The Vocation to the priesthood is a response to the call of God to serve and love him and his people in consecrated life. The priest plays a key role in the Church primarily through acting as a living witness of Christ in their proclamation of the Gospel through word and deed. They also play a significant part in the sacramental life of the Church and thus support the Catholic community in living a life of holiness and faithfulness to God.
A Diocesan Priest most often lives out their vocation through service of a parish community. They do this in a multitude of ways - the celebration of Mass and administration of the other Sacraments, leading the community in prayer, visiting those in need, and providing for the spiritual and temporal needs of the people. This is likely to include support for the ill in local hospitals, those who are housebound, providing guidance to those preparing for receiving the Sacraments of Initiation, and acting with compassion towards those who have recently lost loved ones. Priests are often called upon to provide chaplaincy services, most frequently in school, but sometimes also to universities, prisons, and occasionally to groups or organisations. In each of these roles, a priest will be called upon to act with thoughtfulness, patience and to show wisdom drawn from their experience, study and prayer. They will be looked to for encouragement, support and hope whilst providing guidance in a compassionate and understanding manner. That may sound like a rather daunting set of expectations, but a priest has faith that in seeking to do this he does not act alone, but rather as God’s instrument in the world.
Discerning a Vocation to the Priesthood
This is a lengthy process and thankfully it is not necessary to be close to completing it when considering seminary study. One of the reasons for the years spent in seminary is to be able to take the time together with the guidance of experienced seminary staff to learn if the priesthood is how you are meant to live your life.
At an early stage it is often better to look for possible signs of a vocation. This is likely to have within it a number of features you may recognise. One of those would be a love for the God and the people of his Church. A desire to include prayer and the sacraments would be one way of expressing this. Others may have noted that you would potentially make a good priest and may have encouraged you to consider this. You may have a desire to help others in various ways in their lives, significantly in supporting them in developing their relationship with God so that the hope, joy, care and love that he offers to them may become apparent to them in their lives. Perhaps not all of these attributes apply, and maybe even only few of them, to you - that is not a concern. The desire to consider and explore a vocation to the priesthood is often in itself one of the most important aspects for starting the process of discernment.
Tom Vause is currently in his first year of preparation for the priesthood which he is undertaking by doing an extended pastoral placement in Lincoln. He writes here about the start of his time in the city.
Opportunity Follows in the Wake of Uncertainty
It has been one month since I arrived at St Hugh’s, Lincoln to carry out my propaedeutic year representing Nottingham Diocese. Even such a short time has been enough to demonstrate that the year will be a fruitful one. Fr Matthew Jakes and Fr Patrick Bassey have both welcomed me with enthusiasm, for which I am certainly grateful. The church itself is a marvel of biscuit-coloured stone and elaborate stained glass; its bell tower commanding the crossroads at the heart of the city. Yet the overwhelming beauty in this parish lies in its people, whose positivity and courtesy is championed by their rich diversity, truly representing the universality of our Church. What is particularly striking in this city is the bond between the parishes and both school and university chaplaincies, and I look forward to contributing to this dynamic demonstration of catholic life in action.
Truthfully, when asked to write a short summary of my first month in placement, I was determined to follow my usual trajectory and compose something anecdotal and satirical, in vain hope of avoiding the mention of either coronavirus or the election of 46th American president. Alas, perhaps such an undertaking would be both impossible and unwise in the times we find ourselves in.
Personally this year has curtailed a number of somewhat important plans. I was to be best man at a former rugby colleague’s wedding in New York, visit family in India, and to bounce around the Eastern Mediterranean, sourcing material to complement my masters’ dissertation. In such circumstances it is all too easy to victimize oneself, a reality only made easier by the state-enforced solitude we are currently enduring. For many of us, we have never spent more time alone, alone with our own thoughts; separated from those who have felt our love, and those who are yet to feel it. Needless to say, it is with great anticipation and excitement that I look forward to our release, be it in the form of patience, time, or the yield of some heroic research student, currently undergoing confinement far more onerous than my own. Either way, normality will never taste so sweet.
Of course, this opinion is not unique. The past nine months have presented us all with a complex blend of challenges that have stratified our society according to its practical purposes. Such challenges are, on the surface, obstacles to our mission as Christians to share and spread the love and Word of God, particularly when we are physically separated from our parish communities. Times like these can make us feel abandoned in a deserted wilderness, lifeless and barren. Yet our God is a personal God. Like all relationships, ours with Him bears the choicest fruit when given time and dedication. Taking heed from Thomas Merton, it is in the wilderness where our faith is tested, and yet strengthened, emboldened; when we look back on this time, we should do so with great joy, for it is when we made time for Him, and when we learned to truly love Him. When it seems like our lives have been put on hold with curtains drawn, perhaps the stage is only just being set. I think Friedrich Nietzsche unintentionally personified this best when he wrote, “I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses”. As an optimist, I believe hidden within this ‘darkness’ is a future for our Church that can, rearmed with missionary purpose, eclipse the cliché light at the end of the tunnel.
For the wider Christian community, we are thus well met by ample opportunity. We are blessed by our shared universal faith; we are blessed by a clergy of every nation and tongue, we are blessed by the leadership of our pope and his bishops; we are blessed by our achievements, our history, and our traditions. All these elements provide us with much needed solidarity during this time.
Certainly, there is evidence of this solidarity here at St Hugh’s. It has been humbling to see so many people in all walks of life helping out as stewards and cleaners; doing what needs to be done despite the objections we likely harbour within resolute hearts. Indeed, throughout our Diocese, the people have flocked to keep churches open for private prayer, while the clergy are administering to their needs as best they can (and as much as the government allows!) Churches have been adapted in order to live stream Masses to the comforts of our own homes, often at great expense, but with a zeal that quickly puts paid to considerations of financial burden. Such are the concerns of the world in which we are called to serve when needed most. Asking ourselves why we should, rather than why we should not, must always be our default setting.
Stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong (1 Col 16:13).