“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” I recently came across these words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement in the United States, Dr. King lived these words. He certainly didn’t see the whole staircase; in fact, he saw a lot of opposition. But he walked in faith and proclaimed the truth that all people are created equal, regardless of the color of their skin. His efforts, along with so many others, paved the way for equal rights for African Americans in our country.
The words spoken by Dr. King are applicable, I believe, to any man who is discerning a call to the priesthood. Oftentimes, when a man is discerning a vocation to the priesthood there is a certain amount of fear involved in the decision-making process. The “what if” and “how-do-I-know” questions inevitably arise. What if I’m not really called? What if I’m not happy? How do I know that God is really asking me to do this? How do I know when to take the next step? The questions can be many, and the anxieties and fears can be quite emotionally taxing. Believe me, as a man who went through the discernment process, I know!
Dr. King’s words remind me of a story of a priest I know. As a young man, he was discerning his call to the priesthood. He had thought about if for a few years, but was still unsure if the Lord was asking him to do this, even though it was always on his mind. For quite some time he had been speaking regularly to a priest about the possibility of entering the seminary, when finally the priest said to him: “Look, either go or get off the pot.” (The priest may have used another word for “go”, but so as not to be overly crude, I omitted it here).
The priest’s advice was exactly what that young man needed to hear to take the next step. The truth is, some people feel the need to discern their vocation forever. They go on for years wondering if they are called. They keep thinking about it. They keep praying about it. They keep talking about it. But they don’t do anything about it. All the while, the answer is right in front of them. The Lord is simply saying, “Try it!” Or, as he said to the first Apostles, “Come and see.”
Frequently, when a man speaks with me about the priesthood, I will say to him, “Look, if you enter the seminary it doesn’t mean that you will be ordained a priest the next day.” The reality is that he still has years of discernment ahead of him. And if during his time in the seminary he decides the Lord is not calling him to the priesthood, he is free to leave. However, if during his time in the seminary his call is confirmed, then he will have peace in his heart that he is on the right path. The bottom line is that the best place to discern a call to the priesthood is in the seminary, not outside of it.
So, for those of you who feel that you’re on the fence and you’re not sure whether the Lord is inviting you to follow him as a priest, you might take Dr. King’s advice and take a step of faith. Or, better yet, take the advice the priest gave to that young man: Go or get off the pot.