Called to Obedience
By Seminarian Nicholas Duncan
This summer I was assigned to a pastoral internship at Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish in Monroe. I was active in Vacation Bible School, youth ministry, and serving the Holy Mass. The parishioners have often thanked me for assisting in their parish. This gave me a weird feeling because they thanked me as if I chose to come to their parish this summer out of all the parishes in the diocese. But, I didn’t choose to go there. I was assigned to the parish. If you want to thank somebody, thank Father Jerry Daigle, the Vocation Director and my boss. He’s the one that makes the assignments. The academic year comes and goes at seminaries like it does at any other institution of higher education. It has fall/spring semesters with winter/summer breaks. However, these “breaks” may be time away from the seminary, but they are not free. It is not time off to do whatever your heart desires. The diocese that sponsors you gives you an assignment. These may include Spanish immersion in Mexico, or summer school at the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF) in Omaha Nebraska. My assignment just happened to be a parish assignment this summer.
I frequently get asked what am I planning to do once I finish seminary: “Will I remain in the Diocese of Shreveport?” or “Do I plan to come back to their area possibly to their church?” What they don’t realize is that I have already made my decision. I have already chosen to be a seminarian for the Diocese of Shreveport, and, God willing, in three years I will be ordained a priest. The future Bishop of Shreveport will decide what my first assignment will be, as well as the second, third, and fourth. I might be consulted on what I would like to do or what I believe my strengths are in ministry, but these decisions will ultimately be made by the bishop and his successors. The promise of obedience that is taken is actually quite freeing. I will not have to worry about where I see myself in five to 10 years or how the demographics of the business/industry are changing. I just have to discern whether God is calling me to become a priest for the Diocese of Shreveport and trust in the Holy Spirit from thereafter.
This decision is not to be made lightly. In seminary you are given a lot of time to determine what your calling is, four to five years is the minimum sometimes it is more than a decade. This is part of the reason I get so angry when I hear about priests abandoning the priesthood, such as the celebrity priest who is a contributor to Fox News, Father Jonathan Morris. He announced that he was leaving the priesthood last May after being a priest for 17 years. Many in the media and blogosphere have praised Father Morris for following his heart, but I don’t agree with that at all. It makes me angry. This response might seem to be lacking in compassion. But, if a young married man with a baby and a four year old child leaves his family because he, “doesn’t feel called” to family life and needs time to find himself, I would hope that no one would praise him for following his heart. I would like to think that as a society we would proclaim that he has a responsibility to his wife and kids, and that we should expect young men to keep the promises/vows they’ve made and to take responsibility for their actions.
People would understandably be angry with a man that has abandoned their wife and kids. I feel Father Morris, a 47 year old priest with 10 years in formation should be held be held to a higher standard. I feel compassion for those who have been affected by his public actions.
I feel upset when I hear of a priest leaving the priesthood, or when I meet people that say they know someone that “used” to be priest. I feel people do not understand the damage that is caused when people break the vows they have made to God. As I prepare to make my promises to God at my ordination, I pray that the Lord will give me the strength to be faithful and keep the promises I have made.
I pray that those who have discerned out of the priesthood will come back into the loving arms of the Church. I also pray to the Father that I will learn how to forgive those that have abandoned the call as He forgives.