Q: Archbishop J, why would anyone want to become a priest or consecrated person?
Priests are an integral connection between Christ and God’s mission. There have been times, like in Japan, when the Church functioned for centuries without a priest. They longed for the Eucharist and the saving graces that the Church had to offer. In the absence of the priest, God supplied grace for His people. But it was not God’s intention for His Church.
The priest is the mediator of the sacramental grace of the Church. He stands “in the person of Christ”. He is both a sign and a conduit of God’s grace alive and active in the world.
Jesus had several women who accompanied Him and the Apostles. These women had experienced healing and miracles. They provided for them out of their own purse. They dedicated their life to following the Lord. They were indispensable to His ministry (Lk 8:1–3). They followed because they encountered Jesus and that encounter turned their life upside down.
The Apostles were called by Jesus. The women encountered and followed. Here you have the two primary reasons for becoming a priest or religious. You have a sense of being called by God or you have encountered the Lord and want to follow Him more closely in the vocation of priesthood or consecrated life.
A gift to the world
There are many laypeople, single and married, who dedicate their lives to God in heroic ways. Their selflessness and generosity are exemplary. We also need that vocation in the Church.
Their life is different form the consecrated person. The married and the single doing great things in the Church speak eloquently about what God does through another human being.
The consecrated speak eloquently about who God is. They forsake all worldly pleasure, honour, and comfort to dedicate their life to Christ and His Church.
The consecrated, in their life and witness, are a sign of God’s absolute reign in the soul of that person. There is no other reason to dedicate your life completely to God. It is not what the consecrated person does that is vital. It is they who tell the world through the dedication of their life that they put all their hope in God. This is the most radical sign of faith, hope and charity.
When consecrated life is lived well, it shines a dazzling light into the darkness of modern culture which has turned in on itself seeking self-satisfaction, comfort, and glory.
The turning into self has created a culture that idolises the self, a culture of hedonism and opulence in the face of starvation of half the world’s peoples.
Look at St Teresa of Calcutta. That ‘I’— a dazzling light in the midst of our darkness. Look at St Padre Pio, another dazzling light. St Pope John Paul II, another dazzling light.
In an age when darkness abounds, grace abounds even more. Our whole civilisation is moving away from God. Modern technology and science have found solutions to many of the great modern problems.
But the core and essence of the meaning of life eludes us now as we grope to create meaning through novel experiences, opulence, pleasure, and fame. They do not satisfy us. For as St Augustine has said so wonderfully: “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.”
To see a person fall into love with God is a most wonderful site to behold. They light up. There is an inner fire that cannot be extinguished. They glow. Yes, they face all the complexities of the world and all the insecurities of their contemporaries. But as they pray through this and find the core, the essence, and the centre of their being in God, there is a wonderful transformation.
The call to the centre, to God in the silence, is a most profound invitation. Being led along this journey is one of the greatest gifts a person could receive. The outer work that we can observe in the priest and consecrated person is driven from inside, from the deep encounter with God that is sustained every day in their silence and prayer.
The religious is not given special knowledge or gifts for the spiritual life. They hold for all Christians what everyone is expected to hold—we are all invited to mystical union with God (Jn 15:1–17).
The consecrated person is not more noble than others. St Paul says: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor 4:7).
Or, as Jesus says so eloquently, when the Pharisees were objecting to Jesus eating in Matthew the tax collector’s house: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9: 12–13).
The priest and consecrated person are not better than others. Many times, they are weaker and more fragile. But God chooses whom He wills to do a mighty work in, and through them so that the power of God is seen.
A total gift
Choosing to be a priest, religious or consecrated person is choosing to be for all. There is no Pascal’s Wager here. This is a bold statement that “I believe in a God who created everything, who redeems me and who calls me in a unique and special way to give all of myself to God”.
Giving all of ourselves to God is the greatest act of faith, hope and love a person can make. To choose freely to do this with your life is the greatest grace that you will ever experience for your life, your family and friends, the Church and for the nation.
Do not look at the sacrifice you are asked to make; look rather at the innumerable blessings that God gives to those who give themselves to Him.
Priesthood and consecrated life constitute a call to witness to God’s unconditional love, to the interior life and to giving the self generously to God.
If you are wrestling with priesthood or consecrated life, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If not, please pray for all those God is calling.