On April 24 on this blog I wrote about an online discernment website designed to help young people begin to discern a call to priesthood or religious life. I found that the questions might help determine if someone was a disciple, but I didn't see that the questions addressed particular issues that might help a young man discern whether he might be called to be a priest. I concluded that post by writing, "if the ministry potential survey helps identify disciples, that would be a start in the right direction. My questions are, what kinds of qualities would help young men identify a possible call to priesthood?"
Our questions or statements will say a lot about the kind of priests we are looking for. What kinds of questions would be suitable to help those for whom religious life is a possible call? I think these would be different questions, and require a separate discernment tool, as they are different vocations (even though many male religious are also priests).
Just for fun, I thought I would review Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds), Pope John Paul II’s post-synodal letter on the priesthood, to see if I could glean some statements that might be part of a discernment tool for those interested in exploring a call to priesthood. I gleaned a few quotes from the document, and below I propose a serious of statements for just such a discernment instrument. While there are many passages that could be used, I have chosen these as representative of attitudes that together might be at least somewhat distinctive from attitudes of a disciple of Jesus called to the lay state.
These statements would elicit a response on a scale from Strongly Disagree - Disagree - Weakly Disagree - Weakly Agree - Agree - Strongly Agree. On occasion I have worded the statement so that a “strongly disagree” response would be an indication of a possible priestly vocation. I trust those will be obvious! One thing that is clear from the quotes is this: the Church has very high expectations for those who seek ordination as priests. It was great for me to review this document, although it pointed out how far short I am from the idea. Pray that I might live up to them!
Here are the quotes from Pastores Dabo Vobis (in italics), followed by a dash and my statement for a discernment tool. The numbers in parentheses are the section from which the quotes were taken. I realize my quotes and statements will reflect my own understanding of priesthood. In addition, I remind you that there are many, many other quotes that I could have pulled concerning the priest's identity with Christ, his relationship to the Bishop, etc. These will have to do for now. In addition, there were some quotes I had selected, but when I went to design a statement based on them, I asked myself, "would this really help distinguish a person with a possible call to priesthood from someone who is a disciple?" In some cases, I chose not to use them.
These are not meant to be a complete survey - just a first quick swipe at a task that proved harder than I had initially imagined.
In a word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the Head and Shepherd. This is the ordinary and proper way in which ordained ministers share in the one priesthood of Christ. (15) – I seldom or never talk about religion, because it is a private matter.
The ministry of the priest is entirely on behalf of the Church; it aims at promoting the exercise of the common priesthood of the entire people of God; (16) – Because the ordained are holier than ordinary Christians, they should be held in high esteem, and it is an honor to serve them.
The ordained ministry has a radical "communitarian form" and can only be carried out as "a collective work". The Council dealt extensively with this communal aspect of the nature of the priesthood, examining in succession the relationship of the priest with his own Bishop, with other priests and with the lay faithful. (17) – I enjoy working with others, and, often derive a greater satisfaction from a task accomplished as part of a group than one accomplished by myself.
Priests are there to serve the faith, hope and charity of the laity. They recognize and uphold, as brothers and friends, the dignity of the laity as children of God and help them to exercise fully their specific role in the overall context of the Church's mission. (17) – I believe lay people have an essential and important role as the Church inserted into the world.
The priest is first of all a minister of the Word of God … For this reason, the priest himself ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God… He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart, so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him—"the mind of Christ" (26) ¬- I enjoy reading the Bible, and know that certain attitudes of mine have been challenged by what I encountered there.
The Synod would like to see celibacy presented and explained in the fullness of its biblical, theological and spiritual richness, as a precious gift given by God to his Church and as a sign of the Kingdom which is not of this world, a sign of God's love for this world and of the undivided love of the priest for God and for God's People, with the result that celibacy is seen as a positive enrichment of the priesthood (29) – I love the freedom that being unmarried gives me to relate to, befriend, and help a wide variety of people.
Future priests should therefore cultivate a series of human qualities, not only out of proper and due growth and realization of self, but also with a view to the ministry. These qualities are needed for them to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities…Of special importance is the capacity to relate to others. (43) – I believe – and have been told by others - that I am a fair, well-balanced person and am able to relate to a variety of people.
The present situation is heavily marked by religious indifference, by a widespread mistrust regarding the real capacity of reason to reach objective and universal truth, and by fresh problems and questions brought up by scientific and technological discoveries. It strongly demands a high level of intellectual formation, such as will enable priests to proclaim, in a context like this, the changeless Gospel of Christ and to make it credible to the legitimate demands of human reason. (51) – I believe if you keep on proclaiming the faith as it has always been taught, those few who are meant to be saved will “get it.”
It is particularly important to prepare future priests for cooperation with the laity. The Council says, "they should be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes and recognize their experience and competence in the different fields of human activity. In this way they will be able to recognize with them the signs of the times.” (59) – a priest is called “father” by his parishioners because he knows what is best for them and for the parish.
Above all it is necessary that he be able to teach and support the laity in their vocation to be present in and to transform the world with the light of the Gospel, by recognizing this task of theirs and showing respect for it. (59) – If Catholics want to grow in holiness, they should spend more time at church and less in the corrupting influence of the world.
The intellectual dimension of formation likewise needs to be continually fostered through the priest's entire life, especially by a commitment to study and a serious and disciplined familiarity with modern culture. (72) – Study is not something that interests me. I learn better watching good programs on T.V.
Jesus often went off alone to pray (cf. Mt 14:23). The ability to handle a healthy solitude is indispensable for caring for one's interior life. Here we are speaking of a solitude filled with the presence of the Lord who puts us in contact with the Father, in the light of the Spirit. (74) – While I enjoy the company of people, there are times I crave quiet solitude to connect with God on my own.
By Baptism, which marks him with the dignity and freedom of the children of God in the only-begotten Son, the priest is a member of the one Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:16). His consciousness of this communion leads to a need to awaken and deepen co-responsibility in the one common mission of salvation, with a prompt and heartfelt esteem for all the charisms and tasks which the Spirit gives believers for the building up of the Church (74) – I enjoy seeing the gifts God has given other, and it would be great if I could help them figure out how God might be calling them.
Please let me know what you think... You might have a better way of wording the statements. I have to admit I had a bit of fun with some of the ones I came up with!
Just as an aside - I wrote to the website to let them know that although I had taken the instrument, I am already an ordained priest. I continue to get periodic invitations to have my score and responses interpreted for me, as well as invitations to visit other religious communities! But not the Dominicans...