My wife Kerri and I recently received an email from a priest friend, asking us for our prayers.
Here’s what he said in his email (edited only minimally):
“For my part, I have some news that might be difficult for you, but it is what it is. In the fall, I will be formally [requesting] XX basically as a leave of absence. I will not be jumping to [another diocese], but rather will get a job (that is a bit daunting at age XX) and supporting myself. The purpose is to discern if I will stay in public ministry [as a priest] or seek to be dispensed. I tell you not to cause you any distress, but because I think that you should know.
And also to ask that you pray for me in all of this. “
Can you join us in these prayers for him, as well?
This, of course, really hits home to us at this particular time, because we are preparing for the Sacrament of Matrimony for our eldest two daughters. We hope that the grace God gives in that sacrament seals their hearts and wills to cooperate in the fulfillment of that vocation for life.
Below are the responses Kerri and I sent independently (I was traveling at the time we received his email). I pray that they will prove helpful. If you would like to add your thoughts, please do so in the comments–and please join us in praying that God speaks to our friend His Own Thoughts clearly and forcefully, as well.
Ken and I are indeed very sad about your news. In fact, I was a little shaken by it. I do not know what has brought you to this point, what kind of suffering could make you consider this kind of action, but I think I should say what is really in my heart, regardless.
I remember discussing marriage with you once, and you spoke about the grace that goes with the sacrament of marriage. You said that “all the grace we need to live out our vocation is provided with the sacrament.” I believed it then, and I believe it even more now because I have lived it more fully. I am sure the same applies for your priestly vocation. I write this because it is exactly the same thing I would say–in fact, what I have said–to a friend who wants to leave his marriage. My marriage is my path to heaven; I shudder to think about losing that path.
My life has suddenly become very short. Our children are growing fast, Ken and I have both buried our fathers, and our mothers are frail; it will not be long before our children are burying us. I feel more and more pressed to love people more and to make the most of the short time I have left here with Ken and the kids. Everything that I thought “I wanted to do” does not seem to matter all that much anymore, although I have disappointments as far as what I thought my life would be. Those things I thought “I would do with my life” obviously were not what God wanted for me, so I think that God probably saved me from myself.
Please know that I am writing this out of love for you and love for Christ. Life is hard and your vocation has obviously been hard on you or you would not be considering this action. Our Lord has chosen you and has given you such a place of honor even though it is hard to stay in that place. I cannot imagine the grace you have been given to change bread into His Body and wine into His Blood. To take broken men and restore them to their paths to heaven in Confession. To be able to anoint the sick and dying. Everyday you make a miracle happen in Mass. Of course you know all of this, but just like I sometimes need someone to remind me of the eternal effect of what I do everyday, you might as well. I pray you can find the strength to persevere in your priestly vocation.
Please forgive my impertinence, and please do not be offended by what I have said here, regardless of how intrusive it may seem. I hope someone would have the nerve to say the same to me. We will pray for you and please know that we are always your friends.
May God bless you,
We are praying for you and will continue to do so, that God’s Will be done even if it doesn’t seem to be the will of us here on earth.
Several thoughts come to mind–perhaps scattered, using imprecise analogies, but perhaps still helpful. I also hope that the presentation of these thoughts does not come across as irritating or rude or uncharitable; emails tend to have that “edge” to them for some reason. Please know that my intention is support for you in every way.
Over the past several years, including just recently, we’ve had Catholic friends who discovered that they weren’t actually married to their wives! Turns out that they had married outside the church or had other irregularities which meant that they hadn’t actually received the grace of the sacrament: they weren’t actually married at all Some of them were experiencing real severe difficulties with their marriages, too. All of us married folks know that only with God’s grace can we actually fulfill our vocation of marriage to our wives and fatherhood to our children, so I can’t imagine how much these couples suffered.
But none of these friends hesitated. None of them took the “opportunity” to try whether some other state in life might be more congenial to them; they all immediately did whatever it took (and for some it took quite awhile to get truly married–and they had to live as if they were NOT married during that time…) so that they could avail themselves (and their families) of the grace God would give them to live out their vocation.
