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Religious Vocations

I will be ordained to the transitional diaconate this Saturday, and God willing, I will be ordained a diocesan priest on May 25, 2013.

As I move closer to these great sacraments of service, I have been taking some time to reflect on my vocational journey. Unlike some of my brother seminarians, my road to this vocation has not been direct. In fact, one of the constant struggles in my life is the constant fear that I will fail, not be happy or not serve God in the appropriate way. If this is also one of your struggles, I have a couple of thoughts for you to bring to prayer as you discern God’s will for your life.

When I entered college in 2000, I brought together four different considerations that eventually lead me to study pre-medicine at a college near my family’s farm in Southeast Iowa:

 

1. I like biology and chemistry, so it was clear that I probably wanted to do something in these areas.

 

2. I wanted to help people since my family’s Catholic faith upheld this value as being extremely important.

 

3. I wanted a career that could support and sustain a large family since I thoroughly enjoyed and love my large family.

 

4. I wanted to be close to my family in Iowa, so a local university or college would be my final choice.

These are all good if not noble considerations, right? However, I was missing the most crucial consideration for all Christians: What did God want me to do with my life? How was I being called to live a life of discipleship in imitation of Jesus Christ?

As I went through my first two years of college, I began to ask many different vocational questions since I had started to take my Catholic faith more seriously. I returned to the sacrament of reconciliation after several years of being away. I became active in a faith-formation group. I was marginally catechized as a young child and teenager, so I had a tremendous amount to learn about the Catholic faith. I even started attending daily Masses where I was the youngest person by three decades.

I knew all these additional steps were important because I was called by my baptism and confirmation to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I surprised myself by returning to some initial memories as a young boy when I thought that I wanted to be a priest. My mother recalls me saying the Eucharistic prayers at home while I would be playing, but these thoughts of priesthood quickly faded in junior high and high school.

Despite all of these realities in my life as a college student, I decided that I needed to stand on track of becoming a doctor. I had made my choice.

It came with a pretty specific vision in my head. I wanted to have this beautiful wife with six kids and have this medicine practice.

 

Taking risks

What was really behind all of this determination to move ahead with pre-medicine was a fear that I would get something wrong if I did not stick with the things I was good at and play it safe.

Yes, I did take some risks in my life, but they were highly calculated towards pursing what I perceived to be my goals. In retrospect, I considered myself to be similar to the disciples along the shores of the Sea of Galilee before they met Jesus Christ. I would just do my job, take care of my family, and let life progress.

However, “come follow me,” the invitation of Jesus Christ, requires a total gift of oneself; discipleship cannot be a partial endeavor. One passage from sacred Scripture became important in my personal understanding of discipleship:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt. 10:37-39).   

What is Christ really asking in this powerful passage from the Gospel of Matthew?

Seminary Has Been The Best Experience Of My Life

We have to question all of our perceived notions and assumptions in order to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, even the things that we understanding as being extremely important.

Why?

It seems that Christ is trying to get the disciples to understand that these good gifts were given by God, and now, these gifts will need to be left behind in order to receive the greatest gift: following Jesus Christ. Therefore, nothing is ever sacrificed in discipleship without receiving an even more precious gift. This is at the heart of discerning our vocations. Everything must be brought to Christ, and from this consideration, a person’s vocation is found.

 

Letting go of marriage

The noble considerations I had at the beginning of college were indeed good, but they did not reflect what Jesus wanted for my life, especially as I kept learning, attending Mass and living a more authentic Catholic faith. I was being called to give my life in a dedicated way to ministry in the Church.

I took a step further and started to imagine my life as becoming a celibate offering, which was the biggest obstacle to me considering of the priesthood. I was able to eventually let go of the desire for marriage and family life through acceptance that these great gifts can be set aside if a person is called by Christ to serve the Church.

