*I have recently been asked to give vocations talks in various settings. Some I have been able to make, and some I have not. Sometimes it’s more informal than others. This is the text from which I draw most of the ideas I try to convey. If I were to deliver this talk verbatim, it would be for an audience of 8th-10th graders.*
My brothers in Christ, I thank you for being here this day. I thank you for taking the time to hear about the blessing of the priesthood, to hear about how it has blessed the lives of the ordained men you have met today, and how it is a blessing for the faithful of the Church. Most of you in this room today will be called to the vocation of Holy Matrimony, but what you have learned today will not be in vain. In understanding the priesthood more, you will understand your priests throughout your Christian life more. You will better understand what motivates them to be a sign of contradiction to the world. You will better understand what they are trying to achieve. You will better now how to support them, and you will better understand how to hold them accountable. And we need good, and holy men to hold us accountable. We need good, and holy men to defeat evil. We need good, and holy men.
Wherever the Good Lord brings you, my brothers in Christ, wherever he leadeth you, whatever trials he permits you to endure as a teen, a student, a bachelor, a husband, or a priest, be prayerful and brave. You were meant to be prayerful and brave. God created you to be prayerful and brave. A man of God is prayerful and brave. If there is one thing I want you to take away from my talk it is that you be prayerful and brave from this day forward. Become brave by being prayerful, and be brave when you pray. Pray that you will be a virtuous disciple. Pray that you will not seek out your own glory, but only that of God’s. Pray that when you face evil, then power of Christ within you will overcome, avert, and destroy that evil. Pray that when the dragons of this present darkness attack, you will have the bravery to stand firm in faith, slay the dragons, and bring forth the light of the Savior.
And there are dragons, my brothers. Don’t let folks tell you they are but fairy tales. Dragons exist, and I’ll tell you where, and how they do shortly. It takes a child like faith to recognize them, and the strength of a Christian warrior to defeat them.
G.K. Chesteron, a British Catholic philosopher of the 19th and 20th centuries once said “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
My brothers, when I was a grade school lad, my friends and I would ask for toy swords, and shields for Christmas, and birthdays. If we didn’t get those gifts, it was no problem; there was always a stick, and a trash can lid around to use for such weaponry. Why did we need these swords and shields? To slay dragons of course! We were children filled with a sense of valor, with a sense that we had a responsibility to rid the world of evil. These dragons attacked innocent villages, and held princesses captive. If it weren’t for such noble knights as ourselves, what would happen to these villages, and what would happen to these princesses? Our imaginary characters were not driven for fame, or honor, or wealth. Doing what was right, and doing so courageously were rewards enough.
Our desire to be brave men at such a young age prompted our imaginations to construct elaborate kingdoms, and fierce enemies. We knew it was in our minds, but amidst all the imagination, we knew that good, and evil were not imaginary. We knew that dragons were real, in that we knew evil was real. We knew that no matter how powerful those dragons were, we knew that good knights could defeat them. We knew that what was good would always defeat what was evil. Little did we know that when our parents took us to Mass on Sundays that we were witnessing the greatest triumph of goodness over evil every week. Little did we know that when we went to confession dragons were being slain. Little did we know that the gifts given us at baptism, and at confirmation were the weapons and armor given us to defeat evil. Little did we know that our priests were anointed knights in the battle against evil.
There are dragons in the world, men. They don’t live in caves, and they don’t breath fire. Rather they live in souls of men, and breathe lies. The first princess attacked by a dragon was our first mother, Eve. Adam, the first man, the first protector, failed to protect the garden. He failed to protect Eve. That is the curse of original sin we still carry to this day, my brothers. That is the dragon that plagues us. The dragon that tells us not to act when evil attacks. The dragon that tells us to stay where we are, and to not call upon God. This dragon could be called sloth, or indifference, but it is really a dragon of fear. The fear to be righteous. The fear of the pain caused by the fight. The fear of failure. It is a fear to sacrifice.
And gentlemen, the life of a priest is a life of sacrifice. It takes courage to sacrifice the good of marriage, and children. It takes sacrifice to disregard the esteem of men, and seek first, and only the esteem of God when one is preaching, teaching, and counseling the faithful in truth. It takes sacrifice to offer the Holy Mass at times when it can reach the lay faithful in the greatest numbers. It takes sacrifice to make confessions readily available. It takes sacrifice to listen to the young, the old, and all in between in the confessional. It takes sacrifice at the end of a long day of meetings, and financials, to sit into ones chair only to be called into the hospital to anoint the dying. It takes sacrifice to meet with families grieving the loss of a loved one, whether it be the 100 y/o great-grandmother of twenty, or the 27 y/o father of three. The life of a priest is the life of combating that chief dragon, Satan, and in such combat the only way to win is to sacrifice oneself for the sake of souls. The only way to win is to look to the Cross of Christ, and accept that that is your Cross too.
