Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you.1 Peter 4:1
I am writing this as we enter 2019 and as I enter a period of intense introspection and discernment. I will be devoting the next month to working out my calling in the Church. To that end I wanted to write a bit about my understanding of the process of discernment and what a vocation is.
The word vocation comes from a Latin word that means a calling or summons; specifically we use it to mean a calling to serve God. Vocations can come in many forms but most typically we think of a vocation as a calling to marriage or a calling to the religious life. For this article I am specifically focused on discerning the call to religious life, to the priesthood, as that is what I am really praying about this month.
First, how do we know we have a calling to the priesthood? The easiest way to begin is with the idea that I am thinking about it. Obsessively thinking about it. It’s an inner voice that never goes away. It’s a desire that I have had for two decades and, while it has waxed and waned at various points in my life, it has never gone away. Unfortunately I made the mistake of pursuing a very dubious ordination to the priesthood and episcopate when I was younger, ordinations that I seriously doubt were valid therefore I find myself having to be very careful about how I proceed. It is important to me not to repeat that mistake, to insure that I am not pursuing ordination for the wrong reasons. In other words, do I want the religious life for the right reasons.
I have to be very careful examining my motivations. Do I want to be a priest because it’s cool? Because I want some sort of recognition or special treatment? Do I think it will somehow make me more spiritual or holy? Of course, none of these are true. But they are examples of what I need to seriously consider when asking myself – why do I want to be a priest?
Am I fit to be a priest? Do I have the constitution, the temperament, that is necessary to be a good priest. Am I suited for the life of a priest? Can I balance the needs of family life, of marriage, of work, with the calling to a sacramental vocation. It’s not enough to just ‘try it out’ to see if the life fits. Apostolic ordination to the presbyterate is a life long commitment and one I have to be sure of before committing myself. There are no canonical impediments but is there anything else in my life that is not suited to a religious vocation?
So what steps do I take to actually make a decision? To begin with I need to do some serious praying about the decision. Some long, serious, deep prayer has to be my first step toward discerning, to making a final prayer, concerning the call to the priesthood. I will be spending dedicated time every week, and most days, in silence; that is prayer free of any outside distractions. In conjunction with that I will also be spending some associated time meditating on Holy Scripture, specifically those portions that deal with our callings to serve God.
I derive a great deal of joy in thinking about the priesthood, that I might one day be used by God in this capacity. I am fortunate to have a very loving and supportive wife who I have no doubt will be pleased with walking beside me on this journey. The opportunity and the challenge to start an Orthodox mission in my hometown might bring a bit of trepidation when I consider the obstacles before me, but with God all things are possible.