Advent: A Wonderful Time For Priests To Reflect
Significance of Priesthood and the Mystery of Call
On How They Became Priests
Taken from Grace Under Pressure: What Gives Life to American Priests
Another patter that became apparent in these priests' lives was their conviction that being a priest was a significant way to spend their lives, and that the call to that way of life was a mystery and a gift.
Gary, a Midwestern chancery official, said, "I remember being asked one time why I was in the seminary. And without thinking about it said, ‘Because I believe in the power of the Gospel to change people's lives for the better.' And I really hadn't given much thought about it until that question. But that sentiment has been consistent throughout that seminary time and throughout my priestly ministry. A college kid one time on a retreat was giving a talk and said that there is nobody who is more powerful than a priest, and I thought, ‘What in the world does he mean by that?' And he went on to explain the opportunity to address and influence hundreds and maybe thousands of people every weekend and to say something significant in their lives.."
Another Midwestern priest said, "My dad was a salesman and he sold cookies. It seems to me that in some sense we've got the best thing to sell in the world. We have life an love and the Gospel and our big job is to believe in that and get out of the way. And raise that up."
Dick, a current pastor in the South and a former chancery official, related that his father thought he was blaspheming to think a Cajun could be called by God. Today, Dick says, "It gave me life to be able to say to God, ‘I think You are calling me,' when my pastor didn't think so, when my father didn't think so."
Jack from the Midwest recalls a return visit to his high school. He was looking at the pictures of the classes who had graduated from his high school and thinking that not one boy in that school wanted to be a priest. "And I did," he said. "And I couldn't understand why. I can't tell you why I felt the way I did. My parents tell me that I said I was going to be a priest at 5. Well, I said it then. I said it 20 years later. I'm saying it 25 years after having been ordained. I want to be a priest.
One priest recalled coming to the United States with the boat people from Vietnam in 1975. He told the story of being in a refugee camp in Pennsylvania when a priest asked if there was anyone in the camp who was a seminarian and who wanted to continue to become a priest. He described his response as instinctual and certainly out of character. "I don't know, I just raised my hand. I was the first one to raise my hand."
Gene from the Midwest said, "I can't imagine a life in which my gifts could be used more. When I look at the gifts that God has given me and then I look at the life of the priest, it just fits."
One priest describes his sense of call this way: "I think what has kept my juices going all these years is that towards the end of high school, I felt a call and I continue to feel that, a sense of mission and wanting to live my life in such a way that is of service, of trying to make a difference."
Don, 48, a pastor from the Midwest, describes priests as "walking symbols." He said, "What goes on with us is way beyond our personalities and our talents. We are walking symbols in some ways . And it's lot bigger than me and what I've learned in my education. I don't know how to balance it. I spent a lot of the early years in my priesthood trying to be one of the people — ‘I am a plain old person like all the rest of you. I struggle like all the rest of you.' And there was something holy, I think, in that. But there is another side of that truth and there is almost a shaman kind of dimension to what we do. We are walking symbols."
Jack, 54, a pastor from the Midwest recalls feeling a sense of mission while overhearing a group of Kentucky Fried Chicken executives talking on an airplane.
There was this unbelievable animated conversation. The whole conversation had to do with chicken. And these people, their whole life was into this and they were excited about it and I'm sure KFC loved having them on the staff. And at some point it just came to me and I said, ‘Oh, I'm so glad I have something more significant than chicken to offer.' I think the Gospel is life and death. It brings a level of meaning to the world of chicken and whatever. And if that meaning isn't brought to that world for other people, myself, whomever, then I think it is kind of shallow. And to be able to provide a foundation, a depth for people, that to me is very exciting.
Dick from the South said, "I deeply feel that a tremendous amount of what Jesus preaches is what the world needs. And it certainly is life-giving to me to know that I can help people be aware of that truth. And so I feel very blessed and very privileged to know that somehow I help keep those Gospel values alive."
Bob, 39, a Midwestern educator, related a vivid awakening he had into the significance of his priesthood:
I was having doubts for a while about whether I wanted to continue in the priesthood. ‘I have two brothers and six sisters, all of whom are married, and I was sitting there one night and was kind of daydreaming, contemplating. And I remember thinking, what is it that my brothers are doing as married men that I am not doing. And all of sudden I thought — one never knows where these thoughts come from — when they make love to their wives they give them a gift, and we call it semen, the Latin word for seed. And that seed that they gave, that they plant can mingle with the gifts that their wives bring to that act and new life can come about. And I kind of jumped up in the chair and said, — What am I supposed to be doing? That's it. That is what I am supposed to be doing, planting seeds in other people's lives that mingle with the gifts that they bring to the relationship so new life can come about.
I got so excited. I went out and ran a couple of miles. I don't know where it came from, but it's a very powerful image in my life now. I want to be a priest. I love my priesthood, but when people ask me why I am a priest, I am sometimes tempted to say, it's like somebody asked Louis Armstrong, ‘Tell me about jazz. What is jazz?' And he said, ‘If you have to ask the question, you ain't ever going to understand the answer.' I remember an article in Time magazine a few years ago about a French acrobat who gets arrested every time he goes to New York because he throws a wire across the World Trade Center towers and walks. And somebody asked him, ‘Why do you keep doing this? You get arrested. You are paying all these fines.' And he said, ‘You know, if I see three oranges on the table, I have got to pick them up and juggle. And if I see tall buildings, I have got to walk between them.' And that made as much sense to me as any explanation of why I am a priest. That is who I am. And I don't know what else to say. I get speechless about it when I look at everything. All I can say is I love it. I love it all, the crazy's — the goofiness, the shadow side of the human heart, but also all the tremendous good that is there and the Spirit that somehow keeps it all together.