One of the many questions that a seminarian is asked is “how does one discern God’s call?”, especially to the priesthood. This is a question that for me is hard to answer. Many times people see seminarians as people who have discernment all figured out and mastered. While this would be great if true, seminarians have just as hard of a time figuring out how to discern. This is something that I have to think about and contemplate on a daily basis. It was not until last month that I finally think I can understand discernment better.
Last month, the seminary had their annual retreat down at St. Meinrad Seminary in southern Indiana. The retreat was lead by international writer and speaker, Fr. Larry Richards. This retreat has changed my life in many ways, but one in particular is that of discernment. At this retreat Fr. Larry talked to us about Holiness, and one of the resounding themes is having a relationship with God. Not only just having a relationship with God, but understanding how much He loves us and how we should love Him. This relationship is more that that of two friends, it is so much more than that. This relationship is of a Father and Son. For we were made in God’s image and likeness, and He loved us so much that he sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for us.
This relationship is almost indescribable. We are able to cry out to our God saying Abba, daddy, to the very God that created the whole universe and all that is contains. This is where discernment starts. It starts with God our Father. We have to start with crying out to our Father and knowing how much He loves us and desires a relationship with us. Forming a relationship with God is one of the most important steps into having a healthy discernment. No matter what vocation you are called to, one thing will always remain constant within every calling: A loving relationship with God our Father. Through this relationship and love we are able to know Him, walk with Him, know what He is calling us to, and most importantly, are not afraid to do the things that scare us in a particular vocation.
Now, this may seem like an impossible task; we sin, do bad things, say things we shouldn’t, etc. and we make God angry. However, God is not calling us to only form a relationship with Him when we are perfect; quite the opposite actually. God wants us to come to Him in our broken state. God does not just leave us out to dry when we fall; hence why he sent His Son to redeem us and allows us access to the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist. He wants us to depend on Him and know that He can save us from our brokenness.
Many people do not think they can have a good relationship with God and His Son because of their sin. Many have a dictator-like persona of God. There is a very important lesson I learned this year on this very question. It is not that God is mad when we sin because He said not to do it. No, He is worried about us when we sin, and He hates to see us enslaved to sin. God is not someone who sits in heaven wagging His finger at you when you sin, but one who sits in Heaven who wants you not to sin because not sinning will make you happy and is good for you. Sin corrupts us and turns us into slaves of ourselves and evil. God is not out to get us; He is here to love us and help us one day spend eternity with Him. This is an important lesson in forming a relationship with God.
As stated before, this is a relationship with God, and with that means it is something we have to work on. I can tell you that many priests who have been ordained for years are still working on their relationship with God. This is not to scare us however; as a relationship takes time. It helps us to realize a very important point: Vocation is not about ourselves, but for He that calls us. Through this relationship with God we begin to realize what He is calling us to more and more.
To look at priesthood specifically, this call has as it’s root a call from God the Father to a loving relationship with Him and to be an instrument of His love to His Church. This can seem like a hefty job that God calls a young man to do, but to echo the words of Pope St. John Paul II “Be not afraid!” God knows that a young man has to give up certain worldly pleasures for this call, but it is important to note that God calls a young man to the priesthood because He has made Him for that purpose and He knows the young man can do it. This is true for any vocation that God calls people to. God doesn’t call us to something we cannot do; He calls us to what He knows we can do for His Greater Glory and Love.
Now, this may seem like a young man entering seminary must have it all worked out before entering, and that you must have this great relationship with Christ. This cannot be further from the truth. Seminary is a time of formation where you learn new and better ways of forming your relationship with God. These 9 years of seminary are not here because it takes 9 years to learn how to be a priest. These 9 years are here to help form men be rooted in a strong relationship with God and how that translates into priestly ministry. Seminarians work everyday to form their relationship with God, and that means there is no one easy way to do that. Each guy is different. A young men entering may have many doubts, fears, and uncertainty about what this life can lead to. That is normal and every guy goes through that. You are not alone. One may have many fears about God and His love, but through formation a young man is able to discover a healthy relationship with God, the root of any vocation. Let us pray daily that we may accept God’s love and grow closer to Him.