Dear Fr Anthony,
I have been told since I was very young that I should be a priest. I’ve been an alter server since I was 7 years old, and I have always been closely involved in the Church. However, I’ve never really experienced any deep desire to become a priest; it’s always just been other people telling me that I should be one. In fact, I have a deep desire to be a good husband and father, and raise a good Catholic family. I know that the world is in desperate need of good, holy priests, but I think the world is just as desperately in need of men who will be good Catholic fathers, and who will raise their children to be soldiers for Christ.
When I was a senior in high school I began dating a girl. Before I started dating her though, I prayed for 2 months about whether or not I should, because I figured if I was supposed to go into the seminary, I shouldn’t start dating anyone. I ended up deciding to go ahead and date her, but I prayed that if God wanted me to enter the seminary then to have her leave me because I couldn’t bear to break her heart. For about 18 months I was very happy and content with her, and didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t one day get married, and she felt the same way. However, last fall she went away to college and changed a lot, and ended up leaving me about 2 months ago. Since then I have done a lot of praying, and sometimes I feel like I’ve just been running from the seminary, and I should just quit screwing around and start the application process. However, at other times, I just feel such a deep desire to be married and have a family that I think that must be where God wants me and I just don’t know what to do.
I guess my dilemma can be summed up like this: I can’t seem to find peace in deciding to enter the seminary, but at the same time I can’t seem to escape from the thought that I might be called to be a priest. I know that I should just keep praying about it, and I do a lot. But I’ve BEEN praying about it for years, and I just don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Sometimes I think God just wants me to do it, to enter the seminary, and is deliberately withholding peace about it so that I have to do it purely on faith.
Right now I am a sophomore in college as a mechanical engineering major, and I wouldn’t be able to go into our college seminary until next Fall anyway. Do you think I should just start the application process now? Maybe I just need to make a decision, to just DO something rather than just thinking about it. Anyway, if you could please just give me some thoughts about all this, it would be greatly appreciated.
Prayer is directly connected with our lives, and I find that one of the most common mistakes we make in prayer is to separate it from action. We pray for something to happen, but then do little or nothing to make it happen; we pray for a grace, but then we don’t apply our will when the time comes to use that grace and change our behavior. It’s almost like we expect prayer to have the effect of making the urge to do something irresistible, and we can be mildly surprised to find that we have to actually get up and do it ourselves.
Now, getting to your question, let’s not go back and try to figure out if you should have done something differently in the past. Let’s take it from where you are now.
Being left by your girlfriend is not reason enough to think you have a vocation and join a seminary, but it may be the occasion God uses to make you think and to wake you up to something you may be missing. Now is the chance to ask why those thoughts about the seminary just don’t seem to go away. If you are tempted to give up and to figure that if God doesn’t come out and tell you directly then he is not calling you, it might help for you to remember how he dealt with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus after the Resurrection. He could have solved their problem by letting them see who he really was when he caught up with them, but he chose instead to let them talk first. He let them tell him how desperate and disappointed they were, and then he instructed them. He opened their minds and rekindled their faith.
It seems to me that it may help you to examine your life in the light of faith. Look at all God has given you, and ask; Why? Ask yourself if you are the first man called to be a priest who also felt a strong desire to get married. Instead of trying to do all the figuring out on your own, speak to the vocation director for your diocese. He has the experience to help you sort through your thoughts, reflections, emotions and desires, and help you work out what comes from where. Don’t be afraid he is going to try to get you, no matter what. That is not how vocation directors operate. He will even play the devil’s advocate and search to see if there is any sign that shows that God is NOT calling you, which is a very important part of all vocation discernment.
Finally, I would encourage you to be a little more optimistic. If you take a step to look at this more closely with the help of someone who knows vocations, you will find an answer. At the very least, you will discover the next step that you need to take and Christ does not let us down. If you are prepared to go out on what seems to you to be a limb for him, you will find he is the most faithful Friend you could ever have.