This past Easter Vigil marked my fifth anniversary as a Catholic. My entrance into the Church coincided with the death of Venerable Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI to the Chair of Peter. In God's divine Providence, of course, there's no such thing as a coincidence. As Colin said in a previous entry, please pray for our Holy Father. Pope Benedict is, I think, being unfairly attacked in various quarters even though he's done much to combat and correct these scandals. Please pray that through these latest trials, he may be conformed ever more to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Eternal Priest. Please pray for him through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of all Priests.
A parishioner in my home parish told me yesterday that one of his sons is firmly resolved to become a priest. He's still very young but I encouraged him to pray much on his vocation, and in particular, pray that Mary may nurture it and strengthen it. And of course I told him to go with the diocese of Sacramento :) But the conversation reminded me of something that came up in my own vocational discernment and was brought up on the military discernment weekend several weeks ago: How does one decide between diocesan or religious priesthood?
These are just a few suggestions to bring to your prayer life and to a priest friend or spiritual director. Is there one religious order in particular that strongly appeals to you? Do you feel as if each order's charism has aspects that you find attractive but you can't settle on only one? The latter was how I felt. What helped me make my decision was that I found my vocational discernment kept returning me to parish life. In the war for souls, the parish is the front line. In the old days, diocesan priests used to be called the secular clergy. Now that doesn't mean the diocesan priest should be worldly. But as a diocesan priest you are called to be in the world but not of it, as our Lord said. What that means is you must learn enough about the world to speak to your flock where they are. The favorite example of my academic adviser was a bright, young, newly ordained priest who was assigned to a parish in the inner city where you had to literally step over drunks and crack addicts on your way to church. He said in one of his homilies, "As John Locke tells us..." Now do you think the average parishioner in a parish like that is overly familiar with the finer points of Locke's philosophy? That priest didn't know his audience. This does not mean that we ought to water down the Faith in our preaching; Lord knows there's been quite enough of that already over the past few decades. Nor does it necessarily mean we should always appeal to the lowest common denominator. It's a difficult balance to be sure, but it's one we have to strike nonetheless.
This raises another question: if each religious order has its own spirituality, what is the spirituality of the diocesan priest? I always tell everyone that since the priest is entrusted with the Word of God, he must know the Word of God. That means regularly reading and praying with Sacred Scripture. The priest alone has the power to confect the Eucharist; adoration of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament is a must. And as Jesus entrusted His mother to the beloved disciple, so must all priests take Mary into their hearts just as he took her into his home. It's easy to neglect all of that in the seminary what with all of the assigned reading, papers, and exams. I get up very early in order to do a Holy Hour with the Blessed Sacrament, to read Scripture, and say my rosary. I know myself well enough to know that if I don't do it early, I'll never do it. I'm firmly convinced that doing all of those things will help the priest accomplish far, far more in his apostolate than he could ever hope to do without them. Remember - it's Christ working through us. We just have to show up.