Therefore, my desire to share my love would have an outlet, but it would be much different than I originally imagined. I could also experience the joy of fatherhood and fatherhood’s fecundity, but it would not be through a wife and children. In the end, I was no longer afraid of doing something radical because I finally was able to experience some of the freedom that comes from living the detachment found in the end of the Matthew 6 and confidence of John 14:1.  

 

God blessed the broken road

However, my path to the priesthood was still not immediately clear or easy. I left my study of pre-medicine. I even transferred to a Catholic university so I could immerse myself in this newly found desire to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

I eventually earned a BA in political science and philosophy from Notre Dame. I joined a religious community for several years to understand what a radical call to follow Jesus Christ looked and felt like in praxis. I also had the opportunity to teach for a year and half after leaving religious life, and I joined the National Guard in order to serve my country.

As I said before, I had no direct path to the diocesan priesthood, but it has been blessed and immensely full. I continued on this path of discernment for many years before entering a diocesan seminary in the spring of 2009. However, through this process I have learned how to overcome fear and trust in the Jesus Christ instead of my selfish thoughts and desires.

Once I expected to have a beautiful wife, a big family and a flourishing medical career. Now I can happily say – less than week from being ordained – I’m glad I was wrong! I praise God that my desires are not His desires. I thought I was going to be happy, but I wasn’t.

I’ve finally learned to trust God more than me.

My brothers and sisters on CatholicMatch, to overcome fear in discernment I suggest a few practices:

 

1. Learn your Catholic faith and live it. Our confidence comes from being rooted in Jesus Christ, and the Catholic Church has so much to offer in order to deepen your relationship with God.

 

2. Pray often and do not be afraid to share your deepest desires or deepest fears with Jesus. Our Lord wants to heal us, and our Lord also wants to encourage us. The latter only happens through a deep and constant life of prayer.

 

3. Live as simply as you possibly can given God’s call for your life. The stuff – material possessions, commitments, obligations – of our daily living can be a source of grace, but these same things also can be a source of tremendous distraction from God. We cannot be afraid of losing things if we never had them.

 

4. Finally, surround yourself with holy men and women who challenge us to become saints.

 

The immorality of our culture and many other ills of our society need to be addressed by Christians who are truly convicted that they are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Catholics should be the first in line among all Christians to stand up for the truth. I call on you single Catholics to lead the way.

We, as disciples, are not fearless, but we are not fearful. We are rooted in Jesus Christ, so our lives are not destroyed by the turbulence of the contemporary world. I plan on preaching quite often about the necessity of casting out fear in our lives, and I pray that you will encourage all those you encounter to do the same.      

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38 Comments

  1. Mari-611004 April 23, 2012

    Congratulations in advance on your upcoming deaconate ordination! God bless!

  2. Lucia-551179 April 27, 2012

    “I was able to eventually let go of the desire for marriage and family life through acceptance that these great gifts can be set aside if a person is called by Christ to serve the Church.”

    If more people discerning religious life learned the skills of letting go and acceptance, the quality of those who entered priesthood and sisterhood would go up 6000%. Congratulations as you move forward in your vocation!

  3. Apple-294188 May 3, 2012

    Your path to priesthood is really amazing. Looking forward to your being a priest.
    God bless you.

  4. Jason-405178 May 31, 2012

    Excellent advice for those seeking discernment of God’s will. May God bless you.

  5. Bernard-2709 June 1, 2012

    God’s blessings on you my brother in Christ! Congratulations!

  6. Maricris-138289 June 5, 2012

    I wanted to serve God with all my heart like you, too…..continue serving Him…God bless!!!

  7. Meesch-691047 June 5, 2012

    Congrats and God Bless!

  8. Regina-829052 June 5, 2012

    You wanted to be a doctor of the body, the good Lord has called you to become a doctor of souls. How wonderful! Courage and be blessed. My prayer for you.

  9. Rubina D. June 5, 2012

    The Almighty God showers you the blessing to serve others,through HIM..congratulations!.

  10. Arturo O. June 7, 2012

    Congratulations going forward with your commitment in serving God and your fellow neighbors. May you keep growing in your Faith.

