Empty altar

The Call to Priesthood


It has become a tradition to speak about vocations to the priesthood on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday. As a seminarian I have in past years visited other parishes in the diocese to talk about vocations and I have been invited here to offer a few thoughts for my home parish. Every child of God, in their baptism, receives the most important vocation of all – the call to holiness, the call to sainthood. Married life and single life are both of course paths to sanctity for the majority of Catholics, with every aspect of daily life becoming an opportunity for growth in holiness. But I want here to share a few brief reflections on my own story and, hopefully, in the process encourage one or two readers….

A young person growing up in our culture is surrounded by exciting opportunities – and also by considerable pressures. The opportunities for experiences come along with subtle pressures to conform to others’ ideas of a worthy lifestyle. 

The time when a young person leaves school and considers their options for the future is sometimes described as a time of ‘finding oneself’, maybe with gap year opportunities, often involving travelling to other parts of the world. The world is an amazing place and I consider myself very fortunate to have travelled a good deal. When, in my early twenties, I had the opportunity to live and work abroad for some time I jumped at the chance. I was not consciously going to ‘find myself’, I was going because I had been offered work in an unknown place, but being abroad certainly gave me space away from my usual existence to think more deeply about who I was and what I wanted. Looking back from my time living abroad – in the Holy Land, of all places – I realise that I was not in reality seeking to find myself but rather the One who makes sense of my life. I think I probably realised at that time that any number of experiences, however wonderful in their own way, wouldn’t really enrich me unless my life was rooted in Jesus Christ – he who gave me life in the first place.

I have a friend who often says, “Keep it real!” -  I think this is what every one of us is looking for – reality. There is constant stimulation on offer around us, especially in this affluent part of the world, but unless I am brought into contact with reality I will remain unsatisfied. It was in the Gospels and in the Mass that I found myself in touch with reality. Reading the words of Jesus I was aware in a mysterious way that I was not alone. Somehow the One who spoke those words was speaking them again right here and now – to me. I realised, too, that the Mass was not an empty ritual or just a gathering of like-minded people, but that each and every time Jesus Christ was giving me his own life – his body, blood, soul and divinity, so that he could live his life in and through me, too.

It was around the same time that a sense of ‘vocation’ began to grow within me. In time I realised that Jesus was inviting me to offer myself for service as a priest. I have been in the seminary for five years and have another two to go and I am pleased to say that I do not regret a day of it! To any young (or young-ish!) man who feels that just maybe Jesus is calling them to join Him in this particular way I simply would like to encourage you. Perhaps you have some lurking fear? That is natural! Who knows what is ahead? I myself have felt the fear of not being good enough, of wondering what might have been if I had pursued a more ‘normal’ course of life, a life I was enjoying very much! But when the Apostles first encountered Jesus he did not explain why he had chosen them, or what he had in store for them. He simply said, “Follow me!” and they did. Of course it is a risk, but that is part of the adventure! I have come to realise that, of course, I am indeed not ‘good enough’ to be a priest and never will be. Jesus chooses those whom he wants to use to continue his work. He will make use of any human gifts I happen to have – and every priest will have their own unique gifts, some obvious and some unseen – and transform them with His grace. My calling came as a surprise – it is not something to which we have a ‘right’ or that we choose for ourselves! What if I am not certain that I really want to do it? Well, the formation takes several years and you will discover for yourself whether or not it is what both you and God want! You will be journeying alongside other committed, open-minded and enthusiastic men who also just want to do the will of God.

And finally…priests do not appear from nowhere! God is calling young men right now to serve Him as priests (and older men as deacons) but unless every Catholic is doing their bit to create an environment where discerning one’s vocation in life is a natural part of life then it will be difficult for them to discover that call. It should be a joy for parents to encourage their children to discover how God wishes them to serve him. I thank God that my parents have always encouraged and supported me in discovering what God wants of me. Please make it a part of your life to pray for priests – and to encourage where appropriate.

                                                                                                       

Daniel Weatherley,  April 2013