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How To Become a Priest II

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In a previous article, it was stressed that the priesthood is not a career or a profession like teaching or nursing that one chooses and enters into. It is a vocation, a state of life with particular duties and responsibilities to which one is called by God. This last statement may be perplexing: how does one know that one is being called by God to the priesthood and not to another, such as marriage? In the previous article, I said that one who “feels” called to the priesthood must be willing to put it into the test. Seminary formation is not about training in the ways of the priesthood. Rather it is meant to: (a) help a candidate know for sure that he has the vocation to the priesthood, and (b) if he has it, to help him deepen the experience of that call, then finally, (c)to give him the minimum training required for carrying out his function as teacher, administrator of Church goods and minister of sanctification. It is no secret that there have been priests who, some years after ordination, leave the priesthood realizing that they have no vocation for it. This is mainly due to the fact that the heart of a seminarian is never visible to those who have been tasked to watch over them. When a young man presents himself as a candidate for the priesthood, those who have the duty to watch over him will have to decide whether (a) the candidate has no impediments, (b) the candidate is able to take on the life of a priest and (c) the candidate freely intends be a priest. When a seminarian is advanced for ordination after having passed certain requirements, it is because his formators trust his intentions. In other words, one who is presented for ordination is assumed to have the maturity required to take on the commitment of the priestly life.

Several years ago, I was approached by a young man who wished to apply at our seminary. When I asked him why he wished to enter, he said that he had the vocation. “How do you know,” I asked, “that you have the vocation?” He stared at me uncomprehending. So I asked him the same question in a different way. “How did you arrive at the conclusion that you have the vocation?” He still looked at me as if I’d been saying something in a foreign language. A third time, I asked him the question: “Could you please tell me what led you to believe that you have the vocation?” Still, that empty stare. So I advised him to go back home and think about his claim for a few more days. I even told him to approach his parish priest so that he can understand better what he meant by “vocation.”

The young man never came back.

Entering the seminary is not as easy as making the claim that one has the vocation to the priesthood. There must have been a previous journey made, a journey that makes one realize that among the many choices available, it is the priesthood (or the religious life) to which one is drawn and no other. When I decided to enter the Order of St. Augustine, I was already at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Sto. Tomas Central Seminary as an extern. I was able to enter those halls because of a special arrangement made between the Dominican Friars and the Catholic youth organization I belonged to then. When my contract with that youth organization ran out and was not renewed (I was told I wasn’t obedient enough), I could have dropped my subjects from the Faculty of Philosophy or re-enroll at the Faculty of Liberal Arts where I had been a regular student before becoming an externus at the seminary. I wasn’t technically a seminarian then, just a College student enrolled in a faculty for seminarians. But the years I’ve spent with that youth organization (about two years, one year as a high school student and another year as a freshman college student) had been such that the only thing I thought of during those days was to take the vows of religion and continue the work of evangelization I’ve been doing for a couple of years. To make the long story short, I joined the four or five Augustinians who were then enrolled at the Central Seminary’s Faculty of Philosophy and entered the Order formally as a postulant. That was in March, 1979 (more details about this here); I’ve been with the Augustinians since then.

When I entered the seminary formally as an aspirant, I was convinced of three things: (a) my years in youth evangelization have changed me so much that I can no longer go back to what I was before I joined the Catholic organization mentioned above; (b) not to become a religious would be to deny myself a felt duty; and (c) the religious life was the only thing that attracted me then. These three convictions were tested immediately. When I made known my decision to my parents, I immediately felt their resistance. Even my grandfather whom I know to be in good terms with his parish priest didn’t want me to enter the seminary. My father didn’t talk to me after the night we had an argument over my decision, although afterwards he would tell me: “When you get back to your senses and you decide to leave, come to me and I’ll give you work.”

One of the things that have kept me going as a friar priest throughout these years are memories. Memories of how my high school classmates and friends helped me along the proverbial “good path”. They were far from saintly, mind you, but it was they who kept me from going bad to worse and later, influenced me to join a youth organization that promoted devotion to the rosary. Then there were also memories of old Augustinian friars (Italians, Spaniards, Germans and a Colombian) who made Augustinian life attractive. Some of these have passed away but I keep their memories alive in my heart. During times of darkness, their memory give me consolation. And then there are also memories of women… Ah, women! Why do people think they are dangerous to male religious and priests? It is not they after all who are to be blamed for a priest’s sins against celibacy! If a priest sins in this area, it is because of his own weakness. And my memories of the women in my life until now is something I am grateful for. From my mom to those who have been like moms to me, sisters, friends and at one point in my life, intimate friends too. A lot of them are praying for me, I know, and I too pray for them every time I remember them. Even as a priest and religious, I would say, what would we men be without “the weaker (?) sex”?

I recently celebrated my 19th year as a solemn professed friar and 15th year in the priesthood. I am, as an Italian sister would say, an “old shoe”. The wear and tear may be showing now in the lines on my face, thinning scalp and bulging belly. But do I regret ever entering the religious life or getting ordained to the priesthood? The answer is “No”. In fact, if I am ever to relive my life, I’ll do those two things over again. To be honest, I cannot imagine myself in any other way of life. I may not be saintly, and I am far from perfect. I just hope and pray that when I die, people would remember me as a religious, a priest and a friend.

Originally posted 2008-01-21 20:23:52. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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