This audacity of God who entrusts Himself to human beings-
Who, conscious of our weakness, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being. Present in His stead- this audacity of God is the True grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood”
– Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI
One of the great gifts of being in seminary is the opportunity for daily Mass and participating in the Liturgy of the Hours in community, as well as the availability to frequent the sacrament of reconciliation. It is through these liturgies and sacraments that we begin to gain knowledge of Christ and can better conform our lives to His and continue to foster that relationship with Him. Likewise, through our participation in these sacraments as well as our encounters with one another, we gain greater knowledge of self. Along with that knowledge of self, we also come to recognize our sinfulness along with other qualities that we may say make us unfit to be a priest. This can lead us to the temptation to eliminate ourselves from the possibility of the priesthood. However, despite our sinfulness, failings, and shortcoming, the Lord calls and we must respond.
During my first semester at Bishop Simon Bruté in the fall 2015, we got the opportunity to participate as volunteers at NCYC. Our role as seminarians was to help with the reconciliation line and serve for Masses. During that weekend I decided to go to confession and afterward, a priest gave me a card with the quote listed above on one side and an image of Jesus calling the apostles from the fishing boats to follow him on the other. It was beautiful to reflect later on that in the moment in which I was able to recognize my sins and through God’s grace turn away from them and toward Him. God extends His mercy and calls us toward something much greater than ourselves through the sacrament. This is true of all Christians in our universal call to holiness, but in a particular way for those men that, despite their sinfulness, God calls to serve at His altar and entrusts them to take His place on Earth and make Him present through the Mass, and allow for his grace to flow from them in the sacraments. Through this encounter early on in seminary I began to grow in appreciation for the sacrament of the priesthood and the great gift that it is truly. Not just for the man that receives it, but rather for the whole Church. Since like all gifts from God they are not for the individual to keep but rather for the individual to give freely for the greater glory of God.
This recognition of the grandeur of the sacrament of Holy Orders ought not to discourage one from considering a vocation to the priesthood, but rather, should bring one to humble recognition that it is not through merits of their own that God works miracles, but rather it is through His grace that he does such things. What he asks of us is simply our willingness to be open to that possibility and to remain faithful to His will. Perhaps one may encounter moments in which he feels that he cannot respond to such a call because his sin is much too great or he feels that he will be unable to endure a task that a priest may have to take on and due to this is tempted to abandon all possibility of a priestly vocation. However, it is in these moments that one must allow himself to be guided by the grace of God, and not one’s own sinfulness. It is in these moments that one must remember as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “the priest is not a mere office-holder, but sacrament,” and thus God will work through His priest despite the priest’s sinfulness and unworthiness.
So as we continue to gain greater knowledge of ourselves while in seminary and may even begin to question our worthiness of such a call, we must not become discouraged for the reality is that no one is worthy of being a priest. Rather, it is God that invites us to share in His priesthood and we must respond with faith and trust. Two things that will take a lifetime to perfect and even then we will still fail at times but the important thing is to not give in to our sin but rather to continue to seek God and His will throughout our lives day after day. This I have come to realize more and more throughout my years in seminary. Although I’ve always known that seminary- while preparing us to God-willing become priests someday- will not answer all our questions nor will we leave being perfect, I have come to a greater realization of this throughout the past three years. Faith is truly a life-long journey and we must continue to persevere in it and never give up despite our sinfulness and we must remain open to the grace of God so that it may work in and through us.
Now, obviously God does not call all young men to the priesthood, however, those that do have a strong attraction toward such a vocation should not become discouraged because of fear. But rather he should continuously seek the grace of God through the frequenting of the sacraments and should recognize that God will work through them despite their sins as long as they continue to lead a virtuous life and do their best to strive toward holiness. This is the audacity of God of which Pope Emeritus Benedict spoke of in which God entrusts Himself to human beings- Who, conscious of our weakness, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in His stead- this audacity of God is the True grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood.” The priesthood, in some sense is truly a mystery and if one authentically feels a call to such a vocation, he should not run from it out of fear, but should rather run toward it out of love of the one who calls, which is God.
Fermin Luna is a Seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Louisville and a member of the Class of 2018.