Bella insists: “‘But I just feel I am called to the priesthood.”
Is she called? It is not just a matter of feeling, or waiting for a jab from on high; there are solid theological principles, three of them:
First: Do I want this way of life, and want it for reasons at least basically supernatural? (They may be mixed, especially early on). The reasons might be to serve and please God, or help souls, so to make your own soul safer.
Second: Do I have the needed qualities, mental, moral, physical and psychological? Ability to do C-level studies is ample. Normal physical health suffices, unless one is thinking of a difficult foreign mission. As to moral health, one must be free of grave faults, or get there quickly. In addition, one should want to do more than just get by spiritually: one should desire to grow and never stop trying. But the final requisite is less easy to determine: psychological fitness? Consider fully all the facets of the role I might have to take: priests in a tiny hamlet, or a large parish, or in the chancery, or in teaching? What about community life? If I think of a religious community what sort of work would I do? Today many Bishops and religious Superiors are rather accommodating in making assignments. Formerly one had to plan to be comfortable with any of the possible assignments.
The final requirement is just as essential: Do I have a canonical call from a Bishop or Superior? Without it, none of the above count -- poor Bella!
Yes, God does call people, and the official indispensable call is through those in authority. However, the process will not begin unless God interiorly calls one. If He does that, He gives the supernatural desire -- for He can inject in us desires without taking any freedom, e.g., to be a Doctor, Lawyer, etc. To have a working world, God needs to have persons in great variety of works. Not all should be lawyers, or teachers, and so on.
As we indicated, God works by implanting a desire. If He does that, He will give also the other requisites. But we quickly notice: the word call applies not only to priesthood and religious life; marriage too is a call. Pope Paul VI wrote that ‘Marriage is a long path towards sanctification.” For during courtship, the inevitable differences between male and female are papered over by powerful feelings. But some time after marriage, they begin to appear. Then, even in a fine combination- not always had! -Each one can honestly say: I have to give in most of the time to make this work. This is beautiful, the opposite of attachment to self. To live it out takes some doing.
We mentioned that not all marriages are an ideal combination? But why? Screwtape gave Wormwood an assignment: Find how to wreck marriages and vocations all at one stroke, and credit Vatican II with it! Eager for a place in the lowerarchy, Wormwood came up with this: Tell them that to give up any creature voluntarily for religious motive does them no good! So grow up doing what feels good, only so long as it feels good, and then drop it. At the start, during courtship, the inescapable differences of male and female psychology are all papered over by a high tide of feelings. But then, sometime after feelings have simmered down to a more normal level, they make the sad discovery: he/she is not just like me!
So a couple comes up to the altar, hears the priest tell them there is sacrifice, but love makes it a pleasure. If either one has grown up on the new give-up-nothing spirituality, he/she is headed for a crash. For even with an ideal couple, each one will be able to say honestly: I have to give in most of the time to make this work. If they do make this work, they develop a great deal of selflessness, which is spiritually very beneficial. And if children come, they are very enjoyable part of the time, and difficult part of the time. To accept all of this as part of Our Father’s Plan is sanctifying.
In, fact, to get up at 3:00 A.M. with a baby, if seen and accepted as part of the Father’s Plan, can even be considered a Holy Hour.
Religious Life and the Priesthood, if lived properly, require a great deal of giving up things, but if someone accepts the view that it does no good, and that obedience is even harmful, would they not be a fool to enter into a life of this sort? Or, if they already did, they would leave -- which they did by the thousands in the 1960’s. If they stay, they would try to change the community to a new way of thinking. If one of these obtains a powerful position, they will be very hard on souls who try to live what the superior consider the wrong way. The priesthood in or without an order is apt to require financial sacrifice. In fact, even with a vow of poverty, one may find it possible to attend international conventions in his or her field by merely asking their permission of the superior, while a diocesan priest does not ask for permission but must raise his own money.
On the other hand, it is quite possible that a priest or religious will have more disposable income than the parent of a family. This can produce danger, which may not be recognized, of becoming selfish. While it is true, as St. Paul says in First Corinthians 7, that one who abstains from marriage has a spiritual gain in that respect, yet he or she needs to recall that to give up marriage is only one thing.Great spiritual growth requires real detachment from all things, not just from sex.
So it can happen that in a concrete case someone in marriage may make greater spiritual growth using the means we have indicated than someone who has given up marriage. Paul VI, therefore, was very right in saying that marriage can be a long path toward sanctification, that is, if everything in it is worked out according to Our Father’s Plan.
Long ago, the impression was often given that those who are generous with God will choose priesthood or religious life; those who are deficient will not. But this is far from true. The essential is to try earnestly to find what the will of God is for me, in either of the two paths.
What about Vatican II? In the decree on lay apostolate, #7, it wrote that creatures are good for three reasons: First, God in genesis made each thing good. Second, creatures are for the use of man, the peak of visible creation. Third, Christ, in the incarnation, too on a created nature, and used created things, hence an added dignity. From this, the give-up-nothing people conclude there is no good in giving up any creature voluntarily for a religious motive. But Vatican II never said that. On the contrary, it praised highly the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience.
3:31-35, the Mother of Jesus came to a crowd to which He was
speaking. His reply was dramatic: “Who is my Mother?
Whoever does the will of my Father is Mother and Brother to me.”
As Lumen Gentium 56 makes clear, He was teaching forcefully that out of two kinds of greatness, the quasi-infinite dignity of Mother of God, and hearing the Word of God and keeping it, the second is greater.
Really, it is trying to compare things in two very different categories. But that which is the more important is the personal holiness of hearing the Word of God and keeping it. She was at the peak in both categories. As Pius IX taught in Ineffabilis Deus, the holiness even at the start was so great that “none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it.”
There is a parallel to the ordained priest - as the man conformed to Christ so he can act in the person of Christ (LG 10), can say: This is my body -- and it is the body of Christ, or: I absolve you -- and Jesus absolves. This is surpassing dignity-- but it also calls for greatest holiness. Jesus told all: Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. This applies to all Christians - but immeasurably more to the ordained priest. If one wishes to know who or what the ordained priest is, here is the answer: He can act “in Persona Christi”. Today there is a tendency to play down or minimize this fact. But it is essential. It does not say that the ordained priest is personally holy, just that he can act in the person of Christ. The priesthood of the laity differs "not only in degree but in kind" wrote Vatican II in LG10.