“Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
Having served as a vocation director for 12 years, I have heard most of the excuses for not answering a vocational call. Let me share a few.
One of my favorites is, “I’m not worthy.” Or from a parent, “He’s not worthy.” My favorite response was, “You are (or he is) not, so get over it.” This always stopped the conversation in its tracks, but I was partly serious in my answer. None of us, including Jorge Bergoglio, is worthy of the priesthood. It is a gift from God. And what a gift it is! All we can do is marvel that the Lord is generous and loving enough to let us share in his priesthood.
Next: “I can’t. I’m a sinner.” My answer, “Welcome to the human race!” Aren’t we all sinners? If that were an obstacle, we would have no priests or bishops.
Third: “I like girls.” This is normal. Priests do not hate women or dislike sex. But God has called them to a different expression of their love—one that is not focused on one individual, but on all people.
Fourth: “I want to get married and have a family.” The parental version of this is, “I want to have grandchildren.” Again, this tells me that a man is healthy and has a healthy attraction toward others. So the desire is not the obstacle; it is normal. But the Lord calls some to a bigger family: the Church (cf. CCC 1579).
Fifth: “My parents want me to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a pharmacist.” My response to this was twofold: “What do you want to do with your life?” and “You cannot live your parents’ dream. Your life-mission must be your own.” Most parents want the best for their children. But if the Lord is calling him (or her), you may be bucking the Holy Spirit. Many of the great saints were not fulfilling their parents’ dreams for them. Parents have to let their children go.
Sixth: “I’m gay.” That needs to be considered very discreetly. The Church’s ban on homosexuals in religious life or priesthood is very carefully worded and talks about a “deep-seated gay orientation.” A 2005 document states that the Church “cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’” (cf. Congregation for Catholic Education). Most religious communities and many dioceses take this prohibition seriously, but do not consider it the final word in all cases.
Excuses abound, but if the Lord is truly calling a man or a woman to religious life or priesthood, he or she needs to listen and respond not only for the sake of the Church, but also for our own happiness and fulfillment.
Why does the Catholic Church need priests and bishops?
In his divine mercy and love, God decided to invite human beings into his administration of the Church. Obviously, God could run things far more efficiently, but love demands including others. Thus, God’s graces and works involve mediation—they come to us by way of human agents.
The three orders of deacon, priest, and bishop are various ministries within the Church, whereby God allows men to serve as agents in the administration of the Church. Each order has its specific duties in the form of service for the smooth and proper functioning of the Church.
What is the role of the hierarchy?
The hierarchy of the Church includes all those who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Therefore, deacons, priests, and bishops make up the hierarchy within the Church, each with its respective roles of service.
An archbishop is a bishop who oversees a group of dioceses as well as his own specific diocese. For example, the archbishop of Cincinnati oversees all of the dioceses in Ohio. While being the bishop of Cincinnati, he (or, rather, the archdiocese) also serves as a court of appeals for all legal proceedings within the other dioceses. The archbishop can also call meetings of the other bishops and coordinate various state-wide efforts when appropriate.
A cardinal can be a layman or an ordained individual belonging to the group (called a college), whose main responsibility is to see to the running of the Church in the absence of a pope and to elect a new pope should the need arise. The living pope can also use the group in various consultative capacities as he sees fit.
Am I called to religious life? How can I discern that call?
A vocation is a gift from God that can be a very mysterious thing. Seldom is it as obvious as the burning bush was for Moses. More often, it is a subtle feeling or sense that maybe God is calling me to serve as a brother, sister, permanent deacon, religious priest, or diocesan priest. Each is a specific call and requires its own unique discernment. But it definitely needs to be checked out.
Generally speaking, if one senses a call to religious life or to the diocesan priesthood, the most important things to do are pray, talk to one’s family and friends, talk to a vocation director, and experience the life of the religious community or diocese.