Saint Paul exhorts us:
“Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.”
(1 Corinthians 7:17)
You can’t wake up one day and say “I’m going to marry ‘x’ person.” Well you could, but you might be very disappointed. Not only will you feel unhappy and unsatisfied, your partner may share similar feelings, too. The same is true for the church. A person may not be a right fit in marriage for another, and thus the importance of declaration of consent from multiple parties. The same holds true in a call to the priesthood.
Why? Because priesthood isn’t easy. Like any career or vocation, there are bumps and bruises. Being a priest serving a congregation has that – and more. In many ways, it is an “on call all the time” existence. It sometimes takes a thick skin. It takes flexibility and adeptness at rolling with whatever comes your way. It can be frustrating and maddening. It can be heart-breaking.
At the same time, answering the call to the priesthood is transformational and life-changing. The Rev. Thomas Heard said, “I remember my ordination and can still hear my bishop’s voice during the Examination,” which reads, in part:
“Now you are called to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher, together with your bishop and fellow presbyters, and to take your share in the councils of the Church.
As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you.
In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 531)
A call to the priesthood is a call to a sacramental life. It is a call to be incarnational and intentional about everyday life. It is easy to see this in our role in the sacraments of the church: celebrating mass, baptizing, and officiating at the burial office or marriages, but it goes far beyond those moments. Everything we do takes on a sacramental character.
Ultimately priesthood is about relationship, and that’s why it can be the focus of our preaching and teaching. Preaching and teaching can be sacramental as well because we’re encouraging folks to further develop their relationship with God. We’re helping them live into their Baptismal Covenant promises more fully. We’re helping them to be the hands and heart of Jesus in the world and we’re helping them to open their eyes to those around them.
The above article is the 4th of 4 articles in a series presented by the Commission on Ministry through the Coastline related to discernment and various roles of ministry.