Guest post from Father Carter Griffin, Vice-Rector Vocation Director of the Saint John Paul II Seminary of the Archdiocese of Washington
“I don’t think I’m called to the priesthood. I think I’m called to be a father instead.”
As the Director of Priest Vocations in the Archdiocese of Washington, I hear that a lot. In fact, I used to struggle with it myself… Until I realized that we don’t just call priests “Father” as a kind of consolation prize, a nod to a guy who most obviously is not a father – but because he is a father in the deepest sense imaginable.
Who, after all, is a father? A man who generates life. Who is a good father? A man who generates life and then helps to provide for his child, protect and heal his child from injury, and guide his child into a flourishing life. In biological fatherhood, giving life doesn’t end with conception; it starts with it. The same is true in the spiritual fatherhood of a priest. He gives life, in union with our mother the Church, at the baptismal font. But his fatherhood doesn’t end there – it just starts there. The whole purpose of the priest’s life, like that of all fathers, is then to provide for his new child, protect, heal, and guide him or her into a flourishing life. Think of what a priest does all day – feed with the Holy Eucharist, protect from sin, heal spiritual injuries, teach the faith, and guide the souls entrusted to his care.
A priest friend of mine once admitted that, in the seminary, he had heard talks about priestly fatherhood but suspected that it was all a little fanciful. Nice thoughts, to be sure, and true enough in their own way – but it was a stretch to think of priests as real fathers. He looked forward to being a priest, certainly, but didn’t think of himself as preparing for genuine fatherhood. Then it was one day after his ordination, when the parties were over and the friends and family had gone home, and the euphoria of his ordination had started to wear off, and he stood before his own congregation offering Mass. He looked out at the people entrusted to his care, people who looked at him with hope, with love, with encouragement…and with struggles, and hurts, and a deep hunger for truth and goodness and beauty and eternal life…and then he got it. He was there to serve them just as his own father had been there for his family. Every part of fatherhood that his Dad had exercised in the natural order, he was now exercising in the order of grace. It was a startling, somewhat frightening thought, but also thrilling and joyful. Not much different than his Dad probably felt the day he held his tiny son in his arms.
When a potential seminarian says to me that he thinks he’s called to be a father, I tell him “Good! That’s a prerequisite. You might be called to the priesthood!”