Priestly Vocation

 Rev. Mr Jonathan Romanoski, FSSP

This last Thursday our Lord ascended into heaven. The last words put before us were these: “Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.” At the end of the Gospel the Paschal Candle was extinguished, symbolizing the presence of Christ no longer among us, or rather now transferred to you. For our Lord came only to cast fire upon this earth, divine fire in your soul, and the flame that we received on the Paschal vigil, lit from the Paschal candle, Christ our Light, will now burst forth at Pentecost, in tongues of fire unto all the ends of the earth. The continuation of Christ’s life among us now depends on you, his Mystical Body. The salvation of the world now depends on you, “for he that believeth not shall be condemned.” We heard at the end of the gospel the Apostles response “But they going forth preached everywhere, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.” What will be your response?

For all are called to bear witness to this divine light they have received, in word and deed to our cold dark culture of death, as our late, and rather optimistic Holy Father referred to it. However, Our Lord calls certain representatives today to participate in this work most intimately, sharing in his very priestly persona. A priesthood, which is in fact, rooted in nothing less than the incarnation itself, the union of the divine and human nature in Christ who is thus the sole mediator between God and man.

It is in this divine mediation that the priest is called to participate. And thus it is a calling utterly divine in it’s origin, unlike the priesthood of nature, which every father enjoys by the natural law over his family, which indeed continues in his Christian life, as the father is always to be found as the spiritual leader and model of holiness for the family, interceding for them before God. Yet the ministerial priesthood is entirely “from above,” and ends in no less than the very Fatherhood of God. For at the words of the priest God Himself obeys, and comes down from heaven anew, as it were, obedient even unto the mystical death of the Cross, sacramentally shedding his blood at the command of the priest. At whose voice, a soul in mortal sin, a slave of satan condemned to hell for all eternity, becomes in an instance the friend of God, a living tabernacle of the Most Holy Trinity who truly dwells in the soul by sanctifying grace. As St. John Chrysostom says, “so wondrous is this mystery, that it surpasses all wonder.”

And because it is a vocation so divine in its end it must also be divine in its means. And so let us listen for the supernatural criteria by which one discerns such a call.

The vocation to the priesthood is seen in 3 principle signs St. Alphonsus tells us.

First, purity of intention– the intention above all to serve God and save souls for the glory of God, and not to please men, or gain the esteem of others, for the scriptures tell us “God hath scattered the bones of them that please men: they have been confounded, because God hath despised them,” (Ps. 52:6), that is, those who pleased men apart from or contrary to God’s good pleasure, which is indeed the plague of the Church today.

Secondly, there is needed the necessary talent and learning, a talent and learning so as to understand and communicate the faith. As we read in the Gospel today: the priest is sent by “the Spirit of Truth.” And Holy Writ declares, “the lips of the priest shall teach knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth.” (Mal 2:7). A teaching ordered toward the love of God, which aims not only at enlightening with truth but which is truly pastoral as well, exposing and condemning error, which is the ruin of souls. As Pope Pius XI said: “The first and obvious duty the priest owes to the world about him, is service to the truth, the unmasking and refutation of error in whatever form of disguise it conceals itself.”

Lastly, yet most importantly there is needed goodness of character, both due to the fact that the priest must become the guide of others in the way of holiness, and, most of all, because he stands in the very Holy of Holies and holds the Body of Christ in his very hands, consecrated for this sole purpose. Thus not only his hands but his whole soul must be consecrated and set apart for god, which the Church sums up in a most beautiful phrase in the ordination rite, “Imitamini quod tractatis” Imitate what you handle; that is, Sacrifice yourself as Christ sacrifices himself for the glory of God and salvation of souls. Live the Mass.

Now please don’t misunderstand. These are the qualities needed to be ordained. Yet in he who has only begun to discern, these qualities will be present in a true but seminal / undeveloped fashion. For it takes many, many years in the seminary to form a priest. In the one just discerning, these qualities will be seen in the desire to give oneself to God, in the desire to know and teach the faith, in the desire to be holy, even despite one’s past and present failings, which may serve well to humble the soul.

