This is a continuation of the last post with the same title but III.
A candidate cannot simply decide that he wants to be a priest because he wants to serve others. His mind and heart has to be set on Christ from whom he has received an undeniable invitation and calling to follow through the priesthood. That priests do not marry does not mean that any one called to be a priest must have no desire to be a father or a spouse. On the contrary, one must long to be a father and a spouse in order to be a good priest. A priest is the spiritual father of the flock and his bride is the Church. A man therefore does not destroy the desires by becoming a priest rather he fulfills them in a different way.
Catholic men can be called to priesthood from either a young age, or in the course of their teenage years, or in their adult years. Those called feel a very strong attraction (a falling in love) with the Catholic Church, the holy Mass, and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. The man called to priesthood comes to realize the way in which the priest is called to teach and pass on the Catholic Faith, especially in the celebration of the sacraments, preaching, and the witness of a life of prayer and loving service and wonders if Jesus is calling him to “lay down his life” for others as a priest.
In a society and culture that often seem to be moving further and further away from God (and from the true peace and happiness that only He can give), the man sees the need to proclaim and witness to the Good News of the Gospel, to proclaim the “Gospel of Life” in a “culture of death,” to lead others in working for peace and justice, and to stand for the Truth of Christ against the forces of darkness and evil in our world.4
It is expected that candidates for priesthood should have the desire to serve others. Wanting to serve others is something commendable but should not be the beginning and the end of one’s motive to become a priest. It is possible for widowers and men who never married to later see priesthood as an opportunity for service. The motivation is laudable but it is not enough in itself to show the presence of a true vocation to the priesthood. To experience a call from Christ is the key thing for one desiring to be a priest. The priests are not the most intelligent people. There are people who are better leaders than priests. Priests are not even the holiest people, but God chooses and qualifies whomever he wills. No man by himself is worthy of the office of priesthood.
A change takes place in the soul of the man who has been ordained a priest. He has been “re-created” to become an image of Jesus Christ who is the High Priest. When this happens through the laying on of hands, it is once for all – nothing can take it away. By prostrating, the men to be ordained are willing to let their old self die and through the laying on of hands, they are made anew. He becomes a priest, a mediator between God and man. God has placed him in that position. Something beautiful has taken place in the man.
These priests are necessary. They are necessary to continue the work of Christ’s redemption. They are necessary for the continued existence of the Catholic Church. If Christians are to exist, priests have to exist.
The priest at ordination receives powers. He receives the power to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. He is given the power to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. No one else has this power. The priest also receives the power to forgive sins.
How can a boy tell, and how can he begin? In the first place, there will be no special revelation, at least not normally. God will not hit a boy over the head and say: “I want you to be a priest!” God has given us our reason and he expects us to use it. He will illumine our reason and guide us gently if we give him the chance in prayer; but he expects us to use the guideposts he already has provided.
Let the boy ask himself: “Do I have a reasonably good health?” There is no need to be a superman, but a sickly constitution is not likely to persevere through twelve years of study beyond eight grade. Let the boy also ask himself, “Do I have a reasonably fair ability to study and to learn?” There is no need to be a genius, but the studies in the seminary are stiffer than the average high school and college outside. A consistently bad report card would point away from the likelihood of a vocation.
Then let the boy ask himself, “Do I go to confession often and do I receive holy communion frequently?” If the answer is no, this is a defect that quickly can be remedied, just start receiving more often now. Finally, the boy should ask himself: “Do I live habitually in the state of sanctifying grace; do I avoid mortal sin?” If the answer to this is negative, this defect also can quickly be remedied, with the help of prayer and the sacraments. For a boy to consider the priesthood, it isn’t necessary to be a saint. If that were necessary, we would have few priests. But it is necessary that he want to be better than he is. Good health, intelligence, and virtue – these gifts of nature and grace are prerequisites to a call to the priesthood.5
The Catholic Church has come under attack because she does not ordain women. Some have interpreted this as the Church not valuing women. But they are mistaken. They misunderstand the nature of the priesthood. Ordination does not just give a man permission to perform the functions of a priest; it imparts to him a spiritual character that makes him a priest. This character is indelible; it is permanent. Christ made the Apostles priests who were all men. The Apostles in turn ordained men to be priests. The ordination of men hence has been an unbroken tradition that goes back to the Apostles and Christ himself. Christ made his choice and the Church is bound by it. The Church cannot ordain women. This is not a matter of gender inequality but of functional difference between the complementary sexes. Today some mistake functional difference for gender inequality.
This write-up continues in the next post.
- org, Is God Calling Me?, www.brooklynpriests.org/discerningsigns.html, Accesed April 8, 2016.
- Leo J. Trese, 2007, The Faith Explained, Criterion Publishers, Lagos, 540 – 541