Each year, the new class of men to be ordained priests in the United States answers survey questions designed to highlight certain trends occurring in the life of the Catholic Church throughout the country. Among the many statistics from the 2020 survey, one indicates that 89 percent of the ordinandi report being encouraged to consider the priesthood by someone in their life, which is indeed reassuring.

Unfortunately, however, 52 percent of the ordinandi report being discouraged from pursuing the priesthood, and it is this statistic that is particularly alarming.

From where do these remarks of discouragement come? What is the reason for trying to dissuade a young man from considering the priesthood and actively pursuing it if he is indeed called by God to this vocation for His glory and the salvation of souls?

Perhaps discouraging words about the holy priesthood result from a preoccupation with what is natural, without recognizing its supernatural dimension and trusting in the power of God’s grace. Or does the consideration of potential times of hardship in the vocation eclipse the reality of the goodness of God to transform powerfully the suffering and sacrifice into something lifegiving?

Sadly, outside of “going to Mass,” we hesitate to talk about God and the things of God with our family and friends. So, when the topic is discussed, particularly regarding a man thinking about the holy priesthood, we do not know what to make of it.

Much negative press over the last two decades has contributed to a disillusionment with the Church and her priests. Unfortunately, there is always a temptation to dwell on that which is negative, the result of which can be to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Shortly after sharing with family and friends my decision to apply to the seminary and begin the process of formation for the priesthood, a relative asked me this question: “Don’t you think that what you are doing is rather selfish? You are an only child, which means your parents will not have any grandchildren and the family name will not be carried on.”

I was absolutely stunned at these words. This relative was focusing on the things that I would have to “abandon,” while I heard the Lord saying to my soul: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundred-fold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”

By the end of the conversation, I recognized the wisdom and truth of the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Are you fascinated and captivated by Jesus Christ? The saints are! You and I are called by God to become saints, and this begins to take place in our lives when we answer that specific vocation that God extends uniquely to each one of us. Let us learn evermore to heed the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians by saying only that which is good and edifying, so “that it may impart grace to those who hear it.”

May our conversations, especially within our families, find new life and renewed vigor by speaking more often of God and of His ways so that we may enter more fully into the hope held in store for us in Heaven. For if we do not discuss the faith regularly and passionately with one another, particularly within our families, and strive to see the divine and grace-filled realities of God present within our daily lives, then we run the risk of becoming persons filled with — and discouraged by — the things of the world, who are deaf to His call, blind to His goodness and stupefied by “the path less traveled by,” which for the person hearing and answering the call, makes all the difference.

— Father James Dodson is vocation director for the Diocese of Burlington.

—Originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.