I had someone ask me the other day how old I was and after discovering my age (24) noted, "Man, you sure are young to be making such a decision." I have definitely heard this before, mind you. But it struck me that people continue to think that to decide that you want to become a priest, give your life completely in the service of the Church and never marry is something difficult and maybe even impossible at such a young age. Well, can anyone really make this kind of decision?
I think to understand the decision to enter the seminary at a young age we must refute the modern view that experience equals knowledge equals wisdom. The old are not necessarily wise because they are experienced. St. Therese at 18 was a lot wiser than women twice her age. And I know adult men who have no wisdom to impart at all. Wisdom is not simply life lived. Rather wisdom is a gift from God, the knowledge of what is true, good, and right...including what we are called to do in this life. Knowledge of what we are to do with our lives in a grace from God which we can and should ask for in this life.
There are many a priest who entered the seminary at age 14 as well as saints like St. Catherine, St. Therese, St. Padre Pio, St. Maximillian Kolbe, and more who knew at a young age what they were called to be. Experience does not necesarily provide all components to discovering a vocation.
That is not to say that experience is not important. I think it is wise to get involved in ministry at a parish before entering the seminary as well as doing different forms of social justice ministry like work with the homeless, disadvantaged, disabled, and with right to life type ministry. All these experiences helped to contribute to my own decision to enter the seminary. As well, I would seriously suggest trying out some type of work that is similar to what you would want to do if you did not enter the seminary. That is actually a question on the application to the seminary and diocese. What would you be doing if you did not enter the seminary? So experience is important but I would be careful of those who suggest you must turn in every other direction first. So many young men and women are already doing just that...turning every which way to avoid answering the call that will bring them the greatest joy in their lives...becoming a priest or sister or brother for Jesus Christ.
In the end I think the best answer to the statement by someone questioning your ability to accept a life long vocation is "of course not". Why? I have found something worth giving my life for. My greatest possession I give up, I sell, so that I may buy the pearl of great price, so that I may answer the call deep within my heart to say yes to Jesus Christ whose words, "Follow me" continue to resonate within my soul. Yes, a priest gives up marriage and a young man gives up the best years of his life. But he has made the greatest investment, one that can never fail, he has said yes to his maker to shine forth the light of Christ into the world. He has chosen rightly and though he gives all he has, he receives a 100 fold in return. AMDG.