Today is Vocations Awareness Sunday. I wrote about the need for vocations to the priesthood last week. This week I want to say why a young man should consider becoming a priest, beyond stating the need of the Church for priests. I want to share some of my own experience.
I thought somewhat of becoming a priest from very early in my life. It was likely that most Catholic boys at least gave glancing consideration to becoming priests at that time. Priests were among the most respected and loved people in the community. Everyone knew them and looked up to them.
When I was about 6 or 7, before I made my first Holy Communion, I was at Mass at Saint Patrick Church in Maysville, with my Grandmother O’Neill. During the consecration (this was before Vatican II turned the priest to face the people) I asked her what Fr. Casey was doing. She whispered to me that he was changing bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. I still remember thinking, “I would like to be able to do that.” I think that moment was my first call by Jesus to become a priest.
As I got older, the idea of the priesthood slipped to the back of my mind. Like most teenagers, I had many more pressing concerns. My relationship with the Church became more complicated as I got older (doesn’t it for everyone?). Although still attending Mass, God had less and less to do with my life and my identity.
Attending Maysville Community College for two years, I was searching for what direction my life should take. It was during that time that personal crisis brought me back to a desperate need to rediscover God, and miraculously, I did. He made Himself real for me and began showing me that He wanted me to be a priest. I truly believe that I was called to the priesthood and did not simply choose it for myself. Of course, I had to decide whether or not to respond to that call.
Saying “Yes” in 1973 began a 7-year journey that led to my ordination in 1980. That journey certainly was not a straight line but involved any number of obstacles, distractions, and course corrections. My life journey more resembled a roller coaster ride than a Ferris wheel.
Throughout that journey of seminary, I experienced a great deal of growth as I began learning how to pray, studying theology and coming to know our faith in a much deeper way, making friends, and being exposed to far more of the Church than I had seen in my little country parish in May’s Lick, Kentucky. Part of the training was working in various ministries, such as hospital visitation, providing adult education in local parishes, and even assisting a parole officer for a semester.
Since ordination, I have been a parish priest (assistant and pastor), a high school teacher and chaplain (and even principal for one year). As a priest, I have been present at thousands of baptisms, first holy communions, first reconciliations, confirmations, graduations, weddings, and funerals. I have been able to be with people in the most important moments of their lives, and even their deaths.
The most exciting thing that I do is to help people grow in their relationship with Christ—through RCIA classes, Cursillos, retreats, Life in the Spirit seminars, and through the adult education classes on Scripture and the Catholic faith that I have been presenting for over 20 years.
I could have been a teacher. I could have been a counselor. I could have been a salesman. I could have been a father. I could have been a husband. In the priesthood, I am all of those things. I teach, I counsel, I sell Jesus and the Gospel, thousands have addressed me as Father, and with Christ, I am the groom to His bride the Church. I have it all.
Being called to the priesthood has been the greatest blessing of my life. Has it always been easy? Absolutely not. Is marriage always easy? Is parenthood always easy? I think not. But the blessings have far exceeded the costs.
I hope that many Catholic men will seriously and prayerfully consider whether God is calling them to the priesthood. I am certainly glad that I did.
–Fr. Mike Comer