by Fr. Tommy Lane
What is a Vocation to the Priesthood or Religious Life?
What is a vocation to the priesthood or religious life? How do I know if I have a vocation? It is difficult to describe a vocation because, in a sense, a vocation is a mystery. It does not come dramatically like Paul being knocked down on the road to Damascus. God usually works in very ordinary ways. A vocation begins with a sort of niggling desire to be a priest or religious. When can this occur? It can happen at any time during oneís life. For some it begins as early as National School (Elementary School), for others it begins at Second Level (High School), for others it begins during College, increasingly now it occurs for many when they already have begun a career. I said it is a niggling feeling. Some may for a time try to deny that they have this desire to become a priest or religious, some may even deny it for years but they eventually admit to themselves that they will have no peace unless they Ďtry out this vocation.í So they go to their local priest or the convent or religious house or monastery and say they want to become a priest or religious. Eventually they meet the bishop or religious superior in charge of vocations and they have a chat. If they are accepted by the bishop for the diocese or by the religious superior for the congregation they then go to the seminary or house of formation.
What happens in a seminary or house of formation? In the seminary or house of formation one prepares for the priesthood or religious life. The day begins with morning prayer and Mass. There is also time for meditation. After breakfast lectures begin. Study forms a large part of oneís day in the seminary. There is also time for sport or whatever hobbies one follows. There is evening prayer and night prayer. In the seminary you live in community. By that I mean that although you have your own private room you join with the others in the seminary for prayer, study and meals. It is a community life and naturally close friendships build up. When someone decides to go to the seminary it does not mean that he has definitely decided he wants to become a priest or religious. It means that he will try out the life to see if it suits him. If it does not suit he leaves the seminary.
What are the vows that a priest or religious takes? A diocesan priest takes two promises or vows at ordination; vows of celibacy and obedience. The vow of celibacy means that you draw your support from the Lord while married people rely on their spouse for support. It does not mean that priests or religious do not have hearts so they have a wide variety of friends. While the media devote attention to the vow of celibacy and not to the vow of obedience many priests will tell you that in practice the vow of obedience is more demanding in some situations. The vow of obedience should not mean blindly following the wishes of the bishop or superior but together with the bishop or superior discerning what is best for the kingdom of God at this time. Diocesan priests take two vows, celibacy and obedience. Religious take a third vow, poverty. This does not mean that they are poor but it means they do not own anything individually but everything is owned by the community. Everything is communal. Religious call the vow of celibacy a vow of chastity so the three vows religious take are poverty, chastity and obedience.
Arenít you giving up a lot and leaving a lot behind when you become a priest or religious? Not if you have faith. If you do not have faith you will set your heart on money, on your house, on your career and you will want the biggest and best of everything. But when you have faith you are not leaving behind all these things, you are leaving behind some things to have better or higher. The reality is that we are all sons and daughters of God. Maybe many people do not realize this or do not live as if they are Godís children. If they do not, they are out of touch with reality and think you have given up so much. As a priest or religious you are in touch with reality, that we are sons and daughters of God and know that you are not leaving behind anything or becoming out of touch with reality. You leave some things for better because you are in touch with reality.
What is the most important work of a priest? While a priest means different things to different people, a priest is above all, one who celebrates the sacraments for us. It is the priest who makes Christ present every day on the altars of the world as he celebrates the Eucharist. The priest is present at the most important moments of a personís life; baptism, marriage, sickness, death and bereavement and many other occasions. For one to represent Christ to so many people in so many different situations, it is essential that the priest or religious be a person of prayer. Prayer and the Eucharist are the most important times of every day in the life of a priest and religious.
Isnít it much more difficult to be a priest now since the Church does not have the same respect and there are fewer who practice their faith? I always look for my joy in knowing that I am doing what is best for the kingdom of God. Whether 10% or 99% of people appreciate what I do is not the decisive factor in whether I am happy or unhappy. Because I am human it is a consideration but it is not the decisive factor. I do feel sorry for people who do not understand why faith in God is important but the decisive factor in determining my happiness is knowing that I am living according to the will of God whether others appreciate that or not.
Isnít the life of a priest a lonely life? Sometimes it can be but I do not find it a problem. Even married people can feel lonely sometimes. Also look at the large number of people in every parish who live on their own. To be a priest you need to be happy with yourself and with living on your own. If that is not a problem then loneliness will not be a problem.
Havenít the scandals given priesthood and religious life a lot of bad publicity? Yes they have but remember that only a small percentage of priests or religious were involved. Donít forget the vast majority of good priests and religious who get no publicity. Donít tar all with the same brush.
What gives me the greatest pleasure as a priest? There is great emphasis now on money and possessions but I can honestly say that nothing gives me greater pleasure than helping someone allow God come more into their lives. Therefore an important part of my own ministry is giving Bible courses. Hundred of people have completed my 20 week Bible course, either here in the diocese or outside the diocese by correspondence. Because I consider prayer to be so important I recorded CDs and tapes to help people to pray and many people have written to me to say how helpful they found them. Perhaps it would be OK to read you excerpts,
Dear Fr Tommy, I am so grateful to you for this Bible Course. It was exactly what I needed at this time and kept me afloat during some dark times. The meditation tapes are a wonderful help. I look on the tape as my greatest help for prayer. I imagine each tape as a ripple of energy going out to bring us all closer to God and each other.
Someone who attended my course in one venue in this diocese said he/she had wasted life until attending my Bible course.
As I said nothing gives me greater pleasure than helping someone allow God come more into their lives. Those were just some incidents from my own life but every priest or religious would have their own very different and interesting stories to tell.
Invitation to consider the priesthood or religious life. If you have a niggling feeling that you would like to be a priest or religious why not go and talk to us about it? I ask young people to consider giving yourselves for Jesus in a life that is really worthwhile. You are not leaving things behind, you are leaving some things for better. In his letter for today (1998), Pope John Paul II, invites men and women to consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. These are his words, ĎListen to the invitation of Jesus: "Come and see". Give your witness to Christ in the ecclesial community, according to the totally personal and unrepeatable plan which God has for you. Let the Holy Spirit, who has been poured into your hearts, guide you to the truth and make you witnesses to authentic freedom and love. Do not let yourselves be overwhelmed by easy and fallacious myths of fleeting human success and riches. On the contrary, do not be afraid to follow the demanding and courageous paths of charity and generous commitment.í
More homilies for Vocation Sunday
Related Homilies: It’s okay to have nothing and be unworthy - Jesus does the rest 2011
excerpt of homily on seminary formation
stories about priesthood