There is an apocryphal story told about Jesus speaking with one of his angels as they looked down at the earth. The angel said, “Lord, I am looking at a world covered in darkness but I see a few lights. What are those twelve tiny lights I see?” Jesus replied, “Those lights are my eleven disciples and my mother. It is my plan that those twelve lights will spread my love, my grace, and my teaching to every person who will ever live.” The angel kept staring at the earth and after a few minutes said, “Lord, there sure is a lot of darkness down there. What if it doesn’t work? What is Plan B?” And the Lord Jesus replied, “There is no Plan B.”
Why would anyone want to be a priest? To put it simply, God calls some men to become priests because the priesthood is an important part of the plan of Jesus to save the world.
The priesthood of Jesus Christ is a radical life. It requires sacrifices that many people in this world perceive to be foolish. One father asked his son: “Why do you want to do this? Why do you want to listen to other people’s problems all the time? Why give up marriage, sex, and your own children? Why choose to be poor? Why on earth would anyone want to do this?”
The short answer is because God has called him to do this. Priests can be very powerful instruments in the hands of Jesus to help bring people to Heaven. As Catholics, we believe that God himself created some men, with the help of their parents (whom Pope St. John Paul II called “co-creators”), with the specific intention that they will become priests. It is God who places the desire for priesthood into a man’s mind and heart, and it is often unexplainable even to the man himself.
Sure, there are scenarios when a man wants to be a priest for the wrong reasons. This kind of man, though, typically never makes it into seminary, or if he does, he does not stay very long. By and large, most men go through a prayerful process of gathering information and consulting trustworthy priests. Very often, men even wish God were not calling them to the priesthood. So chances are, if your son announces that he wants to be a priest, the call could be genuine. Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”
If God is calling your son, he will give him the grace to live his priesthood with happiness and joy—even while sacrificing those things that the world so often equates with fulfillment.
An Encounter with Jesus
Pope Francis writes, in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ…I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”
Your son has had a personal encounter with this Jesus and he has fallen in love with Him! Jesus is irresistible, for those who have come to know Him, and his call is powerful for those who love Him. There are (approximately) four hundred thousand Catholic priests in the world today who follow Jesus joyfully, making all of the required sacrifices! How do they do this? Why? Because they have fallen in love with the Master and He gives them the grace to do what they have been called to do. And they do it with joy!
Ask your son to tell you about his personal encounter with the Lord Jesus, the time or times when he was overwhelmed with the Lord’s love and goodness. If he had not had this experience, he would not be thinking of priesthood.
Priests Are Happy
Many studies about happiness have been conducted over the years. One profession consistently ranks number one for personal happiness: clergy. Contrary to what many in secular society would assume, Catholic priests overwhelmingly report that they are happy and fulfilled.
A number of books have been written about this phenomenon. Here is a revealing passage from Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti, a leading researcher on priesthood:
“In my most recent survey of 2,441 priests around the United States, an astounding 92.2% said they were happy as priests; 88.6% said their morale was good; 93.2% said they feel a sense of closeness to God; and 94.8% said they feel a joy that is a grace from God.”[i]
So why are priests so happy? A loving God would never call a man only to abandon him. God will never send us where his grace cannot sustain us. God is infinite in power and he made all people for happiness and fulfillment. He made us to give ourselves generously as a gift. Whenever a person does this, he is happy and fulfilled. I think this is especially true for priests, because Jesus Christ instituted the priesthood precisely so that priests would serve others with their entire lives.[i] Stephen J. Rossetti, Ten Steps to Priestly Holiness: Our Journey into Joy (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press), 26