Recently a Catholic gentleman asked me about my calling to the priesthood. The question struck me as strange. He was obviously curious with a good question. I don’t question his motives. He was actually thinking about his teenage son who had told him he was thinking about the priesthood. However, the man’s language struck me as strange. I don’t think in terms of a “call” to priesthood.
We have all heard the word, “calling”, with respect to a religious vocation. It is very common in today’s language. However, it is a ridiculous use of the word. As it is used today, a “call” is something you may get, but I do not. If I get the calling, I am bound to respond. If you don’t get it, you are not bound to anything. The word, “call” is practically an excuse for doing something, or not doing something.
I knew a Protestant minister who pushed a huge church building project through his community because the Lord apparently had called him to do this. When the Church was finally built and the bills started coming due, he answered a “call” to move to be a pastor in another state, leaving his community without a pastor.
The word “call” is actually a Protestant term. If you hear it used these days in the Catholic Church, it is borrowed Protestant language that first began with Martin Luther and John Calvin in the 16th century. The word “call” has no similar history of use in our Catholic vocabulary.
So, I thought about my response to the man who asked me about my “call” to the priesthood.
I explained to him that I was in love. That is my experience of vocation and priesthood, and this is consistent with the writings of the saints. I can’t see vocation in any other way. I am in love; deeply, madly, recklessly in love. And, I’m falling more in love as time passes. If you recall my first homily here when I was assigned to St. John, my first parish, I told you then that I was in love.
I told you then, that I recognized the symptoms because I had been deeply in love before. I loved a woman. I was married for thirty-seven years. We had six children together. She died and I became a widower. I was in love then; and I am in love now.
Let’s talk about love. You can love anything or anybody, up to the natural limits. I had a dog, a German Shepherd, that I raised from a small puppy. He became a beautiful, breath-taking, very well-trained adult German Shepherd. I love that dog. But, he is a dog! There are limits. We must respect those natural limits.
Love is my experience of vocation; not “call”. We are all called by our Baptism to love God in a new and very personal way. Jesus tells us to call him, “Father”. We all have a call to love to the fullest extent of our natural being. If you are in love, you allow yourself to fall ever more deeply in love until you encounter some natural obstacle.
Love and marriage are like that. I fell in love with Cynthia. At first there were several obstacles, like the fact that we were not married; and I had not yet finished college or held a job that would allow me to care for her and any family that we might have together. With time, all the obstacles went away. Our love grew. We were married. I continued to fall ever more deeply, more maturely in love with her.
I am a convert to the Catholic Church. From the beginning I have been head-over heals in love with the Catholic Church. I thought of the priesthood almost from the beginning, before I met Cynthia. However, the Catholic Church well understands love, and new love affairs. For example, a person who loses a spouse has no business dating and re-marrying right away. They need to heal and grow before they become ready to take on the responsibilities of a new marriage. New converts to the Church are in love. But it is a new, untested love. The Catholic Church will not accept any new converts to the seminary or convent before about five years have gone by. There is wisdom in mature love.
Then, I met my future wife. I came to understand where I was meant to fall more fully, more maturely in love. And we did. And it changed us, forever. That is what love does. Love will not leave you unchanged.
Parents, recall the moment you became a mom or a dad for the first time. Think about yourself a week or two before it happened. You knew it was coming. On some levels you were prepared for it. But then, your baby was born. Do you remember how you fell in love in those moments? Do you see how much you were changed in those moments of utter joy! Do you recall continuing to fall more deeply in love with this new person who has come into your life? Nothing would ever be the same. Nothing could ever be the same. Your relationship with your spouse grew, as well. Most spouses see their children as the natural consequence of their love for each other; and they see that they can best love this child together; and their love for each other grows. Everything changes when you fall head over heals in love. God blesses all love.
All human love is a reflection of God’s love. Our mission is to love. Love is not a “call”. There are never any excuses not to love up to the very limits of our being and the natural logic of love. I continue to love my wife. But she is with God now. I see now that my love for her was for the purpose of getting her into heaven, the source of all Love. And, I trust she is helping me to get into heaven.
Now that she is gone from this life, my love for God and the Church no longer has any obstacles or natural limits.
How would I describe my vocation, or my “call” to the priesthood?
I am in love; and there are no natural barriers. I am growing ever more deeply, madly in love. If any man or woman here is considering a vocation, see it only as falling in love. Love can be messy, but I want to live my life in love. God blesses love. The Gospel is not a book. The Gospel is the story of God’s incredible, unlimited love for us.
As St. Paul said,
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
And, he said,
Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
Paul was in love. He was spreading God’s love. When you are in love, you do everything for the sake of your love. That is how you know you are in love. You don’t do things to please just yourself. You seek the good of the other. I want all to experience God’s love and salvation, the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love for us. Like Paul, I want all to hear it. I love you. I love the Church!
And, I can say with St. Paul,
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.