Yesterday the seminarians from St. Patrick's went to St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo. This was my first time to one of our annual Vocation Days. We seminarians were divided into different groups along with priests, deacons, and religious to visit different classes and give brief talks on our vocations. I realized I still haven't posted my own vocation story here in full yet. Yesterday I was forced to condense it into five minutes or less. I think my own attraction to the priesthood can be summed up by my desire to be another Christ for others. The priest is not his own, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen liked to say. What that means is the priest belongs in an especial way to God. Our model is Christ the High Priest, and like Him we must offer ourselves to the Father as both priest and victim. The one point I emphasized repeatedly in all of my talks was that when Father Augustine or Monsignor Aquinas is up there offering the Mass, that's not actually Father or Monsignor - that is Christ. When you're confessing, it isn't Father or Monsignor who is saying, "Ego te absolvo," - that is Christ Himself forgiving you.
That's a serious responsibility, and you, O good and pious soul, are probably thinking that you are in no way worthy of such a sublime state of life. That's a good sign. There's nothing God can do with anyone who thinks he is worthy of the priesthood. But it is precisely in our weakness that His strength is made manifest. If I am ever ordained, God willing, I do not want to turn the Mass into a showcase of my own personality. Except for the homily, the Mass is not my own, nor any one person's. It is the Sacrifice of Calvary reenacted in an unbloody manner. My job, if I am a priest, is to stay out of our Lord's way and do everything as His Church asks me to do it: Say the black, do the red.
I'm struck by how so many generous young men and women spend so much time and energy agonizing over whether they have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, but hardly anyone puts themselves through the same level of discernment for marriage. Have you ever noticed that? Marriage is a sacrament and vocation too. The majority of Catholics are called to marriage, but not all of us. St. John Bosco once said he thought that one in four Catholics had a vocation to the priesthood or religious life! (And he new a thing or two about ministering to youth.) Now your salvation probably does not hinge on finding the correct vocation - if it did, God would make it absolutely unmistakable to everyone which was the state of life they ought to pursue. But if a man whom God created for the priesthood enters holy matrimony, it will be like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole: he won't quite fit. He can grit his teeth and persevere, but is that really a healthy attitude? Would it be fair to his wife? Some generous, faithful men come to the seminary only later to find out they don't fit the life as well as they thought they would, and so decide to leave.
And there's nothing wrong with that. I have all the respect in the world for someone who takes the possibility of a call seriously enough to try out the life but decide it isn't for them, and I think they are very pleasing to God as well. Our Lord loves us and wants us to be happy, and so He would not call us to a life where we would not or could not be happy. The priesthood is not a job among jobs - if you think of it so, then you would never survive. It's a state of life. It requires sacrifice to be sure, but God's grace more than makes up for whatever worldly things you must give up. You will never have biological children, but you will have hundreds of thousands of spiritual children.
Before you make any decision on the priesthood, religious life, or marriage, you must ask yourself if it's what you really want. Our Lord does not force Himself upon anyone. A priest of our diocese, Fr. Matthew Blank, accompanied me to one of the classes yesterday and he said he had always assumed he wanted to get married. He never really questioned that assumption before, but when he did, he realized that perhaps what he really wanted was to be a priest. God loves you and wants you to be close to Him. Which vocation do you think will help you grow closer to God?
I'll close with two items. First, if you ever read or hear me speak on vocations and you think to yourself, "Priesthood? Religious life? Uh uh, no way, not a chance," then that's fine. I would just ask you to keep an open mind, pray, and go to Mass. If you're thinking, "I just don't know. Maybe. But I have so many problems. And I don't know if I could give up marriage," then I suggest getting in contact with a vocations director anyway. Maybe you're right. But then again, perhaps God might be prompting you. You'll never know one way or the other unless you do. If not now, when? If not you, who?
Second, yesterday was the Solemnity of St. Joseph, one of my favorite saints and an excellent role model for all Catholic men no matter what their state in life. St. Joseph, of all the men who have ever lived, was the closest to Jesus and Mary. God chose St. Joseph to be the head of the Holy Family, to live in the closest intimacy with Jesus and Mary for thirty years. That's no ordinary Joe. Pope St. Pius X wrote the following prayer to St. Joseph which I use in my own spiritual life:
"O glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with the purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example O Patriarch , St. Joseph. Such shall be my watchword in life and in death. Amen."