I recently read from St. Therese's The Story of a Soul and she has this story of charity where as a young novice she volunteered to take this old nun from the chapel to the refectory every evening. Each night this nun would complain and groan at every slight offense - and complained that St. Therese either moved too fast or too slow. There was no pleasing this grumpy nun. It was tough work.
Though I would love at this point to highlight St. Therese's continual desire to find founts of grace to grow her soul into union with God, the beauty of this story is one day where she is leading this old decrepit (hey, this is the wording she used :) ) sister on a dark cold day in a hallway covered with bare brick and she receives this vision of a warm well-lit lovely furnished drawing room with young well dressed women discussing worldly things. In this moment, God shines his light of truth on her life, showing her the fading colors of this other life and the beauty of the life she lives.
We do not often get reminders that a life filled with charity, and as a result much suffering, fulfills the will of God most completely and is the beauty beyond all comparison. And it also becomes quite penitential. Charity, truly lived, forces one to love and live with the impossible - like close living conditions, an unfriendly roommate, a bad work environment, selfish parents, or whatever other cross. It pulls us out of ourselves and teaches us to love as Christ loved. It does what penance does, draws us out of ourselves.
But I will be honest. This image St. Therese gives us is not exactly the temptation we face today. Rather it may be good to think of going out dating beautiful women, having a great successful career with lots of money, and taking amazing trips around the world. Think about the life that the current culture sells. Is it really full of joy and happiness or an empty delusion? The opposite is finding yourself waking up at 3am in the morning to rush off to the hospital to comfort and pray with a dying elderly man. I often think at a moment like that of Tolkien's words from Lord of the Rings:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king
Ok I only really care about these first words but this idea that so often the great beauty in life is hidden in darkness and not revealed to those who do not want to see. But the life of a priest is one that shines brightly. And I think it was St. Jean Vianney who said:
Oh, How great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office until he is in heaven. If he understood it on earth he would die, not of fear, but of love. The other benefits of God would be of no avail to us without the priest. What would be the use of a house full of gold if you had nobody to open the door. The priest has the key to the heavenly treasures; it is he who opens the door; he is the steward of the good God, the distributor of His wealth.
There is something wonderful here. An easy temptation to fall into is that the life of the priesthood is not the treasure we seek and there is so much else we would rather have. The devil loves to use this because it works so well. Worldly things are an easy sell. And not without reason. All things, even those things we should not have, have some good in them as they find their creation in God. Yet it is when things are darkened or used for an evil purpose that they remain good in our eyes even as they are soaked in sin.
We must be wary and on guard for the reason we seek what we seek. What do we desire when we want a life of fame, money, and power? And obviously it may not even be that obvious. Even a desire for family can be done for a selfish reason. I know I had to discern these same temptations. I remember one day soon after I entered the seminary taking a day retreat and hiking up into the hills. As I sat down I thought to myself, "What am I doing here? I'm young and intelligent. There are so many other things I could be doing." But I realized there is nothing better than this. As priest, one brings souls to Christ. His work seems so simple yet it is so utterly important. Simply understanding this calling was and continues to be enough to brush away any questions in my heart. The vocation to become a priest may not be that which shines brightly in our day and age but it shines before Christ...and that's what matters in the end.