He is a typical man. There is nothing extraordinary about him, and while he likely attends daily Mass, most of his faith is lived out in the world, sharing his faith with his co-workers. He does help with the youth ministry ski trips, well, because he likes to go skiing, but the youth minister also knows that he is a good role model for the youth too.
Every once in a while, he stops by Adoration to ‘say hi to Jesus,’ but cannot stay too long because he is involved in other things. Still, these visits charge him up and get him ready to face the world. Occasionally, he prays the rosary on his way to work, and the crucifix around his neck has been noticed by co-workers. On his shelf a Bible nestles against works by Chesterton and Lewis (he secretly wants to see Prince Caspian). He paid attention to the homilies and speeches by Pope Benedict XVI during his recent visit to the United States; the visit even inspired him to buy our Holy Father’s Jesus of Nazareth. He has thought about the priesthood on and off, but is worried about what his parents might say, that his friends would think him weird, or that his coworkers would no longer talk with him if they knew.
This man may seem like some ideal character, but not someone who is present in the real world. However, I have met this man over and over in my work as vocation director, and I would argue that every person reading this knows this man, perhaps even five copies of this man! He is a normal young man who, with your encouragement, could do extraordinary things.
In fact, I owe my vocation to the priesthood to someone who saw in me the gifts that would make for a good priest, and she saw them long before I saw them in myself. All through high school, every time she saw me, she would look up and say: “You’re going to be a priest some day!” A charge which I vehemently denied at the time! Yet, her perpetual insistence, and her prayers, eventually brought me to the realization that God was calling me, and even more amazing was the realization that this was a great and awe-filled life. By college, I was ready to enter the seminary and take my preparation for the priesthood to a much deeper level.
I am not the only one that had this experience either. Every year, the bishops of the United States commission a survey of the men being ordained priests. Consistently, four out of five men being ordained say that they first thought about the priesthood at the insistence of someone they trusted: their pastor or another priest, a co-worker, a friend, an older parishioner at their home parish, even their mother or father.
Like the Universal Call to Holiness as articulated in Vatican II, it is all the responsibility of every Catholic to encourage vocations through prayer and personal invitations. How often do parents ask their children ‘What is God calling you to do?’ rather than ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Is the possibility of the priesthood or religious life encouraged along side the option of being a doctor, firefighter or teacher? How often do you pass the young man who may be called to the priesthood and miss the chance to give him a small encouragement and a silent prayer of support? While it seems small, this quickly adds up to re-enforce the Call that God might be giving. Small acts of prayer help to bolster the courage to respond when this young man realizes that the priesthood might actually be for him.
For more information on what it takes to be a priest today, visit www.cincinnativocations.org.