We all admire courage. We all admire heroes. What’s a hero? A man who gives his life for his fellow, right? A fireman who rushes into the World Trade Center to save a life but lose his own. A soldier who walks toward enemy fire to pull his buddy behind the lines. A pilot who bails out in the Hudson River, keeping his cool and thereby saving lives.
But people, let’s face it: These are moments of heroism, acts of great élan, to be sure, but performed on impulse and usually over before the “hero” has a chance to consider the consequences.
What about someone who, with years of premeditation, gives his whole life for his God, his Church, his fellow man and woman? What about someone who takes—and keeps—a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience forever? For what personal gain? For what ulterior motive?
I’m sorry, this one’s a slam dunk: It takes a special kind of courage to be a priest. And that makes me proud to be a Catholic. That’s all I have to say about this issue.
Fortunately, my pope is not the hothead I am. He has some comments in the second book of interviews with Peter Seewald, God and the World, that have more than a little to do with priestly vocations, and we’ll let him close out this post:
[In our culture today] we want to be able to react to new demands, and we hope, by changing jobs fast, to be able to climb the ladder as quickly and as high as possible. But I think there are still callings that demand the whole of a person. Being a doctor, for instance, or a teacher, is not something I can do just for two or three years, but is a calling that requires my whole lifetime. That is to say, even today there are tasks that are not a job that runs alongside my life, so to speak, in order to ensure I have money to live on. For a true calling, income is not the criterion, but the practicing of some skill in the service of mankind. . . .
We all stand in a great arena of history and are dependent on each other. A man ought not, therefore, just to figure out what he would like, but to ask what he can do and how he can help. Then he will see that fulfillment does not lie in comfort, ease, and following one’s inclinations, but precisely in allowing demands to be made upon you, in taking the harder path. Everything else turns out somehow boring, anyway. Only the man who “risks the fire,” who recognizes a calling within himself, a vocation, an ideal he must satisfy, who takes on real responsibility, will find fulfillment. As we have said, it is not in taking, not on the path of comfort, that we become rich, but only in giving.