A student asked me today how I knew that I had a vocation to the priesthood. Maybe it would help others to hear the story too;

I was a student at Bob Jones University. In my sophomore year I had found my way to the Anglican Church, and I was praying about what I should do with my life. I can remember not having any idea what I was supposed to do, and I spent time on my knees asking God for guidance. It was then that I got the idea that I should be a saint.

Okay, not only was this ridiculously presumptious (but give me a break I was twenty one) but I’m ashamed to say that I thought this was a good idea because I wouldn’t have to do anything in order to become a saint. In hindsight, I can see that my Protestant ‘sola gratia sola fide’ upringing had fostered in my heart a sort of Quietism. I was simply a leaf in the tide, and if I submitted to God he would do it all. This is true in one way, but like every heresy it is only true in one way, and the reason it is a heresy is that it stresses one truth to the exclusion of others.

Within this context I sought God’s more specific guidance. I had a professor at Bob Jones who successfully combined his academic career with leading services at the Anglican Church, so I thought it would be neat to be an academic, wear a tweed jacket and a bow tie and perhaps teach English and maybe even smoke a pipe and ride a bike to classes. On the weekends I would go to the Anglican Church and take services. All very quaint.

Then one Sunday evening in my senior year I went to the Anglican Church for Evensong. As we knelt in prayer in the warm Spring evening the words of the prayer were read out. We asked that we might serve God, “with simplicity, beauty and singleness of mind.” God shot the words ‘singleness of mind’ straight to my heart, and I knew that I needed to be a priest.

Does this mean I was called to be a Catholic priest? Not necessarily. I was a Catholic layman for ten years before that one became clear. The long story does not need to be told here, but it was a frustrating and confusing time. I felt a vocation to the priesthood, and those around me confirmed it, but nothing happened. For ten years those in charge pushed me from one meeting to another and nothing ever happened. Finally I had a meeting with a kind Catholic priest who listened to the whole long tale of one rejection after another. He looked at me and said, “Do you want to be a Catholic priest?”

My reply, “To tell you the truth Father, yes and no. If it means working with the bunch of idiots I’ve met so far who are in charge then no thanks. But it it means I would be able just once to say Mass or hear a confession, then I want to say ‘yes’ because that must surelyl be the most precious thing any man can possibly do with the short time he has been given on earth.” The priest thought for a moment and said, “I think you should reconsider.”

“Reconsider ‘yes’ or reconsider ‘no’?” I asked.

“Oh! Reconsider ‘yes'” he cried, “We need more priests like you.”

Ah well, there’s the tale–at least there’s the short version. If you are reading this and feel a call to the priesthood or the religious life be prepared–its’ likely to be a rough ride; but then that’s all part of the bargain isn’t it? If you want it easy don’t even think about a vocation.

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  • Father,Why do you think you kept getting the runaround? Were you perceived as too conservative, or did they view you negatively since you are a convert?

  • Father, I think that it’s about time you published that book about your vocation and conversion.Then next time, when someone asks, you can just sell them the book! =)

  • Father, I thought that you story was very similar to my own. Though I’m not a priest or even in the seminary, there have been moments in my life when I just wanted God to steer His own course for me. In many ways this was the case during my first year of college; to make a long story short, I felt like a fish out of water. But then again I think God uses such incidents to paint a picture of where we should go. I haven’t seen the finished product yet, but hopefully, through the grace of God, I’ll be able to make up my mind. And the priest was right, we need more priests like you!

  • Matt, from a human perspective I could come up with a lot of reasons why I was given the runaround. They would be a combination of suspicion, liberals who thought I was a dangerous conservative, genuine hesitancy to take on a married man with a young family, incompetence, lack of imagination, etc.From the other point of view perhaps God was still doing some necessary work on me. I guess he had to keep working backstage before the curtain could go up.Thanks for the encouragement Andrew. It’s on the to do list, but right now I’m working on ‘The Gargoyle Code’ to come out for Lent next year.

  • I know someone who is a married, former Protestant who just crossed the Tiber about a year and a half ago that would make a wonderful priest – I thought being married was a huge sticking point?Not trying to be antagonistic, but curious as to how this was able to happen for you…Peace.

  • The Pastoral Provision is a special process whereby a Catholic bishop can apply to Rome for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy allowing certain former Anglican and Episcopalian ministers to be ordained as Catholic priests. Some Lutherans and Methodists have also been ordained. Your friend can find out more by going to the ‘pastoral provision’ website.

  • Jeron

    Thank you, Father, for reminding us that the path on one’s vocation isn’t always (or even supposed to be) clear and straightforward. Gives one a bit of hope.

  • “…like every heresy it is only true in one way, and the reason it is a heresy is that it stresses one truth to the exclusion of others.”So well put.

  • And you know what I find sad? You have a true calling to be a priest, yet so many Roman Catholic men have to make a choice between being married and serving God. I wish the Church would open the door to men who may find themselves where you were at. We have a married convert priest in my Archdiocese and he is really good and solid. I wish others had the same opportunity.

  • Anonymous

    The runaround? I have approached at least five different priests for ongoing spiritual direction. After a surprisingly great first meeting with all of them – not a single one showed up for the second meeting. I even told the last three about how horrible an experience I had trying to find a good spiritual director. After promising that they ‘always’ keep their schedules, they all missed them too. That’s the runaround!!! I know how you feel.

  • A good spiritual director is very hard to find because he’s a humble person who doesn’t think he would be a good spiritual director….Keep hunting is my advice. That’s part of the quest.

  • *sighs* Father, it’s the waiting that’s hard for me. I don’t know when to make right noises. I had been waiting so long to be united with the Catholic Church, and yet it was ‘nothing new’ (and no disrespect intended) because it was the faith of my childhood schooling, and the only complete expression of the Church I knew. Any advice?(I suppose the reason I ask is because this is a very good post, Father.)Re SDs – I know what you mean. I know a Priest who described how the priesthood is sadly similar to all professions in terms of how good people are – he was describing how 10% are shockingly awful, how 80% are just good, honest people, dilligently going about their work, and that the there are 10% who are truly saintly; he’s so humble, he doesn’t realise he’s in the top 10%.

  • Anonymous

    Tough for the cradle catholic who senses a vocation to both marriage and priesthood.

  • Anonymous

    Two thoughts about spiritual direction:1. Given the shrinking number of priests and the growing number of Catholics, the absolutely essential tasks of priestly ministry must come first, and if there is any time left over, then the many good but non-essential things may follow. Spiritual direction is not a sacrament, and we barely have enough priests around to administer the sacraments.2. Some souls are so obtuse that they cannot be directed, even when they seek direction. Perhaps five batters up and out suggests the need for as much honest introspection as criticism of the clergy for being unworthy of their ministry.

  • As a former Pentecostal ( a very non liturgical movement) pastor (20 years) I have been told by our Bishop that it is out of the question that I may become a priest. Being a new convert (the one I think m2 may have been referring to and if not then one in the very same position) I would not even be considered for two years, the I would face 8 years of training –as none of my training nor practical experience would be counted towards me as righteousness 😉 — and that would place me at about age 57 or 58 when I entered the priesthood.So, lack of priests or not it’s a No for me.The Vocational Director for our diocese happens to be my pastor so my information source is accurate.By times I am at peace with this and at other times a little regretful. However, Catholicism is so much about submission, isn’t it?Onward I go in other directions.O::thriveluminousmiseries