Have you ever been in a near-disaster situation, totally out of control? Perhaps the time that the 70-foot pine tree jumped into your path during a ski trip; or that incident involving a mountain bike, a mountain, and badly frayed brake cables; or even that memorable basketball game when you decided to test the gym floor’s structural resilience with your head. But little accidents don’t go far to change your fundamental outlook. You’re still convinced that, in the end, you’re the one who calls the shots.
After all, we choose what to make of our lives. We choose a career, a spouse, where to live. We even choose minor details like which of the 300 types of ice cream to buy, or whether we’re going to watch hockey or opera this Friday. (That’s not a tough choice for me.) But all this notwithstanding, there are moments when God says to us, “It wasn’t you who chose me: it was I who chose you. Will you accept?”
This is where a priestly or a religious vocation begins: we didn’t choose it. God chose it for us. This time we don’t call all the shots. Naturally we might be tempted to feel at times as though it’s exclusively our choice, but it’s not. We say “yes” or “no”, but God is the one who says, “This is what I have planned for you from all eternity. Will you say yes?”
It’s not a “career” choice - it’s a call from God that he has planned from the beginning of time. Just read God’s words to Jeremiah, in Jer 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”
But isn’t it true that at times the vocation to the priesthood or religious life seems quite a bit like a career: and that therefore it’s just a simple human decision that we make? One of the best responses I’ve ever heard to this objection came from a seminarian with the diocese of Toronto.
“You know what?” he told me. “I’m not becoming a priest in order to be a social worker. If I wanted to be a social worker, I’d much rather be a married one. I’m going to be a priest because God has called me to be another Christ, and to help him to save souls.” That’s right, isn’t it? The call to the priesthood or religious life is far, far more than a simple choice that we make.
So where does all this leave us? In the end, it should give us a tremendous sense of confidence and gratitude; for if God has called us to a religious or priestly vocation. It’s his initiative, not ours. In the end, we’re not in absolute control; but it’s very different from the time the brakes on that expensive mountain bike went. But I would much rather entrust my life to God than to a Cannondale anyway.
We are called by an all-powerful God who loves us with a personal love; a God who, as Pope Benedict describes so powerfully in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, loves man so much that “by becoming man he follows him even into death…”
We too are invited to give our lives for the salvation of our brothers and sisters. We have the opportunity to give our “yes” to this incredible vocation from God. And remember: “It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you” (Jn 15:16). What will you say?
Brother John Pietropaoli, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome.
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