St. Mary’s Seminary
January 7, 2023
As you may know, Father Tyler and I were privileged to attend the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. We returned last evening, and I am very happy to be with you this morning for this day prayer, this day of discerning how God may be calling you to serve him in his Church. Even as we continue pray for the happy repose of the late Pope’s soul, let us ask him to pray that we may find the path to serving the Lord and his Church in that same humble and prayerful spirit that he served for so many years. May his great soul rest in peace.
If Pope Benedict were with us this in person morning, he might point out that our reading from John’s Gospel – the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana – is the first of Jesus’ miracles, the first of his signs – and indeed, the first part of John’s Gospel is known as “The Book of Signs”. These signs point to Jesus’ identity as God’s Son in the flesh, and his mission, indeed, his “vocation” to reveal God the Father’s glory, to save us from our sins, and to raise us up, along with all creation, to the glory, joy, and peace of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus’ miracle at Cana was done at the behest of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her pure love, her openness to God’s will, she sensed two things: First, that the lack of wine deeply embarrassed the newlywed couple. Second, that Jesus had the power to make all things new. So, she prevailed on her divine Son who changed water into wine, indeed, the best vintage imaginable, to the astonishment of the headwaiter. Thus, did Jesus begin to reveal himself and his Father’s glory, just as he would do in a series of miracles culminating with the raising of Lazarus.
God Sends Us Signs
You have come to this discernment retreat perhaps because you have been attentive to the signs of Jesus’ love in your own life. It’s not that he’s changed water into wine or raised a loved one from the dead. Indeed, we sometimes imagine that it would be a wonderful thing if God spoke directly to us, or worked some miracle for us, and or in some other spectacular way, let us know just what he has in mind for us. Miracles still happen but not to compensate for a lack of trust on our part or for an unwillingness to follow the path of prayerful discernment.
Absent some spectacular miracle, I hope nonetheless, that you have sensed that Jesus is active in your life, that he is sending you signs and signals about your identity and your mission, and that, in the light of the Holy Spirit, he is inviting you prayerfully to read and understand those signs – signs that the Lord may be calling you to be formed for the priesthood.
Signs of a Priestly Vocation
What are some of the signs of a priestly vocation? Before speaking of the more obvious signs, let me speak of the most important sign of all – The first sign of a vocation is that you are willing to accept the gift of discernment, a gift from the Holy Spirit by which we sort through our busy and distracted lives in search of the One who is true, in search of the Person of Christ. A desire to know Christ, to love him, to follow him is fundamental. When that is present in your life, you have taken the first step.
Once you recognize in yourself a newfound openness to the Lord, then you will be more open to the signs and signals that he sends— and what are some of these? It might be your admiration for a priest whom you’ve gotten to know, a priest who is happy because he is spending his life for the Lord and for others. It might be an attraction for the things that priests do, such as saying Mass, preaching, hearing confessions, tending to the sick and dying. Or it might be that those who know you can see in you already what you yourselves cannot yet see – the signs that you’d make good priests. When someone tells you that – perhaps a grandparent or a godparent, or perhaps your girlfriend when the two of you are breaking up – you might not want to hear it! Who, me? Why me? – we may ask.
A vocation, before it is a calling, is an invitation, an invitation from the Lord to listen to his voice, to come to know him better, knowing that in this life, we will never fully comprehend the dimensions of his truth & love. It is also an invitation from the Lord to know ourselves better, to know more than our whims or our vain desires, but to know ourselves more deeply, in the light of his truth and love. Only Jesus fully reveals us to ourselves. Finally, it is an invitation to listen as the Lord speaks to us through others, indeed, as the Lord speaks to us through the Church … for we do not discern our vocations as isolated individuals but as members of the Body of Christ, united one to another. As a practical matter, this may include conversations with Fr. Roth and Fr. Himes, but also, the worthy use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and participation in the Church’s sacred liturgy.
The Issue of Unworthiness
As we are discerning, reading the signs and signals that the Lord sends us, we may indeed be struck by our unworthiness for such a high call as the priesthood. Today’s reading from the 1st Letter of St. John deals with that very issue. John makes clear that the struggle with sin is very real, in our own lives and in the lives of others – and that we can indeed sin against God’s love grievously. Yet, St. John also urges us to have confidence that if we ask for anything in accordance with God’s will, it will be granted – and nothing accords with God’s will more than our pleas for mercy and forgiveness. For Jesus came, not to call the righteous, but sinners – this I can attest to in my own life.
Besides, no one expects you to enter the seminary fully formed for the priesthood. The seminary is a time of discernment but also a time of formation – formation in discipleship, formation in virtue, and the development of all the gifts of nature and grace God has bestowed upon you. Perhaps Pope Francis motto, borrowed from St. Bede the Venerable, sums up my point: “Miserando atque eligendo” – which, roughly translated means, “having had mercy, he called me” … and that is the right attitude for us all … for the workings of grace are most powerful in the souls of those who are humble.
Finally, just as Mary prompted Jesus to work the first of his signs, let us ask her intercession so that we might read the signs and signals which, in his mercy her Son sends us … for, as Dante wrote, “In his will is our peace”. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love.