In the past, when they had set out upon the vocation of marriage they all had freely decided to get married and had wanted to get married and had asked God to bless that marriage and seal that vocation. They did not waver to do whatever was needed NOW to be done AGAIN to ask God to bless and seal that vocation. They recognized God’s Will was to continue on the path they had already decided upon–for their own good and for the good of others who had relied upon them, relied upon their word, relied upon their steadfastness, and that God would provide all that they were lacking in their own abilities to live up to their vocation.
I won’t belabor the obvious analogy, except to say that the God’s Will was known to these men through the very actions that they had ALREADY honestly, openly, freely taken, and in the role they had lived for years–a role they had chosen with the hope that God was blessing them and others through it.
Of course, your ordination was valid, I’m sure, so the issue is not whether God gave you at that time all the grace you would need to be His priest and fulfill the role that He blessed for you. That’s not the point. It’s that these vocations share some common purposes: Just like in marriage, the role of a Catholic priest is to serve others in a special way–so God provided a sacrament to give mere men the capacity for this special service. Your soul was indelibly marked–you are a priest forever–and through those Holy Orders you were “consecrated and designated to nourish the people of God, fulfilling in Christ the functions of teaching, sanctifying, and governing.”
We husbands and dads do similar functions on a smaller scale and a natural level. Similar, too, I’m certain, is that fulfilling these functions as a priest can be wearying and burdensome.
We husbands and dads wear out our bodies in a family environment with others who are often ungrateful, irritating, too demanding, and suddenly sick, angry, confused…and then they bring other people into our environment (such as fiances) over which we dads have no control. And we have to support them through working in an environment that is also out of our control much of the time, with people in our jobs and companies who frequently do not have our interests uppermost in mind, to say the least. God knows all of that, too, yet we simply must persevere for the good of others for whom we have taken a vow to give our lives. And though we get the blessing, the gift, of living with those whom we have personally chosen to love, it can still, at times, seem lonely and unfulfilling.
I remember hearing Venerable Fulton Sheen saying that when a priest says, “This is My Body which will be given up for you”–the priest means it, too, in the way that the priest’s actual physical body will be given up for the rest of the Body of Christ.
So you, too, in your vocation, as I will in mine, will wear out your body for people who often don’t recognize the burdens they are placing on you.
We all know: during times when the burdens seem heaviest, it always looks like they would be lighter if we were just somewhere else, with different people, with a different location, with a different job, with different burdens.
That’s true in any vocation on this side of heaven: the temptation to believe that the burdens we are carrying cannot be what God really intended for us. Or that we could actually carry even heavier burdens…if only we could choose a different environment in which to heave them. Perhaps the yoke would be lighter with someone different to share the load, eh? That’s a common temptation to which many in our culture today succumb.
But since your vocation is something much more profound, so the burdens and temptations must be also much more profound and soul-searing.
And I would assume that the temptations playing on your mind and will are also much greater and more powerful and more constant, and the joys can be much more fleeting and the loneliness deeper than I feel in a vocation that has not required Christ Himself to permanently mark my soul as He did yours: joining your soul so closely to His own earthly life that He can speak through your voice and touch through your hands and transform souls through the forgiveness of sins and call down the Holy Spirit upon the altar to perform a miracle and prepare souls for the final journey through death. A priest provides the sacraments to the world because God has made it possible–and necessary!
You offered yourself to Him as a priest. He accepted your offer–and blessed it and changed you forever in an instant so that you had everything you would need to do His Will. And you set about doing His Will. What a gift you made to Him, and what a gift He made of you for the rest of us.
I also remember listening to a set of Sheen tapes from a retreat he did for priests in which he discussed why priests leave the gift of the priesthood. It always seems like a good idea, a “better way to serve,” a new way to use one’s particular gifts.
But the service God asks of each man whom He has transformed into a priest forever is to be a priest! We lay people are asked to leave our gifts at the altar — so you can offer them on our behalf. The priest is given God’s Power to make the gift of the altar. Christ Himself gave you the gift that enables you to make the gift which is the source and summit of our Faith! To step away from the altar is to step away from that gift, to step away from the gifts the rest of us want to offer to Christ, to step away from Christ Himself.
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Ken Davison created Glory Stories, which became a weekly radio series heard globally on the Ave Maria Satellite Radio Network and EWTN's radio network, WEWN. In 2007, he and his wife, Kerri, founded Holy Heroes--and their children stepped in to help shortly thereafter to create the online "Adventures" for Advent, Lent, and Spiritual Adoption.