By Rev. Brian Bashista, Office of Vocations
Perhaps priesthood has crossed your mind, but fear pushes the idea away:
- My friends would laugh if they heard I was thinking about the priesthood!
- My parents would be shocked.
- My mom wants grandkids.
- I’m scared to death of speaking in public.
- I’m nowhere near holy enough.
- I don’t want to give up sex.
- I’ll be lonely.
- Seminary may be too hard for me.
- Being a priest looks boring.
These fears are very common, even for some men who are already in seminary. But literally thousands of men have had the same concerns and then went on to become holy and effective priests.
The first principle to remember is that God does not speak through fear. Fear is a tactic of the enemy to keep you from pursuing God’s will; it is like the bite of an animal that paralyzes its prey to keep it from moving. A man in fear will find it difficult to move toward God’s will.
If you are paralyzed by fear, even if you are pointed in the right direction, you will never get to where God is leading you.
So how do you overcome fear? Here are five ideas:
Turn your fears into concerns. You may have legitimate concerns about celibacy or preaching. Many areas of formation for priesthood require ability, discipline and serious self-knowledge and assessment. You will probably discover areas that need to change and improve. All of that, however, is different than being afraid. You can discern with a cool head and realistic view, but not with a heart full of fear.
Look to scripture for consolation. “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). Recall that when Jesus called Peter (Lk 5:1-11), our first pope said, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus then replied, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Likewise, Jesus knows your difficulties and weaknesses, yet he calls. Later, Peter would write, “Cast all your worries upon him, because he cares for you” (I Pt 5:7).
Reflect on God’s love. Fr. Brett Brannen, in his book To Save a Thousand Souls, recommends this meditation when a man feels fearful: “God is infinite in power and he loves me infinitely. There is no snatching out of his hand. God will never send me where his grace cannot sustain me. If he asks me to do something difficult, like become a priest, he will give me the grace to do it. I will not fail because he is with me. And I will be happy because I am doing his will. Even if I lack some of the needed qualities, God will help me develop them. In His will lies my peace.”
Entrust your fears to the Blessed Mother. Recall that after the angel told Mary to “fear not”, she readily she accepted God’s will for her, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Walking in God’s will was not an easy road for Mary, as Simeon prophesied, “You yourself a sword shall pierce.” Yet Mary had the strength to follow her Son because she had “kept all these things in her heart.” Entrust your fears to her intercession, and she will help calm your heart and find the will of Jesus.
Remember what seminary is for. From a purely practical perspective, it’s comforting to know that if God calls you to be a priest, ordination is still years away. Seminary offers a period of serious discernment and intensive formation to help a man address his concerns, grow in holiness, and prepare for an effective priestly ministry. No man enters seminary ready to be a priest! And no man becomes a priest on his own!
So, as Blessed Pope John Paul II reminded us so often throughout his pontificate: Be not afraid! Don’t let fear paralyze you. Instead, address your concerns to God, trust in His word, reflect upon His love, ask for Mary’s help, and remember that you have time. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Fear will never lead you to your vocation, whatever it may be, but only the peace of Christ.