  11. Michelle-381844 June 8, 2012

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. You have provided alot of inspiration and suggestions for discernment which I am going to take to heart. God Bless you in your vocation and keep in mind that your priesthood and all priest vocations are always remembered in our prayers.

  12. John S. June 9, 2012

    What will you do when you discover that many of your fellow priests lead double lives in sexual relationships with other men and some women against their public promise of celibate total sexual continence? Will you report priests who you find have credibly been accused of sexual assault to the police, or will you let the bishop handle it secretly? As you find yourself being compromised the deeper you get into clerical life, will you comply and assimilate, or will you take a prophetic stance against their dysfunction? Do you really know what you are getting into?

    • Frank D. June 10, 2012

      One wonders if Jacob reads the newspapers about Catholic clergy sex abuse and its cover-up by the pope and his bishops.

      • Enrique D. June 15, 2012

        How sad and very poorly aimed comments you both made, all those things you are refering to has affected everyone and everywhere so much in the secular as well as in the religious world, catholic and non catholic, just because some clergy failed in their human capacity does not take away the holiness and beauty of Jesus Christ’s call, so in the end it is up to the one individual to live up to their promise, their vows to God. I am a married man with children and I found this link on catholic.org so I’m not here neither to contemplate my vocation or looking for a mach but seeing your comment only confirms what I always believed was a true vocation : live my life for Christ, for the chruch and bring to God those who are angry and bitter, lost and helpless.
        Jacob has made the greatest desition in his life probably, which is to serve God and his church with a lifetime commitment and I take my hat off for him. It is not the Jacob doesnt read the newspapers, whats clear is that he knows he was called not to follow men but Christ.

        • Angeline-813577 June 28, 2013

          Wisely answered. Thank you Enrique.
          We should focus and rely on Jesus Christ and His holy words… should not rely on men’s failure to keep their promise.

  13. Asi-865928 June 9, 2012

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey. Very humbling experience and reminds me of the teachings of St Francis de Sales in his book ‘Finding God’s Will in your Life’. I will pray that your courage and faith continue to strenthen.Your calling is no easy task and I hope you will always be an inspiration to those that are currently discouraged by negative reputation of priesthood.

  14. Penny S. June 9, 2012

    You wanted a beautiful wife and a big family, and Almighty God who truly knows the desires of our hearts have surely answered your prayer, for now the bride of Christ the church has become your wife and it’s members the biggest family you will ever have. And serve GOD with every breathe you take and step you make. Be blessed

  15. Debra B. June 10, 2012

    May God pour out his blessings upon you as you come to be one of his “other Christs” for us. We need you so.

  16. Eddie-558033 June 11, 2012

    Jacob, best of luck and the fullest of God’s blessings be upon you for choosing to give of yourself to others. I also thought of entering the priesthood but I haven’t had that “lightbulb” moment where God’s ultimate plan was revealed to me……Until that moment occurs, I will,like you continue to serve Him in the best way I know how. Again best of luck in your future endeavours…..

  17. Daniel S. June 12, 2012

    why can a priest not have a wife?

    • Marita-847688 June 13, 2012

      The church is his bride. Faith, the Catholic Church, and God is what he is committed to for the rest of his life. Anyone can feel free to add to what I said.

      • Daniel I. June 25, 2012

        what exactly does this church consist of?

      • Daniel I. July 2, 2012

        i thought that the church was the bride of God!

        • Marita-847688 July 2, 2012

          Correct. The Church is the bride of God but it is also the bride of priests. Thanks for pointing that out. I did not even think about that.

