Bella insists: “‘But I just feel I am called to the priesthood.”
Is she called? It is not just a matter of feeling, or waiting for a jab from on
high; there are solid theological principles, three of them:
First: Do I want this way of life, and want it for reasons at least
basically supernatural? (They may be mixed, especially early on). The reasons
might be to serve and please God, or help souls, so to make your own soul safer.
Second: Do I have the needed qualities, mental, moral, physical and
psychological? Ability to do C-level studies is ample. Normal physical health
suffices, unless one is thinking of a difficult foreign mission. As to moral
health, one must be free of grave faults, or get there quickly. In addition,
one should want to do more than just get by spiritually: one should desire to
grow and never stop trying. But the final requisite is less easy to determine:
psychological fitness? Consider fully all the facets of the role I might have to
take: priests in a tiny hamlet, or a large parish, or in the chancery, or in
teaching? What about community life? If I think of a religious community what
sort of work would I do? Today many Bishops and religious Superiors are rather
accommodating in making assignments. Formerly one had to plan to be comfortable
with any of the possible assignments.
The final requirement
is just as essential: Do I have a canonical call from a Bishop or Superior?
Without it, none of the above count -- poor Bella!
Yes, God does call people, and the official indispensable call is through those
in authority. However, the process will not begin unless God interiorly calls
one. If He does that, He gives the supernatural desire -- for He can inject in
us desires without taking any freedom, e.g., to be a Doctor, Lawyer, etc. To
have a working world, God needs to have persons in great variety of works. Not
all should be lawyers, or teachers, and so on.
As we indicated, God works by implanting a desire. If He does that, He will give
also the other requisites. But we quickly notice: the word call applies not only
to priesthood and religious life; marriage too is a call. Pope Paul VI wrote
that ‘Marriage is a long path towards sanctification.” For during courtship, the
inevitable differences between male and female are papered over by powerful
feelings. But some time after marriage, they begin to appear. Then, even in a
fine combination- not always had! -Each one can honestly say: I have to give in
most of the time to make this work. This is beautiful, the opposite of
attachment to self. To live it out takes some doing.
We mentioned that not all marriages are an ideal combination? But why?
Screwtape gave Wormwood an assignment: Find how to wreck marriages and
vocations all at one stroke, and credit Vatican II with it!
Eager for a place in the lowerarchy, Wormwood came up with this: Tell them that
to give up any creature voluntarily for religious motive does them no good! So
grow up doing what feels good, only so long as it feels good, and then drop it.
At the start, during courtship, the inescapable differences of male and female
psychology are all papered over by a high tide of feelings. But then, sometime
after feelings have simmered down to a more normal level, they make the sad
discovery: he/she is not just like me!
So a couple comes up to the altar, hears the priest tell them there is
sacrifice, but love makes it a pleasure. If either one has grown up on the new
give-up-nothing spirituality, he/she is headed for a crash. For even with an
ideal couple, each one will be able to say honestly: I have to give in most of
the time to make this work. If they do make this work, they develop a great deal
of selflessness, which is spiritually very beneficial. And if children come,
they are very enjoyable part of the time, and difficult part of the time. To
accept all of this as part of Our Father’s Plan is sanctifying.
In, fact, to get up at 3:00 A.M. with a baby, if seen and accepted as part of
the Father’s Plan, can even be considered a Holy Hour.
Religious Life and the Priesthood, if lived properly, require a great deal of
giving up things, but if someone accepts the view that it does no good, and that
obedience is even harmful, would they not be a fool to enter into a life of this
sort? Or, if they already did, they would leave -- which they did by the
thousands in the 1960’s. If they stay, they would try to change the community
to a new way of thinking. If one of these obtains a powerful position, they will
be very hard on souls who try to live what the superior consider the wrong way.
The priesthood in or without an order is apt to require financial sacrifice. In
fact, even with a vow of poverty, one may find it possible to attend
international conventions in his or her field by merely asking their permission
of the superior, while
a diocesan priest does not ask for permission but must raise his own money.
On the other hand, it is quite possible that a priest or religious will have
more disposable income than the parent of a family. This can produce danger,
which may not be recognized, of becoming selfish.
While it is true, as St. Paul says in First Corinthians 7, that one who abstains
from marriage has a spiritual gain in that respect, yet he or she needs to
recall that to give up marriage is only one thing. Great spiritual growth
requires real detachment from all things, not just from sex.
So it can happen that in a concrete case someone in marriage may make greater
spiritual growth using the means we have indicated than someone who has given up
Paul VI, therefore, was very right in saying that marriage can be a long path
toward sanctification, that is, if everything in it is worked out according to
Our Father’s Plan.
Long ago, the impression was often given that those who are generous with God
will choose priesthood or religious life; those who are deficient will not. But
this is far from true. The essential is to try earnestly to find what the will
of God is for me, in either of the two paths.
What about Vatican II? In the decree on lay apostolate, #7, it wrote that
creatures are good for three reasons: First, God in genesis made each thing
good. Second, creatures are for the use of man, the peak of visible creation.
Third, Christ, in the incarnation, too on a created nature, and used created
things, hence an added dignity. From this, the give-up-nothing people conclude
there is no good in giving up any creature voluntarily for a religious motive.
But Vatican II never said that. On the contrary, it praised highly the three
evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and
In Mark 3:31-35, the Mother of Jesus came to a crowd to which He was speaking.
His reply was dramatic: “Who is my Mother? Whoever does the will of my Father
is Mother and Brother to me.”
As Lumen Gentium 56 makes clear, He was teaching forcefully that out of two
kinds of greatness, the quasi-infinite dignity of Mother of God, and hearing the
Word of God and keeping it, the second is greater.
Really, it is trying to compare things in two very different categories. But
that which is the more important is the personal holiness of hearing the Word of
God and keeping it. She was at the peak in both categories. As Pius IX taught
in Ineffabilis Deus, the holiness even at the start was so great that “none
greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it.”
There is a parallel to the ordained priest - as the man conformed to Christ so
he can act in the person of Christ (LG 10), can say: This is my body -- and it
is the body of Christ, or: I absolve you -- and Jesus absolves. This is
surpassing dignity-- but it also calls for greatest holiness. Jesus told all: Be
perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. This applies to all Christians -
but immeasurably more to the ordained priest. If one wishes to know who or what
the ordained priest is, here is the answer: He can act “in Persona
Christi”. Today there is a tendency to play down or minimize this fact. But it
is essential. It does not say that the ordained priest is personally holy, just
that he can act in the person of Christ. The priesthood of the laity differs
"not only in degree but in kind" wrote Vatican II in LG10.