When my childhood friends and I were slaying pretend dragons, we did so as pretend knights. The advantage of playing pretend is that one can skip over certain developmental trials of the characters, and go right into the prime of their skills, and virtue. We were pretending to be already-trained knights. We were ignorant of all it took for a man to become knight centuries ago, and we were ignorant of what it takes to be a good, and courageous man today. It is fine for boys to have such innocence, but as a boy grows to be a man, he must understand that being virtuous, that exercising valor is not the easy road. To keep that innate sense of good and evil, and that innate sense to fight for the good: to be good, the boy must decide to do what is difficult. The boy must decide against the fault of our first earthly father. The boy must decide he will not take comfort over greatness. The boy must look to others, as Adam had failed to look at Eve, and see that the dragons of Satan are attacking them, and then decide to do what is difficult to chase those dragons away. When the boy decides he is willing to make the sacrifices to fight these Satanic dragons, and only then, has he decided to become a man.
Each and every one of you boys in this room today are called by this fallen world “to comfort, but you are not made for comfort,” as Pope Benedict XVI said, “you are made for greatness.” God is calling each of you to be a great man, to be a saint, while darkness calls to you a life of complacency. Most of you will be called to be great husbands and fathers. You will be called to sacrifice for your children, and for your wives. You will be called to lead the family in prayer, and set the example of religious practice. You will be called to set that example in your greater communities as well.
But, for some of you, for some of you chosen few, you will be called to not just be great men, but to be the great men among the great men. You will be called to not natural husbandhood, and fatherhood, but to supernatural husbandhood, and fatherhood. You will be called to be the example to set for the husbands and fathers of your parishes, and communities. You will be called to show them proper religious exercise. You will be called to lead them in prayer, as they lead their families in prayer. You will be called to sacrifice for them, as they sacrifice for their families, and communities. If you are called to be a man of God, among men of God, fear not! You will receive proper training. You will receive the right weapons for the battle, and you will become these courageous men among the courageous men of the Church, if you but rely on God.
Is the life of a priest difficult? You bet it is. Is the training to become a priest difficult? You bet it is. Is it worth it? You bet your life it is! The joy of confecting the Eucharist, and distributing it to the faithful is worth it. The joy of absolving the contrite of their sins is worth it. The joy of brining a baby into the Church at baptism is worth it. The joy of witnessing weddings is worth it. The joy of being a part of every family is worth having no family of your own. The joy of slaying dragons by the power of Christ is reward enough.
And amidst all the struggles, and trials; amidst all the suffering, and sacrifices; amidst all the disappointments and pains, there is so much goodness. The lay faithful will love you, and support you when they know you are sacrificing for them. Your brother priests will understand the burdens and joys like nobody else can, and just as men who have shared combat share a bond wholly unique to you, you will share a bond of spiritual combat with your brother-priests wholly unique to the priesthood.
Finally, my brothers, the priesthood is worth it because of the unique relationship you will have with Christ whose life you imitate by your vocation. It is worth it because of the unique relationship that only priests have with his Blessed Mother, who cares especially for those who take the role of her Son on earth. That is an entirely different talk to give, and I’m happy to give it. For now, however, what I will say is look to St. Joseph to teach you what this means. St. Joseph, while not a priest, provides us the model of the priesthood. His marriage was a virginal marriage, as is that of the priest’s marriage to the Church. He was called to love Mary, the model of the Church, and he was called to protect the defenseless Body of Christ. The priest is called to love the Church with the love of a husband, and is called to protect the defenseless Body of Christ, the Eucharist.
St. Joseph was not divine like Christ, nor preserved from all sin like Mary. Nevertheless he was given an extraordinary calling, and followed it without question. He followed the ways of God so well, and protected this family with such virtue, that the Church has bestowed upon him the title of “Terror of Demons.” This saintly man will teach you how to defeat the demons in this life: these dragons.
Gentlemen, decide today to be great. Decide today to be ruled by God’s grace, and not to be ruled by fear. The innate desire you had an young children to do battle against evil is the innate desire God placed in your hearts to be good. That still exists in your hearts, and Christ wills that it grow, and mature with time so that you will be great men, so that you will sacrifice for goodness to reign. So be prayerful, and be brave, and you will become saints. And some of you will become those saints we call priests, and it is worth it.
God bless you all.