More often than not, when people hear you’re discerning the priesthood, they draw your attention to all the things you “won’t be able to do.” You won’t have a wife, kids, a house of your own, etc. It’s very unfortunate that such a wonderful life has become characterized by what it’s “not” or what you’ll be “missing out on.” Imagine if your best friend announces he’s getting married to his high school sweetheart, but your only response is: “But you won’t be able to date anyone else! You won’t get to see the world on your own! You’re throwing your life away!” This is nonsense, of course. If you are actively discerning the priesthood of Jesus Christ, this is something to celebrate! But what are the blessings of this life?
One of the biggest fears a man experiences when he first begins discerning the priesthood is that he won’t be able to have a family of his own. While it’s true that the Roman Catholic Church only ordains unmarried men, it’s not true that you’ll be “giving up family.” That’s because men who are ordained priests receive from the Lord the profound blessing of spiritual fatherhood. We call priests “Father” for a reason. They are our shepherds and guides. They are the ones who discipline us in the ways of the Lord and teach us how to live virtuous lives. They provide us with the nourishment of the Sacraments. It isn’t abstract theology to call your parish priest “Father.” It is an appropriate title for a man who has dedicated his life for the benefit of his flock.
Any vocation is a call to love God and neighbor in the way only you ever could. God’s call is always personal and unique. Your ultimate vocation within the Church will enable you to love the people in your life in the best way. This is liberating! It’s true that any commitment will necessarily say “no” to lots of things — but only in the service of a much louder, and more beautiful “YES” to the great life of joy the Lord means to give you. Choosing the priesthood, if it’s what God has called you to, will not restrict your freedom, but rather increase it abundantly.
Another incredible blessing of priesthood is the fact that a priest has a “front row seat” to the work of the Lord at some of the most important moments in people’s lives. In fact, the priest in a very real sense becomes a “sacrament” of the Lord’s presence among His people. He is an instrument of God’s love in the Church. Throughout each day, there are countless moments of grace that the priest has the privilege of participating in: Bringing Holy Communion to a lonely, homebound parishioner. Visiting a second grade religion class full of awesome kids. Meeting with a young man or woman who is considering entering the Church. Praying with a family at the bedside of their dying loved one. Having a random conversation with a lapsed-Catholic at the supermarket. All of these experiences are not out of the ordinary for a parish priest.
God calls a particular group of men to serve a particular local church as His priests. This is why it’s so important for priests to cultivate and nourish healthy, Christ-centered fraternity. The Lord has united them in this mission of preaching the gospel to the Diocese of Richmond, and this is a huge gift! These friendships begin, however, in the heart of the seminary. Thanks be to God, the Richmond seminarians are very close-knit already. This will serve them well in their priestly ministry, because these men will be a crucial source of support and encouragement moving forward. This fraternity doesn’t happen automatically, however. It’s hard work, but well worth it.
People will often wonder: “Do strangers look at you weird when you wear a collar in public?” It may surprise you to hear that the reactions priests and seminarians receive are actually overwhelmingly positive! The collar is a symbol of the Church’s authority, and many people will immediately trust you simply because of what you are wearing. This is a tremendous privilege and responsibility. Priests are called upon for prayer and guidance in the most mundane of situations — at the barbershop, in an airport, at a local park. It’s an incredible experience of God’s providence when these moments happen! Of course, the priest cannot let it go to his head — It’s Jesus Christ the people want… not you. Consequently, priests must take care never to cause scandal!
Priests get invited over for dinner quite a bit, and in the process they become “part of the family.” This is a great gift of priestly life — to be in the lives of their parishioners. Priests shouldn’t be distant spiritual figureheads that we see only on Sunday mornings! They ought to be comfortable entering into people’s everyday lives! Pope Francis has often described the Church’s role in “accompanying” the flock, namely — walking with people along their journey of faith. The priest plays a huge part in breaking down barriers, going to the margins, and being present in the daily experience of God’s people, young and old alike. He carries the very presence of the Lord!