And again here we do well not to lean on our own understanding, but to ask a priest and expose our soul to him and receive his guidance. For, quite honestly it can be overwhelming to consider the sanctity of the office, which sanctity the Fathers and Doctors say in sum, should be greater than that of the upright man’s as heaven is greater than earth. Yet if you find yourself humbled and filled with holy fear of the sacerdotal office, this is exactly the kind of soul that God wants, for his priests. As St. Pius X, says “Do we imagine that God is influenced by any inborn or acquired excellence of ours, to make use of our help for the extension of his glory? By no means; for it is written: God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world God has chosen to confound the strong… the humble and contemptible things of the world God has chosen…” So do not lose heart, as St. Augustine says, “God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou art able, and to pray for what thou are not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able.” For “Our sufficiency is from God who also hath made us fit ministers of the New Testament.” For by ourselves we can do nothing. But with Christ all things are possible. And thus St. Thomas says “God does not destine men to such or such a vocation without favoring them with gifts at the same time, and preparing them in such a way as to render them capable of fulfilling the duties of their vocation.” Of this we are sure, if we only correspond to these graces. For we must have great generosity toward God, and a prompt obedience to his calling, especially in our day for as St. Pius X said “to bring about the reign of Jesus Christ in the world, nothing is more essential than a saintly clergy who, by their example, their preaching and their learning will be the guides of the faithful; an old proverb says that the people will always be like their priests: Sicut sacerdos, sic populus.”

Now since holy priestly vocations are the life of the Church, and salvation of the world it falls to each one of us to do what we can to promote them, and for young men to be generous in discerning this call. It behooves parents, especially the father, to encourage such vocations by the holiness with which they live, as one can notably observe the great benefit in formation that seminarians have received who enter the seminary from holy families. The priestly vocation must be something held in great esteem as well, and seen as the greatest honor for a family. And to the contrary, it is my obligation to inform you, that if parents discourage a priestly vocation in their son (or a religious vocation in their daughter), when they appear truly interested in it, it is a mortal sin, according to St. Alphonsus and the common teaching. St. Bernard goes so far as to call such parents murderers. The Council of Trent also condemned the opinion of Luther, who held that one should obey parents who object to their religious calling, as we must obey God before men. Yet I know that this does not apply to most of you. May you rather be inspired by the very moving tradition in which a newly ordained priest gives to his mother the cloth with which his anointed hands were wrapped, and to his Father the stole of his first confession, which are placed on them at their death, that they may appear before God as the blessed parents of a priest for all eternity. (My classmate Rev. Mr. Gordon will be the third of his brothers to be ordained for us, and we joke that his mom will look like a mummy when she meets St. Peter. A happy mummy indeed, shall she be.)

Lastly for the young man discerning this call, the Church most highly recommends above all else for The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which are most profitably done on retreat, but can even be done amidst one’s daily life if they set aside some time for prayer each day to consider them. They simply focus the mind on what reality truly is; that you have been created for the praise and service of God alone, and by this means to save your soul. Everything else passes away, and only has value with reference to this. St. Ignatius converted his roommate Francis Xavier, by awakening him every morning with this consideration- what would it profit you if you gained the whole world, but lost your own soul. You then consider all of your sins in their true horror as a rebellion against the good God, who has freely created you and sustains you so as to serve Him and to be happy with Him for ever, and how an eternity in hell, will not compare with the dishonor shown to the infinitely good God by sin, in which we prefer created goods to eternal goodness itself. In short, these considerations and those which follow, put everything into perspective, so that you may then make a choice about your vocation in life, according to what is simply most reasonable, for the attainment of your end- the service of God and the salvation of your soul. And thus whatever choice a man makes in this state, it will be a supernatural one, and if it is to have a family it will be for supernatural motives as well, to manifest the fruitful love between Christ and the Church, and not based on attractions to fading beauty, money, power, etc., which will all pass away and may well be the greatest obstacles to growing in sanctity and saving your soul, as they are truly good things. But the good is the enemy of the best, when it is sought as an end and not a means towards it.

So let us spend this brief time dedicated to the Ascension, mediating on our calling in life. And to do so with the utmost generosity of spirit, as the salvation of the world indeed depends on our generosity in whatever state we are in. A generosity, which is simply a response to the generosity of God, who freely chooses to save man, and to choose men to participate in his very own divine work. AS the Father sent me (the Son of God!) so I send you, for the salvation of the world, the ONLY end, which matters after this so-called life, which lasts but for the blink of an eye. Christ came down from heaven and died the most shameful death for love of you. What have you done for Christ, what are you doing for Christ, what will you do for Christ.

Holy Mary Mother of the Saviour: Pray for us.


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