I am the associate pastor at Holy Rosary Parish in Milton, Ontario. Milton is a fast growing community. New homes are being built constantly and new people are joining our parish every week. This means I frequently get asked to bless homes. This is both a privilege and a pleasure – it is an opportunity to meet new families in our parish, learn a little about them, and encourage them in their spiritual life. Often they will ask me to stay for some snacks and sometimes even a meal.
On these informal occasions, if you stay long enough, people become comfortable and start to ask questions. Sometimes these are very practical questions like, “How do I sign up my son to be an altar server?” Sometimes they are questions of a pastoral or theological nature. Other times they are personal questions like, “Did you always want to be a priest?” Often the context for the question is only revealed later on. For example, once I was asked what I thought about the Church’s openness to other religions. Later in our conversation I discovered the real reason for the question – the woman’s son was dating a Hindu and she was quite uneasy about the situation.
The challenge as a priest in these situations is that you need to be able to give a brief but clear answer, without time to prepare and without always knowing the reasons why the question is being asked.
I have decided that as a contribution to this blog I will review some questions I have received while visiting families in my parish. I will try to post brief and clear responses as I would need to give in the moment.
Today’s question: Did you always want to be a priest?
No. I first thought of becoming a priest when I was fifteen. I really didn’t “want” to be a priest until I was almost sixteen.
As a child I don’t remember ever wanting to be a priest. I think there are perhaps two main reasons why this was the case. First, I only once remember anyone suggesting it to me as an option – this was my grandfather – I’m not sure how old I was. Since it was not regularly proposed as an option, it was not something regularly considered. Second, my only exposure to priests was at Sunday Mass and was very limited – I didn’t know any priests personally and those I knew were quite old. I thought of priests as just preachers and administrators, somewhat distant, aloof. Hence it was quite difficult to identify with priests or to see myself as becoming a priest.
Two things changed this. First, after a series of events when I was about 12-14, I began to take my spiritual life more seriously. I was known in school as the guy who went to the chapel, and talked about the scriptures. Some of my peers started asking me if I was going to be a priest. While I thought the suggestion was crazy at the time, it did force me to consider it. Second, as part of taking my spiritual life more seriously I was going to confession more frequently. The practice of frequent confession changed the way I looked at the priesthood. I got to know my pastor personally and was able to discover why we call our priest’s “Father.” He was someone you could speak to about practically any problem, no matter how complex, embarrassing or trivial. He would keep your secrets, wouldn’t jump to conclusions and always seemed to have some encouraging advice. While I was not aware of it at the time, I think that this experience of the priest as a father in confession was very crucial in leading me to consider a priestly vocation myself.
The story of how I felt the calling of God to the priesthood is mysterious and many faceted. I hope to reflect upon it again in future posts ……