"On the Road to Priesthood"
I’ve been a Jesuit for nearly nine years now and still I have over two years to wait until I’m ordained a priest. One thing we can say for sure about the Jesuit road to the priesthood: it’s long. But why? Why so long? That’s a good question. Let me do my best to answer by describing how I got started walking this road.
I came to Omaha, Nebraska and to Creighton University in 1998 a bright-eyed, good-hearted, brash teenager. Like all 674 other kids in my class I wanted to be a doctor. I was eager to understand the world and fix everything in it… as long as that didn’t disturb my previously scheduled engagements (e.g., fraternity date parties and the dorm-mandated 4 hours a day of playing Bond: Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64… Yes, I’m old. Let’s move on).
Meeting the Jesuits there was a little like a slap in face.
I had practiced my faith before. I went to Church. I said prayers sometimes. I’d even listened to at least one DC Talk song. That all counted, right? Sure it did. What I’d never encountered before was a group of men so ready to sacrifice; who were accessible, fun, engaged, and yet had undergone so much intellectual and spiritual training (is it a coincidence that I love Jesuit training and still get pumped up every single time a training montage comes on in Rocky??? I think not). They were M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s, and yet talked about Jesus and the loved the Church. Who were these guys? As you can tell, I was sucker punched. So, after a few years – after I’d thought about it, talked about it, prayed about it – I was in.
Thinking back on all this many years later I have to be honest: I don’t think I’d ever considered that anything deserved the kind of dedication I saw these guys giving to Jesus through the Church. And that was attractive. That was persuasive. That was holy. But at that time, it wasn’t a call to the priesthood per se that I felt; it was more a call to give my whole life to something purely good, something that could use me up for the Gospel. It’s taken years of walking this road for that raw desire to get honed down (like Rocky getting toned down by running those frozen Russian mountains in Rocky Four!). It’s taken years for that rough longing to get sharpened into the desire to be a Jesuit priest in the Catholic Church.
Let’s skip forward to today.
A few weeks ago my grandpa died. He was 85, an Irishman and (God love him) a Cubs fan, and he died surrounded by his eight kids and his wife of 61 years. As deaths go, it was a good one. Of course I went to the funeral, and because of the kindness of the parish priest who presided, I was able to minister at the wake, parts of the funeral and even the internment. It was a great gift that I was given, and that my family was given in turn.
As I sat in Omaha’s Eppley Airport on my way back to California, I did a little Examen over the years that had gotten me to this point of being able to minister to my own family at my own grandfather’s funeral. What was it that I did during those days of family, of gathering and mourning? It seems pretty straightforward actually. As best I could I tried to be a conduit, a hollow passway, for God to get at my family and vice versa. It wasn’t the only way for God to get through (it’s an awful Holy world after all), but a way, a good way, during a tough time, for getting at God and vice versa. And isn’t that (amongst many other Holy things after all) what Jesus was too? A hollow passway for getting at his Father?
Anyway, in the interest of rigorous honesty, I have to say with 95% certainty that I would’ve thrown up a lot more blocks (of arrogance, self-reliance, brashness, etc.) to God had I not been given the gift of these nine formative years, had I not been trained-up, hollowed-out so well.
So, that’s my best answer as to why it takes so long to be a priest this Jesuit way. And as to why I’m so grateful for the years as well. Sometimes it’s the words of the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore that I want to use to describe this gratitude:
“Thou has made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.
“This little flute of a reed thou has carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
“At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and give birth to utterance ineffable.
“They infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.”
I hope you’ll forgive a plug here at the close. It’s just this: don’t be afraid to come join John, Br. Pat and I on this Jesuit way to God. The people of God need and deserve talented, loving young men to form for the service of the people of God.
Thanks for letting me share.
Paddy Gilger, SJ