Sam was picked to be a concert pianist. His whole life’s ambition was to play the piano. He had all the potential to become one of the greats. He also felt another call… he felt deep down the call to the priesthood. In his last year of high school he had to choose. He was accepted to a prestigious school of music and would receive a full ride. He also applied to the seminary. He couldn’t do both.
It was the most difficult decision he has ever had to make. After some time in prayer and against his parent’s advice, he chose to enter the seminary.
I got to know Fr. Sam about seven years ago. At the time he was running a home for those struggling with drug and alcohol dependence. Over his 40 plus years of priesthood he has helped thousands of men, women, and families heal. He has literally saved lives and pulled people out of the hell that they were living in.
He talked with great nostalgia to me about his dream of being a concert pianist, but not once has he regretted his decision to follow the Lord in his call to priesthood. He, like all of us, has his struggles, but he has found such meaning in his life by being a priest for those in need.
There is no doubt in my mind that God is calling an abundance of young men to the priesthood. I witnessed the choices they have had to make. A mother might say “Go to college first and be successful. If you can’t make it, then think about the priesthood.” I know a senior who is looking at Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, the most prestigious schools. I know another senior right now who loves playing basketball. He’s being offered a scholarship to play basketball at Ohio State University – his lifelong dream!
What if God has a bigger dream?
You see, when Jesus passed by the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon and his brother, Andrew, casting their nets into the sea, Jesus said to them “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They abandoned their nets and followed Him.
They abandoned their nets and followed Him. When Jesus calls men to the priesthood, often it is very similar to this. It is a call to abandon their life’s ambitions. It may be to abandon the hopes of a career, to abandon the idea of having a family of your own, to abandon the notion of ever having a wife, to abandon old friends. For James and John, it even meant abandoning their father. Notice that their father lets them go. He probably even had to let go of his dreams of handing on his family business to his sons.
Any real calling requires letting go and abandoning dreams, even dreams that seem very good. What if God dreams bigger?
The first disciples of Jesus abandoned their nets and followed Him. They would go on to heal the sick, exorcise demons, free those imprisoned, and begin the Catholic Church that we know today. Fr. Sam answered that same call when he abandoned his dreams of being a concert pianist. However, that choice seems so simple to him now, so small compared to what God has done in and through him as a priest. Though his fingers rarely ever “tickle the ivory,” they have over and over again touched the Body of Christ. His hands have been used to bless and anoint, to absolve people of their sins, to touch people in their final moments and commend them into the hands of God. His hands have been used to hold and bless and reconcile people who had lost their dreams long ago. His fingers have helped them to draw new dreams of a life of freedom from addiction.
For the first disciples, for Fr. Sam, and for these young men at the cusp of answering God’s call, each one in giving up their own dreams discovers that God can and does dream bigger. If God calls and we “drop our nets” we will discover a life beyond anything we could have ever imagined. In a special way, He does this in the call to priesthood.
Is He calling you? Remember that God can dream bigger. Is He calling someone you know? Remember that God’s hopes and dreams for them are even greater than yours.
If you are blessed enough in your life to experience the great call to “abandon your nets,” follow Him and it will be the greatest decision that you will ever make.