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Why diocesan priesthood?

So, now that I am on summer break, I’ve had some time to reflect on my first year in seminary. Mostly, I’ve been trying to figure out why God is calling me to the diocesan priesthood. I’m fairly certain it is my vocation (though obviously that remains a mutual discernment with the Church via the seminary formation team until ordination). However, my gut tells me the diocesan priesthood is the path God wants me to walk. When I began seriously discerning a call to priesthood, the diocesan seminary was low on my list–and when I say low, I mean dead last.

Much more interesting to me were various religious orders with which I had some experience. I had the good fortune of being a parishioner at St. Monica-St. George Parish-Newman Center, run by the Franciscans (Order of Friars Minor). The tales of Francis and his friars in The Little Flowers of Saint Francis was a tremendous influence during my early days as a convert (yes, I’m a Catholic convert…but that’s for another post). Their fellow mendicants, the Order of Friars Preacher, were a more recent influence as I was involved with a wonderful young adult group at a Dominican parish. This group makes an annual retreat at St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, putting me in contact with a Benedictine community. During my time with the young adult group I was working at Xavier University, a Jesuit school from which I had earned two Masters degrees. As an employee, I participated in an educational program learning a bit about the history of the Society of Jesus and Ignatian spirituality. So many options!

After a bit of prayer, I narrowed it down to the Franciscans or the Dominicans. I told a Dominican priest, who was the chaplain of the young adult group, about my decision to discern the priesthood. He recommended taking seriously my devotion to St. Francis as well as attending an upcoming discernment weekend at the Dominican House of Studies in D.C. He also made clear that the initial decision was still between religious or dicoesan priesthood. In my mind I had already skipped ahead to choosing between Franciscan or Dominican. Fortunately, Divine Providence didn’t allow me to go too far astray.

The Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. was enticing. Their community is vibrant with lots of new vocations. The commitment to the academic life was very appealing to me (as well as their recently dedicated new library). Even the food was fantastic! I thought I had found my new home. There was only one thing missing…it wasn’t where God wanted me to be.

How did I come to know this? Two words: Eucharistic Adoration. I had been spending an hour a week for the last three years in Eucharistic Adoration before the weekly young adult meeting. I had gone through a lot of prayer, and argument with the Lord, about my vocation (at one point being so brazen as to demand from God a wife). Through this consistent time in the Presence of Our Lord, I developed a greater ability to listen to Him. So when I went into the Dominican chapel for my scheduled hour of Adoration during the discernment weekend, I could tell the Lord wanted me to keep looking. Needless to say, the 8-hour drive back to Cincinnati was a bit melancholy. But ultimately I knew that if the Lord wasn’t calling me to be a Dominican, then even if I somehow managed to become a Friar Preacher, I wouldn’t be happy.

That left the Franciscans, right? Enter Divine Providence. The Franciscan “come-and-see” weekend, which I hadn’t yet registered for, wasn’t for another couple months; the welcome weekend at the diocesan seminary, on the other hand, was in two weeks. Sheerly out of a sense of completeness, I decided to give the diocese a fair shake and signed up for the welcome weekend.

Once again, Adoration played the decisive part in my coming to know God’s calling. That very first night there was a Holy Hour in the beautful St. Gregory’s Chapel. A sense of peace overcame me and I knew that was where God wanted me to be. But I was still reluctant. The next morning I just woke up, not prompted by any noise or alarm clock, well before breakfast time. I dressed, went down to the chapel, and knelt in prayer. Once again, I expressed to the Lord my dissatisfaction with this whole vocation business. Then I recalled that a greater man than I, Saint John Vianney, long-time patron of diocesan priests before being named universal patron of all priests, wasn’t always thrilled with the diocesan life. He wanted to live a monastic life in prayer and solitude. But he was obedient to his calling in life. He conformed his will to the Father’s will as expressed through the Church. If St. John Vianney did that, how could I do any less?

At the end of the retreat, I scheduled an appointment with the diocesan vocation director. A few short months later I completed the application process and was accepted to Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary of the West to prepare for a life as a priest for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The formation process over the past year has been challenging, which stretched me in many ways. But I am bolstered by the understanding that this is God’s calling for me, not my own flawed desire, and that makes all the difference.

Now, to return to the original question…why? Why is God calling me to the diocesan priesthood? Why would I have been blessed with the exposure to great religious orders of the Church–Franciscan, Dominican, Benedictine, Jesuit–only to end up as a diocesan priest? Then it occurred to me that this attitude is all wrong. Any participation in the priesthood of Christ, for it is indeed the one priesthood of Christ that all Catholic priests share, is a tremendous gift. How blessed I could be as a diocesan priest, in service to God’s people within the territorial boundaries of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Though I might not have the generous support of the communal life of a religious order, that also means I would have a certain freedom to devote myself to the work of Christ. Not to mention, if I have learned nothing else in my first year of seminary, it is that there is a great fraternity among diocesan priests–I would not be without a community after all. This is something I never would have discovered had I relied on my own impression of things and not followed God’s lead.

Each vocation is personal, a finely tailored gift from God intended for the salvation of souls–others as well as our own. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are numerous and varied, but always given for the good of the Church. The charisms of the various religious orders are all gifts to the Church as a whole. As a diocesan priest in service to the local church in Cincinnati, rather than a particular charism, I might have the spiritual benefit of them all!

So, let us thank our heavenly Father for the gift of a personal vocation; that, by whatever it is, we have the privilege of participating in His good work.

Perhaps we can thank him the next time we make a Holy Hour

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