As many of my friends know, I have been praying about my vocation for many years. It is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions a Catholic has to make - how does Christ want me to serve His Church? We know from the Catechism that one of the reasons we were created is to serve God, but this can be accomplished in many different ways and through many different vocations. I will not bore anyone with the details of my vocational journey or the hardships and obstacles I have faced, but I have felt a constant pull towards serving God as a priest ever since I was a child. This spiritual journey has taken me all over the country, and even all over Europe, as I attempted to discover God's plan for my life. With the help of my Spiritual Director, I eventually heard God's "still, small voice" which gave me great peace in pursuing the wonderful and unbelievable gift of the priesthood.
The priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest gift imaginable. As Fr. John Hardon explains, "The priesthood is simultaneously four things: it is a sacrament of the new law instituted by Christ, it is a state of life to which some men are called by a special vocation from God, it is an institution without which there would be no Christianity on earth today, and it is a ministry of the Catholic Church by which Christ continues His own priestly work of saving and sanctifying the souls for whom He shed His blood on Calvary."
The priesthood is not a job; it is a permanent state of life which imprints an indelible mark on the soul of a Catholic man which lasts for all eternity. A priest remains a priest forever, no matter what may happen to his body, mind, or even his soul. It is the absolute highest honor that God could possibly bestow on one of His sons. Why is this great gift feared, avoided, and refused by so many young men?
This is a calling for real men. It is not a "job" for men who "can't find a wife" or "have nothing else they can do." It is not a backup plan, nor is it a door to a comfortable, easy life. It is a vocation which requires much sacrifice, labor, struggle, and love for others. The priest shares daily in the joys and sorrows of God's people, and he gives his entire self to the Church, just as Christ also sacrificed Himself for our sake. The priest becomes "everything to everyone" in his imitation of Our Blessed Lord. It is a divine calling, and it takes a real man who is willing to suffer and die for Christ, if necessary. Our Lord holds out the priesthood as a very special gift which is not offered to hundreds of millions of other men. By offering this gift, Our Lord invites certain Catholic men to manifest Christ's love to the entire world in a most beautiful way.
Fr. Hardon continues: "Without the priesthood, there would be no Christianity left on earth. Remove the priesthood and you remove the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove Holy Communion from the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the Sacrament of Reconciliation from a very sinful world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the divinely assured teaching of God's revealed truth from the world. Without the priesthood, Christianity would be a memory but no longer a reality." While we have assurance from Christ that the Church will always exist and the gates of hell will never prevail against Her, Our Lord needs more laborers in a world that is much in need of Catholic truth and the Word of God.
When we contemplate the priesthood, it is often tempting to consider it a calling for "someone else," assuming that we could not possible be called to serve God in this way. Before a priest was even conceived in his mother's womb, God knew this future priest, called this future priest, and designated this future priest from all eternity to share in the salvific priesthood of Jesus Christ. It must be a conscious, selfless, and courageous choice to accept this calling after much prayer and guidance.
God wants to use us as Catholic men to strengthen the Church even though we are sinners. He wants to take our lips which may have spoken foul words or cursed others, and use them to proclaim the Gospel and give sacramental absolution in the confessional. He wants to take our hands which may have embraced forbidden love, and use them to offer Holy Mass and to bring Jesus Christ in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to the people of God. Jesus Christ is calling us, but so many of us refuse to answer or take this calling seriously. So many of us simply do not care. Sadly, we often have our "own plans" which seem to be more important, but what can be more important than the salvation of souls?
As I deal with a brain tumor, I am not sad that it may eventually cause me to suffer and die. This will eventually happen to all of us, and we must be prepared to face death at all times by remaining in the state of grace. The single worry I face every day is that because of various circumstances - some of which are beyond my control - I may never know what it is like to serve God as the alter Christus I desire with all my heart to be. It brings tears to my eyes to imagine departing this world without pronouncing the words of Christ at the Last Supper, "This is My Body; This is My Blood," before gazing upon Our Eucharistic Lord in the greatest miracle ever known to man. I pray fervently that I may one day have the privilege of absolving sins - even if I only live long enough to absolve one - showing the same mercy that God has so often shown me despite my weaknesses and sinfulness.
I offer my suffering from this illness for the intentions and sanctification of all bishops, priests, and religious, and for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. As I attempt to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary's Fiat and respond without reservation to God's call to the most extraordinary and humbling gift He can give to a man, I ask you out of charity to please join me in praying this novena to St. Gerard Majella: www.saintgerard.com/nineday.html. Please pray that through his intercession, if it will bring glory to God and to His Bride, the Church, I will be admitted to the seminary and live long enough to die as a priest should this "cup" (my illness), which I willingly take up, not be allowed to pass from me, for nothing is impossible with God.
St. Gerard was denied admittance into the Redemptorist order three times because of his frail health. After many trials and rejections, God saw to it that St. Gerard eventually became a Redemptorist priest and served the Church faithfully for the rest of his life.
Thank you for your prayers.
Philip Gerard Johnson