    • Sylvester O. June 20, 2012

      Because they vow to be totally separated and hold celibacy with high esteem. that was my greatest challenge or else i would be in the seminary today

    • Leona-898619 September 21, 2012

      Dear Daniel: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD, YOUR GOD, WITH ALL YOUR HEART,WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.” Matthew 22:27
      Canidates for the Roman Rite must be celibate, unmarried men. However, Pope John Paul II began making exceptions in cases of married Angelican and Lutheran clergy who became Catholics and sought ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. …..from the early centuries of Christianity, celibacy has been encouraged as a way for Priests to follow the example of Christ. Orthodox still allow their Priests to marry, tho their Bishops must be celibate men (they usually come from Monastic communities) Roman Catholic Church celibacy priesthood is often attributed to the medieval church’s application of monastic discipline to diocesan priests. (to concentrate on all it’s teachings) ( A good book to follow is entitled Catholic and Cornered, by Kenneth L. Parker if you are interested in more common questions about the Catholic faith.)

  18. Omni G. June 13, 2012

    Congratulations, brother! Traverse the road that God prepared for you….God bless you in all your undertakings!

  19. Monica-568301 June 15, 2012

    Thank you for your beautiful story!

  20. Fatima Anne S. June 15, 2012

    thank you for sharing your story… am very encouraged. Am passing this on!

  21. Giorgio-809003 June 18, 2012

    I lived almost 2 years in Australia and I’m Italian so sorry for my bad English….anyway, I lived almost two years in Australia and there I met the Melkite Catholich Church. Despite they’re in total communion with the Pope (so 100 % Catholich), for them a married deacon can become a priest too and I often attended Masses with marriage priests. It was lovely….I mean…I think that Roman Church should decide to do the same….single priests forever or marriage priests forever without having, the possibility to change theyr status after they became priests. What do you think about it? Maybe the time is not ripe yet now but in the future even for the Roman Cathoilich Church the Spirit could change something…God knows :) Greetings from Italy! Bye :)

  22. Alfredo-765787 June 19, 2012

    What a beautiful story of discernment and acceptance of God’s will in your life. A wonderful example for all of us, even if it means the vocation of remaining single, married, religious life, etc. May God continue to bless you and guide you.

  23. Sylvester O. June 20, 2012

    Wow!

  24. Sylvester O. June 20, 2012

    Me gustaba ser un padre perooo, la vida me ha cambiado. de todas manera creo que Dios tiene un plan para cada person. Buena suerte mi amigo y que le bendiga Dios en tu viaje. Un abrazo

  25. Paula D. June 22, 2012

    I STILL want to see the movie/video of this story! ha ha! that’s what I thought I was getting when I clicked on the nice drawing.
    Very insightful and articulate article. Thank you for sharing your journey, Jacob! Godspeed!

  26. Albert-918196 December 25, 2012

    ALBERT 918196 DECEMBER 25, 2012 3:O3 PM

    I WILL SEEK THE BOOK ”CATHOLIC AND CORNERED” BY KENNETH L, PARKER
    THANK YOU FOR THIS INFORMATION.

  27. Michele-978184 June 6, 2013

    spiritual fatherhood is important for the Church – no one else can do the Sacraments for us as the priest can – pray 4 priests

  28. Angeline-813577 June 28, 2013

    Dear Jacob, thank you for sharing your faith story.
    I myself long for meeting the final-man, marriage and start family. Last year I had counseling session…and my counselor advised me to let go the obsession of marriage and totally surrender myself to Jesus Christ, focus more on following the true calling God has for me, whether I should be married or to be in celibacy to serve Him. And make new friends, but don’t see men as potential husband. Be fully happy with Jesus instead put happiness on men.

    For some times, I finally felt free…I focused myself for services and volunteer in Church communities, more into the Eucharyst, more prayer and daily bible readings.

    Then, lately… met a guy that attracted me so much. We are just friends, not more (yet). And still this awoke my longing for relationship and marriage. Makes me feel restless, every day. And every day I pray to Jesus to show me the way.

    There are some thoughts of live-in the sister’s monastery..just to experience how it feels like the daily life of nuns. I never really think or feel like being a nun.

    Still struggling…

  29. Vira-986298 July 16, 2013

    What a wonderful story of trust in our Lord. :)

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