As a rule, when someone picks a career path, they have a reasonable expectation – or at least a hope of success. On top of that, the systems to train and prepare people for some of the more difficult careers are designed in such a way that those who would be unable to successfully practice those professions are either weeded out during the preparation or denied entry in the first place.
The priesthood has an opposite problem, though. The men who are most likely to be at peace with the fact that, in myriad ways, they will fail are most likely to succeed and be brought to ordination. The problem is that, if we measure success or failure in the way that the world does, then the priest should fail. If we measure success or failure in the right way for a priest, then, whether we like it or not, a priest will fail in many many cases, at least from the perspective of each soul he encounters.
I have to admit, for me this is a challenge. I spent a decade doing youth ministry of one type or another before seminary. Some of my kids have remained part of the Church and grown in their faith and their relationship with the Lord. Others have slowly drifted into the realm of nominal Catholics. There are those who have left behind part of the Truth and embraced communities and confessions that are more “fun” or make them “feel” God more (or who have watered down some Truths that are more difficult to accept in the modern world). A few have left behind their faith all together, and they think they are above faith; they look down on those who “still need to believe in God.”
I am of the belief that I had a job to do for every single person whose path I’ve crossed in my years of ministry. God put me there for a reason; He put them there for a reason. Of the groups I mentioned above, I have to admit, the first group is frightfully small. The second group is pretty big. Each of the last two are a handful of people. I am well aware that I am not personally responsible for the decisions of each of these people. I feel a twinge of responsibility, anyway. I know that, in truth, (God-willing) I will be entrusted with the pastoral care of every soul in a parish. Some of those people will hear the message of Jesus Christ and grow in their faith; some will stop their ears lest they have to examine their lives. There are also those who will reject anything I try to offer. My job, however, remains to offer.
I am adamantly opposed to using the word “career” or “profession” to describe the priesthood; it is, by its very definition far more than either of those. It’s a good thing, too. If the priesthood were a career, it would require facing the fact that we are doomed to fail in it. We cannot honestly expect a high percentage of success by any measurable metric. Instead, our success is measured in consistency, perseverance, faithfulness, and love. Only God will be able to tell us how we did.
I hope and pray that He gives me the grace and strength to persevere. On my own, I’m not only doomed to fail, but doomed to fail at the expense of many many souls. With His help (and my faithfulness), I’m doomed to frequently feel that I’m a failure; but my treasure and reward will be in heaven.
God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful.
— Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta