Saturday, March 27, 2004

Discernment and a Mea Culpa

[First post deleted for containing both an apology and a meta-apology; it's really difficult to apologize for a condescending apology in a way that does not require a third apology, and so on. It's better I just started over entirely.]

OK, what I really wanted to say was this:

As some of you know, a few years ago I was seriously considering the priesthood. Now I believe my vocation is elsewhere. (Not just now; this realization took form over my second year.) I can't say that this was a rational judgment as much as a kind of discernment, and so I've been trying to analyze the process in retrospect for a while, how it is that I came to know I'm not meant to be a priest.

Something I've been considering recently is that what I took to be indications of a pastoral vocation at the time were really something else entirely. I would be listening to a homily, or watching the priest in other parts of the Mass, and I'd see myself doing the same. More accurately, though, I'd see myself doing the job better than the priest I was watching. I'd imagine homilies that would be totally orthodox, challenging, and which would offend nobody because of their calm reason and overflowing charity. Or I'd imagine myself going through the prayers of the Mass with a clear, reverent, but moving voice.

Basically, what I was really doing in my mind was criticizing the priests I saw and putting myself on a higher spiritual plane. What I took as a sign of a priestly vocation was, at least in part, an act of egotism.

It's taken me a while to realize just how difficult an office the priesthood is, how tiring it must be for a priest to focus his whole being on these thousands of people about him, how challenging it is to compose a good reflection or homily, how many duties are required and how many more expected of the priest. It is a high and exacting call; not more difficult than marriage and parenthood, or the consecrated single life, or religious life in community, but challenging in different ways, with much fear of failure. In my imagination, I can ignore the agonies and put an avatar, always patient and alert and humble, in the place of this flesh and blood human being. The grass is always so green on the other side of the Roman collar.

Of course, the fact that my "inclinations" were just expressions of selfishness didn't mean I had no priestly vocation. It just blinded me to other indications that I do belong out in the world, in the sense of the laity; indications that I was not called to offer the sacrifice as an alter Christus, but to bring forward the gifts and talents I can provide to the altar of the Church, and to receive with humility the unmerited Bread of Life in return.

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