Reflections from a man preparing to begin formal theological studies

I have been thinking for a few weeks about what’s to come, now. I’m at the tail end of my studies in philosophy in preparation for theology. Monday, I will have my final evaluation in Pre-Theology, which includes a vote on whether or not I should advance to the theologate. Then, God-willing, I will be in three years a deacon; in four years, I will be a priest of Jesus Christ and entrusted with the care of souls. “How do I feel about that?” you might ask. Well, even if you don’t, I’m going to tell you because hey, this is my blog. The answer is Terrified. Mortified. Petrified. Stupefied. (Please give yourself 1 point if you caught that movie reference.)

Let’s be honest. What I just told you is that in four years, I will be personally responsible for the eternal state of peoples’ souls. Yes, I know that they have free will; I know that, ultimately, we are each to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But, at the same time, I will be entrusted by the Church to teach and guide them, and they will look to me for answers, direction, and advice. I am to stand in persona Christi and “to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” (Hebrews 5:1) I am aware that verse primarily refers to Jesus Christ, but, as a priest, I am to participate in that priesthood. How did God manage to pick me for this job? There must be some mistake! Maybe it’s cliché to say that, but, yes, that is a pretty good expression of how I feel. How many people have you met over time who used to be Catholic or used to go to church, but now do not because of something a priest or a person representing the Church did or said? So what if I fail to “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since [I myself am] beset with weakness”? I could spend about a page worth of this blog giving you all the what-ifs. Can we just assume that I wrote all of them and save some time? I’m sure it’s easy to predict all of them. So, short version, I’m afraid to move forward.

I know that the gifts I have, even though I admit that God really has given me some big ones, will be nowhere near enough to make a good priest. I know that in other ways I am broken and wounded, even though I have, in the last few years, spent a lot of time facing and healing those wounds and their sources. Still, there’s always that fear of those getting in the way.

So what do I do now? Easy! Are you ready for a seemingly cliché answer? I keep praying. I keep asking my spiritual director and the priests here for advice and direction. That doesn’t make the path any less intimidating. It doesn’t make the future look easier. But, I have to believe, if God has put me here, then he says to me, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” And with Paul, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)  I do believe that God put me here; I believe that this is the path He has set for me. I remember, once I finally followed this path, one of my greatest fears came when I thought that I was not going to be allowed to serve him like this. I remember the fear of thinking that, after I’d spent so long running from God, He was going to allow me to fail once I’d finally decided to accept the task before me.

A friend once asked me when I first wanted to become a priest. The answer is about a year after I decided to apply to seminary and become one. Now, I can honestly say that there is nothing I desire more in the world than to serve as a priest. I firmly believe it is where He planned for me to be in life. So far, the Church  seems to believe that, also, but I am still willing to concede to her discernment if I should find out otherwise, however, I honestly don’t think that is going to happen. So, with two immense fears holding me frozen, my desire, trust, and belief drives me forward. I pray God will give me the grace to serve Him well.

6 Replies to “Reflections from a man preparing to begin formal theological studies”

  1. I hope all goes well for you in tomorrow’s evaluation! I’ll say a prayer for you tonight. I would have at Mass this morning but I just found your site this afternoon. I look forward to reading more! God Bless.

    1. Thank you. I can always use some prayers. The evaluation went splendidly, so I have another year (at least) of seminary. God bless!

  2. Dear Joe,
    What wonderful progress. I visited Saint Leo Abbey a couple of weeks ago and thought of you. You are in our prayers. Dr. Tom Krizek

  3. Joe, now I understand what you were talking about. I really feel in reading this like I walked onto holy ground, and I must say that your mix of sentiments is exactly what I would hope for every seminarian to have as they cross the threshold of hope into theology. I especially love your affirmation of when you “wanted” to become a priest — for to assent to God’s will and to desire it are two different things, as you know. And it is evident in you that what you say is the case. The “big gifts” God has given you will be of great service to God’s people, as will be the wounds of weakness that beset you. Thank you for saying ‘yes’!

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