Being a celibate and obedient priest is not something that people understand. The priest has no money, no wife, and no self-determination, and a lot of responsibility at a young age. In a world of many choices and much abundance, in a world where faith is not the ultimate arbiter of important life decisions (more like a hobby that comes in handy in a pinch – like when you die), why would anyone go to the seminary and consider becoming a priest?
Most seminarians can tell an inspiring story of their decision to come to the seminary. At a certain point in their life, something inspired their faith to be a living and real faith. All of the sudden, they stood face to face with God in their hearts, and realized that God was real. That God loved them. That God wanted to be involved in and share in every detail of their life. In this encounter with God, a young man’s life is set on a different trajectory. All of the sudden, he is “in the world, but not of the world.”
While we live in a culture of abundance and choices, (and sadly, moral degradation as well), it is possible, and even desirable, for the young man to choose differently than those around him. To be set apart for a spiritual good of the highest order. Suddenly, he finds himself changing sinful habits, choosing his friends differently, going to Mass on Sunday, or everyday, and praying more often and more deeply. He discovers what it means to live in the heart of the Church, and not to be of the world. Into this situation comes a call, a still, small, and growing call. It brings him joy and peace. It moves him to wonderment and prayer. It is confirmed by the observations of the people around him. And then he must give the vocation director a call, to formally enter into discernment.
Some men are blessed to have grown up in families where the faith is deep and living. They have lived in a family culture where it is natural to consider a vocation. What a blessing that is, to grow up in a family that is at the heart of the Church! Many are not so blessed. Regardless, every vocation story shares some of the elements described above. Turning away from the world, turning towards Christ. This is the journey of vocational discernment. This is the journey of Lent. For the seminarian, every day is Ash Wednesday – turn away from the preoccupations of the world – turn to Christ – die to self – find everlasting joy – and carry your Cross.
What would it be like if we wore Ashes on our foreheads every day, and not just once a year?