One of the most important and most telling signs of good vocational discernment is discovered when a discerner is asked what they seek to do for others. In fact, I believe many men are somewhat shocked to discover that this is a greater sign of God’s authentic calling more so than their theological or intellectual prowess, more than their comfortability around the altar. Those things can be learned, but a desire to love and serve others is innate and although I would contend it’s an integral part of every vocation, it has to be a driving force in the life of a priest.
I spend a lot of time with seminarians and men discerning in our programs in the Archdiocese of Toronto The Associates and Quo Vadis. In these programs men are discerning or beginning to discern priestly vocations. Not all of them will choose to become priests, and in the midst of discernment, through self-discovery and working with myself and others they come to see the Lord calling them in a way particular and unique to each one of them. Obviously, men want to know soon after meeting with me whether they’re called to be priests so that they are not wasting their time moving in the wrong direction. I tend to encourage discerners to realize that if they are meeting with me, then the Lord has already spoken to them but what I can say is that if there is little or no desire to serve others, to be with others in the good times and bad times (especially the bad times), in the midst of their joys and sorrows (especially their sorrows) and be fully invested in that – this too is a sign.
That’s not to say that there aren’t various layers to this. Sometimes we have to overcome our own shortcomings. Being nervous or anxious about helping others in troubling times, being uneasy or unsure isn’t a sign that you don’t desire to serve. Our seminarians are given many opportunities to serve the poor at the Good Shepherd Centre, to be engaged in many different settings to “exercise their spiritual care muscles”. Men, myself included deal with their insecurities and reservations, learning and growing in the process of formation. I know that journeying with my mom when she had cancer and was dying in the hospital, I saw many others who were suffering as much and more than my mom. By the time she passed away, I never wanted to go to a hospital again, unless it was me dying there and I had no choice. In those intense moments of my life, I developed a fear which would have very much affected my own discernment of priesthood (can anyone imagine a priest who would not go to the hospital to be with one of his people, or anoint someone?) I was honest enough about this fear when I was discerning, and by the time I was in my fourth year of formation, I was ready to face that fear and spent a whole term in a Toronto hospital where my chaplain supervisor taught me many things, but being with people who were sick and dying and knowing the only thing I could do was to hold their hand and pray with them or for them – this helped me. I know many similar stories for the men who respond to the Lord, seminarians and future seminarians. I am amazed and the honesty and sincerity in these men, and I thank God He continues to call men and women to serve the Church through our sisters and brothers. I pray that every Vocation Director for every diocese and religious community experience an abundance of labourers ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work in the vineyard, serving those most in need, the first we should serve. May God bless you.