At some time in their lives, many feel the need to consider a calling to the priesthood or religious life. “Might I have a vocation”, they ask themselves, and “How do I know if I have a vocation or not?”. Like most important choices in our lives, the call to the priesthood is rarely so clear as to exclude all other possibilities. Those who expect “a sign from heaven” are likely to be waiting for the rest of their lives. Human beings must make decisions by carefully and prayerfully examining the matter, weighing the “pros and cons”, and trusting that God will guide them in a way that is in keeping with their eternal salvation and His divine will. In anyone’s life there may be indications of a vocation — things that accurately suggest that God is calling or not. Below are a few as food for thought. You and your spiritual director may find some others. It always helps to have the advice of a guide who can distance a bit from your personal wants.
Some Indications of a Vocation:
· A love of spiritual things: A priest must find himself drawn to God and the things of God. One enjoys spending time in prayer, or reading the Scriptures, or learning about God in the study of theology. The Liturgy and other Services are opportunities (not obligations) to know, love, and serve God — even if the music is a bit off key, the flowers are wilting or the vestments are poor — the person of God sees beyond physical appearances to spiritual realities — while doing one’s best, of course, to make the physical appearances worthy of our divine creator.
· A will conforming to God’s Will: Apart from our Lord, all humans are sinners, but a priest must be a person who rarely breaks God’s law in a serious way; s/he breaks it by accident or inadvertence and not by design. One must remain in the state of grace through frequent recourse to sacramental Confession, the celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Mass), and the other graces God supplies. One must be able to draw strength in completing difficult tasks from the knowledge that one is doing God’s will.
· A seeker of humility: “The Son of Man had no place to lay His head.” The priest is “another Christ”, who must not desire to be greater than his master. While upholding the dignity of the office, s/he must have no desire to lord it over one’s charges.
· An adequate education. A priest must have a good understanding of the faith and teachings — what s/he believes, and what s/he asks others to believe. One must be able to assimilate the learning that is necessary to teach his people, from the pulpit, in counseling and Confession. One must be able to communicate with all of his parishioners – the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the wise and the foolish, the educated and the illiterate. The priest does not have to be a genius, but s/he will have to acquire a postgraduate professional education. One must want to know and to teach about the God whom he loves.
· Emotional stability: The priest is called on to guide his or her parishioners by means of advice and example. One must not be given to moods of depression or flights of fancy, not to intemperate drinking or bouts of argument. One must not be hiding from the responsibilities of fatherhood or family life. One must be of such disposition to bear up under the pressure of a calling where the hours can be long and the material rewards few or nonexistent.
· Good health: The priest need not be a “superman”, but s/he must possess the physical stamina to carry out his priestly duties, often without the luxury of having another priest to “fill in” when s/he feels below par.
· An industrious nature: Like St. Paul, one must be ready to see to his own necessities – even though “the laborer is worthy of his hire”, for God’s innocent ones may not always have the means to support him/her.
· A freedom from incompatible obligations: Family, business, and social relationships must be such as to allow the priest to perform the duties of his state. One’s family and friends must not be a source of scandal to those entrusted to his or her charge. Saint Paul describes the qualifications of bishops and deacons in his Epistles to Saints Timothy and Titus. His observations are equally applicable to those who would be priests:
A bishop then, must be blameless, married but once, reserved, prudent, of good conduct, hospitable, a teacher, not a drinker or a brawler, but moderate, not quarrelsome, not avaricious. He should rule well his own household, keeping his children under control and perfectly respectful. For if a man cannot rule his own household, how is he to take care of the Church of God? He must not be a new convert, lest he be puffed up with pride and incur the condemnation passed on the devil. Besides this, he must have a good reputation with those who are outside, that he may not fall into disgrace and into a snare of the devil. Deacons also must be honorable, not double tongued, not given to much wine, nor greedy for base gain, but holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience. Moreover, let them first be tried, and if found without reproach let them be allowed to serve…. Deacons should be men who have married but once, ruling well their children and their own households. In addition, those who have fulfilled well this office will acquire a good position and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. [1 Timothy 3: 2-13. See also Titus 1: 5-9]
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