The priesthood is where the human meets the Divine. Not only does our God love us so much that He became man through the Incarnation and gave His entire being to us through the Cross, but He also left us tangible ways of uniting with Him on earth. Within our finite human form, we are invited to live in communion with Him—even physically—by consuming His precious body and blood. How is this possible? Because God gave human men the capacity to stand in the place of Christ.
These men are ordained Catholic priests who trace their authority all the way back to the apostles, who are called by Jesus to share in His spousal relationship with the Church, to be conformed in persona Christi capitis ecclesiae (the person of Christ, Head of the Church). Through the sacramental grace of Holy Orders, the priest is made into a husband to the Church and spiritual father to all. It is by this sacrament that a man is ontologically changed—changed on the level of his being—to stand in the person of Christ.
A priest is a Catholic man called by God to proclaim the “Good News” of salvation to the world and to lead God’s people in worship, especially in making present the saving sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross in the Eucharist. He is also privileged to bring Christ to people in the Sacraments: he gives the life of Christ to people in Baptism; he forgives their sins in Reconciliation; he anoints the sick; he officiates at weddings. In general, the priest brings Jesus Christ to people in their spiritual needs.
Just as Jesus Christ is fully and really present in the Eucharist, so too through the Sacrament of Holy Orders is Jesus Christ fully and really present in the priest, above and beyond what we all can claim as Christians; when the priest acts in the person of Christ, he is in fact, in the person of Christ.
OVERCOMING FEARS OF THE PRIESTHOOD
Perhaps priesthood has crossed your mind, but fear pushes the idea away: fear of commitment, fear of celibacy, fear of being unworthy. These fears are very common, even for men who are already in seminary. But literally thousands of men have had the same concerns and then went on to become holy and effective priests.
The first principle to remember is that God does not speak through fear. Fear is a tactic of the Enemy to keep you from pursuing God’s will; it is like the bite of an animal that paralyzes its prey to keep it from moving. A man in fear will find it difficult to move toward God’s will. So how do you overcome fear? Here are five ideas:
1) Turn your fears into concerns. You may have legitimate concerns about celibacy or preaching—but that is not the same as being afraid. Rather than feeling fear, look at the requirements of priesthood objectively. It is true that priests need a certain level of self-possession for public speaking, and that many areas of one’s life call for change and improvement. But go about your discernment with a cool head, not a fearful heart, for “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). When Jesus called Peter (Lk 5:1-11) to discipleship, our first pope said, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus then assured him that there was nothing to fear in following him. Likewise, Jesus knows your difficulties and weaknesses. If you trust him and “cast your net into the deep,” all will be well.
2) Reflect on God’s love. In his book To Save a Thousand Souls, Fr. Brett Brannen recommends this meditation when a man feels fearful: “God is infinite in power and he loves me infinitely. There is no snatching out of his hand. God will never send me where his grace cannot sustain me. If he asks me to do something difficult, like become a priest, he will give me the grace to do it. I will not fail because he is with me. And I will be happy because I am doing his will. Even if I lack some of the needed qualities, God will help me develop them. In his will lies my peace.”
3) Entrust your fears to the Blessed Mother. Recall that after the angel told Mary to “fear not,” she readily accepted God’s will for her: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Entrust your fears to her intercession, and she will help calm your heart and find the will of Jesus.
4) Remember what seminary is for. From a purely practical perspective, it’s comforting to know that if God calls you to be a priest, ordination is still years away. Seminary offers a period of intensive formation to help a man address his concerns, grow in holiness, and prepare for an effective priestly ministry. No man enters seminary ready to be a priest!
One word sums up the priesthood: Love. Not the flawed love of human beings. Priests are humans like the rest of us. I’m talking about the Love that created space and time, hung on a cross, rose from the dead, promised that he’d never leave us, and who reaches out to the world today, through the hands of his priests.
5) Look to Scripture for Consolation. If you have some fears concerning priesthood, know that you are not alone. Those prophets and apostles whom Jesus called in the Scriptures also had fears. See the Scriptural references below to see how God encouraged them.
· I’m not holy enough: Isa 6:1-9; Lk 5:1-11
· I’m afraid I will fail: Ex 14: 10-31; Lk 15
· I’ve made mistakes and I’m a sinner: Jn 21:15-23; Mt 9:9-13; Lk 7:36-50
· I’m too young: 1 Sam 3:1-18; 1 Sam 16:1-13; Jer 1:4-10; Lk 1:26-3
· I’m not talented enough: 1 Sam 17:32-51; Lk 1: 26-38
· I want to have a family: Gen 12:1-3; Mt 12:46-50; Mk 10:28-30
· I want “the good life”: Mk 10:17-31; 1 Cor 2:9; Mt 13:44-46; Jn 10:10; Mt 16:24-27
· I’m afraid of making a permanent commitment: Ruth 1:15-17; Mt 28:16-20; 1Cor 12:5-10
· I’m afraid of public speaking: Ex 4:10-17; Jer 1:4-10; Jer 1: 9-10
· I’m not smart enough: 2 Cor 4:7-18; Ex 4:10-17
· I’m afraid of being alone: Ex 3:4-22; Lk 1:28-38; Mt 28:20
· I want to be happy: Ps 37:4; Mt 5: 1-12; Jn 10:10; Mk 10:28-31; 1 Cor 2:9
· I’m filled with fear: 1Jn 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
As Pope John Paul II reminded us so often throughout his pontificate: Be not afraid! Don’t let fear paralyze you. Instead, ask a priest you trust to help you with your concerns. Remain faithful to daily prayer, trust in God, and your heart will be at peace, no matter what your vocation.