God recruits those who are aware of His presence in their lives and are captivated by the mystery of salvation as it is expressed in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
In the initial stages of recruitment, the signs of God’s call are but “seeds” that need to be nurtured and developed. In each seed there is potency for growth and the possibility of a response to the call of a vocation. When the “seed” becomes visible, one should urge the person to seek the spiritual direction of a Catholic priest.
Something inside of me (in my heart) makes me think (feel) that Jesus is asking me to be a priest.
It may be from the time you were very young (at your first communion) or in grammar school, high school, college or later; it is very often mysterious, but it is more than just a passing thought. It is often very persistent – it won’t “go away,” even though you try to ignore it or deny it. It may “go away” for a time and come back, but there is something there: you have learned about and come to know Jesus and, on some level, you have “heard” him calling.
The following “signs” should be considered when considering priesthood:
Belief, Wonderment, Generosity and Service, Leadership
As important as the above signs are, the call to priesthood is, as Pope John Paul II said, a “gift and a mystery from God.” Prayer, wise discernment and the call from the Bishop must bless all these signs and all the kind invitations offered by friends who ask “Have you thought of being a priest?”
Most priestly vocations involve some combination or variation of one or more of the above “signs”, but the mysterious yet clear call of Jesus Christ always has some very personal, unique element. While there are common aspects like those listed above, in many priestly vocations, each priest and each man who seriously considers priesthood in some way has his own, unique story of “hearing the call,” which is one part of a vocation to the priesthood. First He calls, and then He waits for our response.
The awareness of God’s presence is rooted in a firm belief in God’s existence and in the belief that God’s guiding spirit is expressed in the events of human life. These two beliefs often call forth a spirit of wonderment and a desire to participate actively in salvation’s history. It is God’s work that we share in and contribute to when we respond to the call of priesthood.
Catholic men can be called to the priesthood from either a young age, or in the course of their teenage years, or in their adult years. Those called feel a very strong attraction (a falling in love) with the Catholic Church, the Holy Mass, and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. A man called to priesthood comes to realize the way in which the priest is called to teach and pass on the Catholic Faith, especially in the celebration of the sacraments, in preaching, and in the witness of a life of prayer and loving service. He wonders if Jesus is calling him to “lay down his life” for others as a priest.
The awareness of God’s presence in life leads to a reverent wonderment about salvation and the possibility of individually sharing in that work. A priest is called to share in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. In this wonderment one might discover a call to priesthood, and a motivation to live as a priest. Prayer and reflection, when properly guided can enrich this wonderment.
The gift of generosity must accompany a discerning heart. Generosity must be encouraged and strengthened as one considers a call to priesthood in these secular times. A natural inclination to help others without counting the cost would be a gift that would certainly enrich the Church and the people of God in the life of a priest and might therefore be a sign of a priestly calling.
It may be through volunteering in one’s parish in a variety of areas, or in a soup-kitchen, or shelter, or in a nursing home, or some other project, but very often in recognizing the need to serve Jesus in “the distressing disguise of the poor” or in the “least of our brothers and sisters” (Matthew 25), that a man realizes that he is called to be a priest and act “in persona Christi,” as another Christ.
In a society and culture that often seems to be moving further and further away from God (and from the true peace and happiness that only He can give), aman who is called sees the need to proclaim and witness to the Good News of the Gospel, to proclaim the “Gospel of Life” in a culture of death, to lead others in working for peace and justice, and to stand for the Truth of Christ against the forces of darkness and evil in our world.
Leadership is most important in the life of a priest. If one exhibits this gift of leadership in ordinary life encounters, such a gift will enrich one’s service if there is a call to priesthood. A priest is called to lead others to the Lord.