Vocations View: Why I Want to Become a Priest

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by Seminarian Nicholas Duncan

I am going to let you all in on a little secret: I never wanted to become a priest. When I was a kid, I didn’t dream about wearing brightly colored vestments, preaching homilies, hoisting chalices or blessing pets. I wanted to become a professional athlete, win a gold medal or two, and have lots of money and a beautiful wife. I was told to dream big. I could become whatever I wanted to be. Consequently, these were the goals I pursued in my youth.

Eventually, I had to lower my goals from my childhood fantasies to what was a bit more attainable. I became a good athlete – not “Olympic” level – but pretty good. I realized that happiness does not come from money, so I tossed that goal aside, and I had a beautiful girlfriend. I seemed to be doing well for myself, but I did not feel fulfilled. My focus was on myself and what I wanted: my dreams, my goals, my desires – everything was about me. Never did I stop to ask the Lord what He had planned for me.

I wouldn’t even let the thought of becoming a priest enter my mind until I was 26-years-old. And once I did, I did not tell anyone for over a year. The first person I told was a priest. We told some other priests, and eventually I let my parents know. This small group of people were the only ones who knew for another year.

When I decided I was going to seminary, I was forced to tell people. I had to give them an explanation because I was quitting my job and moving out of my apartment. This secret discernment of priesthood is an obstacle many men face. Part of the problem stems from fear of talking about the priesthood. It is something that is rarely discussed in our churches. When I started to tell people I was thinking about becoming a priest, a feeling of relief came upon me.

Another reason for this fear is that when you tell someone you are planning on becoming a priest, inevitable questions follow. “Why would you want to become a priest?” “You mean the Catholic kind of priest?” “You do know they don’t let you have sex?” “That means you won’t get to have a wife and kids.”

Sex and children are always everyone’s immediate response. I want to shout at them, “Of course I know priests are celibate!” I didn’t know how to respond to these questions. The reaction people have is a product of our sexualized culture and misplaced values.

On a deeper level, this concern stems from the fact that God has designed man and woman for each other. It is natural for a man and a woman to leave their families to unite as one flesh and create a new family. Today the family is under attack. Young adults are rejecting marriage or postponing it. Even worse are those who want to redefine marriage according to the whims of men instead of by the eternal order of God. But I think it is a positive sign that people’s immediate gut response to celibacy is that you won’t get to have a family. Even those who do not believe have this response, showing their natural inclination to the plan God has for them, despite their actions to the contrary.

I, like many people, desired to have a family. All I knew at the time was that I believed it was “possible” for me to become a priest, and that through will power and self-control I could be celibate. Additionally, I had a sense that perhaps I was not called to marriage, but to something else. This feeling is even harder to explain.

I have come to realize that this “something else” is still a type of marriage. This supernatural marriage of the priesthood is in union with Christ, the Bridegroom, and his union through his sacrifice on the cross to his bride the Church. This supernatural union is REAL; this marriage is not a meager metaphor attempting to explain Christ’s love for us. It is an eschatological reality.

This is the marriage I now feel called to. Dating is forbidden at seminary because we are already in a relationship with another: the Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ. We are discerning if we are called to this supernatural relationship, and She, “the Church,” is deciding if we are fit to be her spouse.

When I am ordained (God willing) I will not be called reverend or pastor or minister, I will be called father. This name is not an honorary title or a salutation. This spiritual fatherhood is real. Yes, I would like to marry and have children, but I feel an even stronger pull to become a father to young and old alike. This is why I want to become a priest.  •

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