More than just a desire to serve

More than just a desire to serve

This article is excerpted from the larger article titled Discerning a Call to Priesthood? Some questions you should be asking yourself available from Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Are you considering the priesthood primarily because you feel drawn to “serve others”?

Such a motivation is laudable. And candidates to the priesthood had certainly better want to serve others. But if that is where the explanation begins and ends, then further examination of one’s motives is really required. Such can be the case, for example, with so-called “late vocations”—men who either never married or are widowers, who later in years see priesthood as a possible avenue for “service” in the Church (and this is often coupled with their own acute sense of the shortage of priests). Again, the motivation is laudable; but it is not enough in itself to demonstrate the presence of a genuine vocation to the priesthood.

The key question for a candidate to the priesthood is always this: Have you experienced a “call” from Christ? The word “vocation” itself derives from the Latin verb, vocare, “to call.” A “vocation” is a call, as in: “He went up the mountain andcalled to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message” (Mk 3: 13-14).

The Church has always understood this Christ-originated calling as the primary motive for seeking ordination to the priesthood. This is why it is a matter of co-discernment: you, the candidate and those who represent the Church, engage in a process of discerning whether you have a genuine call to the priesthood. Sadly, it has always been possible, and remains so today, to pursue the priesthood for all the wrong reasons. Consequently, as stated in the Program of Priestly Formation ( PPF) of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (5thedition):

Potential candidates for the priesthood must be in prayerful dialogue with God and with the Church in the discernment of their vocation. The linkage of this divine and ecclesial dialogue is especially important because “in the present context there is . . . a certain tendency to view the bond between human beings and God in an individualistic and self-centered way, as if God’s call reached the individual by a direct route, without in any way passing through the community” ( Pastores dabo vobis, 37). Eventually, this dialogue, properly conducted, may bring candidates to the admissions process, completing this first phase of vocational discernment. 1

The key to that co-discernment—between you, the candidate, and those who represent the Church—is to uncover motivations that transcend the mere humanitarian appeal of the Catholic priesthood (“serving others”). For the man called to the priesthood, there must be profound, rooted-in-the heart, motives, a whole interwoven set of them that form a core drive in one’s life, in addition to sound motivations like the desire to serve others. To name just a few:

  • A love for the Eucharist;
  • A longing to administer the sacraments to the people of God;
  • A hunger to build up the Church, and promote bonds of profound ecclesial communion, especially in the dynamics of parish life;
  • A drive to be a servant-leader and spiritual father to your brothers and sisters in the faith;
  • A zeal to live to its ultimate consequences: a deep-rooted experience of Christic discipleship.

Granted, these motivations might only be incipient as you prepare to enter a college seminary program. But your ability to identify several of these motivations, and “connect the dots” between them, constitutes a considerable piece of evidence that your vocation is genuine.

Ultimately, your primal motivation should arise from your intimate friendship with Jesus Christ. Certainly by the time of your ordination, your seminary formators will want to hear from you a credible story about your personal encounter, once upon a time, with Jesus Christ, living and risen, who approached you on the shores of your life, and got into your boat, and whose divine person became irresistibly attractive. In the best case scenario, you will be able to share with them how you feel that a call to priesthood emanates from your love for Jesus Christ, how you want, like Jesus, to take on the Church as your bride, and serve her exclusively and unconditionally throughout the rest of your life.

It’s not enough for a candidate to the priesthood simply to “decide” that he wants to “serve others” as a priest; his heart has to be irrevocably set and fixated on Jesus from whom he has perceived an undeniable invitation and calling to follow him more intimately through priestly ordination.

Thank you for taking the time to consider your vocation. Be open with God, and He will bless you greatly! 

If you would like to talk about your vocation, give me a call or send me an email. 

Fr. J.D. Jaffe
Director of the Office of Vocations
j.jaffe@arlingtondiocese.org
703-841-2514

This article is from a previous issue of our Discernment Insights e-newsletter. I encourage you to subscribe as well as access the archive for past newsletters on topics like abandonment to God's will, why have a spiritual director, celibacy, and more.