My next installment in the Catholic Telegraph, paper for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati:
“Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” With these words, St. Peter tries to dismiss the call that Jesus gives to him in the Gospel according to St. Luke. A hallmark of his, Peter always seems to be aware of the weaknesses that he has. Yet despite his attempt at a dismissal, Jesus will not be swayed and gives Peter the commission that he is to become a ‘fisher of men’.
So many times in my work as vocation director, I hear this sentiment of Peter in the words of a young man who is discerning a call to the priesthood. Troubled by his own past, the young man before me tries to dissuade either Our Lord or himself from his calling: “There is no way that Jesus is calling me to be a priest! I am a sinner and have done too many terrible things.” As we talk through these objections, I sometimes struggle to keep from smiling as I hear echoes of so many saints (and even my own struggles with my call while in the seminary) who have responded to this same call to leave behind everything and follow after Christ.
St. Paul had a massive conversion experience, going from one who actively persecuted the Church to the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Despite his complicity in the martyrdom of St. Stephen, Our Lord called him to take His message to the ends of the world. He struggled with his own worth the rest of his life, calling himself the least of the Apostles for his former ways of persecution did not leave him worthy of the name. His former persecutions even presented challenges among the faithful who doubted his sincerity, yet, called he was.
St. Peter’s moment of weakness during Jesus’ Passion was not his last. On the Via Appia Antiqua in Rome stands the little Quo Vadis? Church. As persecutions grew under Nero, St. Peter grew afraid for his life and left the city along the Appian Way to the south of Italy. As he traveled, he saw Jesus going the other way, back to the city, and asked him incredulously: “Lord, where are you going?” (“Quo Vadis?” in Latin) Jesus looked at Peter and simply replied: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” With this simple admonition, Peter returned to Rome to face his own crucifixion, upside down, for he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner that Jesus did.
The list of great saints who have struggled with their own sinfulness continues to our very day, and includes some of the greatest saints we venerate: Jerome, Augustine, Ignatius of Loyola, Maximillian Kolbe. It is important to recognize that Jesus does not call those who are worthy of the priesthood, for no one is truly worthy of this great gift. Rather, he equips those who are called to lay their own weaknesses at His feet, and He gives them the talents and abilities needed to fulfill the mission that Jesus has set before them.
It is important for a man who is being called to the priesthood to recognize that only through Christ is one made strong. As with St. Paul, he is to willingly boast of his weaknesses, for in his weakness is Christ made strong through him. Only through a free gift of self is God able to work these dramatic miracles through those whom He has chosen. To those being called, God knows your weaknesses, after all He created you; but He also knows the grace you need to overcome, this is what will make you strong to serve the Lord.
For information on how to serve the Lord as a priest for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, visit www.cincinnativocations.org.