered great harm. This hasn't shaken my faith and if anything it strengthen's my conviction even more that the catholic church needs good men to help lead her out of these dark times. I'd like to be one of those good men.
Q: Did God really call you? What was that like?
A: I didn't hear a voice in my head that was clear and concise that said "Hey Jeff, you should be a priest!". My calling was more of a feeling of peace and a moment of frisson that I'll never forget. While I knew I was being called 18 years ago that was more of a subconscious poke that was happening in my heart and soul. This past April in McLean Virginia when I was spending time with Father Mike I was sitting in a chapel on the campus of Marymount University listening to Father Mike celebrate mass. At that point in the weekend It was Sunday night and before the mass started I knelt and prayed to God. The word that kept coming to my mind was 'surrender'. So in silence I prayed and said "Jesus, I'm here, I love you and my entire heart and soul is open to whatever you will of me". At that moment I felt a great peace wash over me and Father Mike walked by me. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, I got goose bumps all over my arms ad a chill went right up my spine. I knew then beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was being called. To this day whenever I think about being a priest I get butterflies in my stomach, a smile stretches across my face and I feel a great peace wash over me again.
Q: But you weren't a practicing Catholic for almost 18 years, how do you go from that to a priest?
A: Great question! You're correct it was 18 years of being a catholic who wasn't going to church. But not a day went by when I didn't think about it. The Lord works in mysterious ways and I've learned to not question the path He's taken me down.
Q: Do you really trust in God to lead you down the right path?
A: Yes I do. I'm not afraid and I trust in God 100%. I have no reason not to and until that day comes He'll always have the wheel.
Q: Will you pray for me?
A: Of course.