In 2002, I first heard the call to become a priest. I was ten years old. That was the same year that the Boston Globe first ran articles about the clerical sex abuse crisis.
In 2018, I was ordained a priest. I was twenty-six years old. That was the same year that Theodore McCarrick and his ilk were found out. The sex abuse crisis got worse, the Church lost much credibility due to evil shepherds, and I was just starting my life as a priest. What fun.
Since that time, the Church has seen not a few scandals: a lack of clarity when it comes to matters of faith and morals, even at the highest levels of the Church; synods and conferences aimed at changing matters essential to the structure, life, and Tradition of the Church; outright idolatry in the Vatican of all places; and an ever-growing list of bishops and priests who have not upheld the faith or morals expected of them. Many have left the priesthood, citing everything from “there is no God” to “God wants this.” Others – good and holy men – were forced out or even imprisoned due to false accusations. Nonsense all, and sinful to boot.
To add to the chaos, the world has been embroiled in a pandemic which has all but crippled mankind. In addition to revealing even more bad theology and liturgical practice, this virus has made it difficult to practice the faith publicly and to function as a priest. Some places have basically outlawed it in all but name. Even some bishops (thankfully not ours!) are doing so, cutting their priests off at the knees, and not allowing them to fulfill their God-given mission to the People of God who need them now as ever.
This all comes at a point in the Church when the number of priests is down and priestly morale can easily be shattered. Little fraternity, little support on many fronts, and increasingly difficult assignments make priestly life all the harder. The laity are (rightfully) expecting certain things, but the Church moves slowly, and many within the Church are hindering that progress, healing, and justice. Those who do so often cite “pastoral” motives without ever defining the term, never even thinking to listen to Holy Mother Church, Who teaches us how best to be true pastors. Why would any sane man want to do this? Why would someone go to seminary to pursue this vocation, even if he knew God was calling him to it? Priests, who can be ended by a single angry and deceptive phone call, or who are never quite “priest enough” for some, are often left in the lurch, wondering “what is next?” “How much longer?” “Can I even make it through?” The natural question arises: is it even worth it to be a priest anymore?
To all of this, I can still give a hearty “yes!” It is indeed worth it all. As Pope Benedict XVI once pointed out in a Letter to Seminarians (October 18, 2010), “It does make sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.” This is because God has chosen to need priests – bound Himself in such a way that He works through priests. There will never be a time when priests are not needed, when God does not call them.
The important thing to remember is that God must be enough for a priest. Jesus Christ, His Cross, His Church – these must be enough.
When this is not the case, priests go looking in all the wrong places for fulfillment. But when God is His all, when Christ and the Church are his love, the priest truly is fulfilled and happy. He is not in need of anything or anyone else. Sure, he may have hobbies, friends, and pastimes. But if even these fall away, God remains, and the priest can still be joyous.
Only God makes it all worth it. The suffering of priesthood, without God, would never attract anyone, not even some warrior soul. This is because without God, without the Cross, suffering is simply pain without purpose. With Christ Crucified and Risen, however, that pain becomes “suffering-for” someone, for some purpose, for love. Only such love is able to fill a priestly heart. Only such drive, mission, and purpose makes the dangers of the world, the flesh, and the devil worth braving that God may be glorified and souls saved.
As is so often the case in the Christian life, it is always about such love. This love – of God and of neighbor – is why priests and seminarians continue to say “yes!” despite the many possible pitfalls and tragedies that surround us all. This love is what makes so many priests persevere, like so many of their predecessors before them, even when they are persecuted, falsely accused, and betrayed. It is what urges us on even when our lives are on the line, whether from some virus or from the forces intent on our demise. There is no need to fear in any of these situations: God Who is love has conquered all, and cannot be defeated.
So, yes, it is still worth it to be a priest. It is still good to go to seminary, to pursue the God-given vocation. There is nothing that can change that. God Himself has called priests, desired them, needed them. Nothing the world or the devil can throw at us can change that, or make it less than absolutely worth it all. Every joy, every sorrow, every suffering is made holy and dignified by the Wounds of Christ. Priests bear those wounds now, each in his own way, each filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24-25), each out of a deep and pervading love for God. Those wounds show God’s love for them and their love for God. And what glorious wounds they are in Christ!
Pray, then, for your priests! They pray for you so often, and need your support. These times have tried us all, and priests have not been spared from this. In prayer, in Christ, for God, we can continue together in joy and fulfillment. We can continue together in love. This, and this alone, will make it all worth it, including being a priest.