Today I received an invitation to my ordination.
Not really, of course. I just celebrated my second wedding anniversary, my wife and I are happily raising our four-month-old son, and I wouldn’t change any of that. But the fact that I spent almost four years in a Catholic seminary, traveling nearly halfway to the priesthood, is something that is always in the back of my mind. And this year the memories are especially poignant: had I stayed the course, I would be receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders this summer. In a parallel life, where I discerned a different vocation, I would be a priest in six weeks.
I have two classmates getting ordained in July. I have not seen either of them in almost five years. We have not kept in touch. They have been studying at a seminary in Rome, far away in a different world, a world I once lived in, too. I trust they are happy. I am excited at the thought of the priests they will be; they are good young men, and they will serve God and the Church well for many years to come. I am looking forward to being there in the cathedral when the bishop lays his hands on their heads and the power of the Holy Spirit comes upon them, making them priests forever.
But it will be a sad day for me, too; another bittersweet reminder of how I used to be on the inside, and am now forever on the outside looking in. This is difficult to write about, because I find myself dancing a razor-thin line: on the one hand, I do not wish to give the erroneous impression that I regret my decision to leave priestly formation (I do not), and on the other hand I do not want to come across as a bitter young man whining about his failure. I am a happily-married young Catholic man with a deep attachment to the (extremely formative) time I spent in preparation for a lifetime in service to my God and to my Church. The reality is that I discerned — through much prayer and heartbreak — that my heart was not being called to the ordained ministerial priesthood. But the reality is also that, ultimately, I remain no less called to serve the People of God; I am just still finding the precise how.
So I am looking forward to being there in some back pew as two young men take the final step and devote themselves, body and soul, to the service of God’s People. I will probably cry, clutching my young son as my wife puts her consoling arm around me. I will hold them close, my family, my vocation, and I will pray for my two friends as they follow their divine calling. And I will pray that all of us, together, can build the City of God with peace and love.