Priesthood Sunday: My Vocation Story

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As I mentioned before, today we celebrate Priesthood Sunday. I would like to take a moment to reflect on the priesthood – particularly my own calling. Whenever I’m at a new place, I like to share just a little bit about my own vocation story so that hopefully it might inspire others to think about priesthood and remind everyone to think about what God is calling us to in life.

We hear in the second reading from Hebrews, “Brothers and sisters, every high priest is taken from among men.”

I think that it is important that we realize that every priest came from among men. I have a family of six kids. We were raised in Parma – three boys and three girls.

When I was really young, after I made my first communion, a good friend of my parents came up to me after communion. She bent down on her knee, and she looked me in the eyes. She said to me, “Michael, you look like you would be a great priest one day.”

I remember looking down. I was kind of embarrassed because I thought, “I do not want to be a priest. I want to have fun in life and have a family and be married. I do not want to be a priest. It sounds boring.” For me, the priesthood seemed boring, prayer seemed boring, and even Mass seemed boring to me when I was young.

I remember I used to pray to God and ask him, “Lord, please do not make me be a priest.” I made a deal with God. I said, “If you let me be married, I will say the rosary every day with my family.” I started making deals with God.

The interesting thing is, though, the call never left. So anytime I would be at Mass and would hear the petition to pray for more priests and vocations, I would put my head down and blush.

Then I went to high school and college. When we say the priests are taken from among men – I can assure you that I probably did a lot of the same things that you are struggling with. I was taken from among that life. After a while, I was thinking of the priesthood, but I kept it to myself.

My older brother Bobby told my parents that he was thinking about priesthood and that he was going to go make this retreat at the seminary. My parents asked each of us kids, “Bob is thinking about priesthood. What do you think about that?” When they asked me, I said, “Actually, I thought it too my whole life, and maybe I should make this retreat with him.”

Bobby and I made the retreat. By the end of the retreat, he knew priesthood was not for him, and I knew I was supposed to be there. I really credit my older brother Bobby with the courage to really bring me to the seminary.

I went into the seminary thinking, “Alright, Lord, my life is going to be miserable. It is going to be horrible, but maybe if I become a priest and do what you want, at the end of my life maybe I will get to go to heaven.

That is honestly how I went into the seminary. Then I discovered two things. Priesthood, at least my priesthood, is not boring. It is far from boring, and prayer is not boring. Prayer is the greatest adventure we could ever go on. The most intimate experience, the most amazing experience of God that we could ever have.  It was actually the opposite of what I thought.

When I answered God’s call, I discovered the most joyful life I ever could have imagined. I remember when I told my sister that I was thinking about going into the priesthood, she broke down and cried.

She just cried and said, “I think you would be such a great father, and I think you would be a good husband.” I said, “I know, but I just feel called to do this.”

A few years ago she sent me a card on Father’s Day. She said, “Dear Mike, now I see indeed that you are a father to many. You are a really good priest and a really good father. Happy Father’s Day.”

I think all parents want their kids to be happy. I can tell you my parents look at me now and see that I have been the most joyful I have ever been in life.

That leads us to the Gospel today. We hear about this blind man who asks Jesus, “Master I want to see,” and Jesus gives him his sight. The interesting line is this phrase, “Go your way. Your faith has saved you.” He has given him sight, and then he says to him, “Go your way.”

Then the very next line is “Immediately he receives his sight and followed him on the way.” So his way became the way of Jesus.

I think it is true for all of us that when we discover what we are called to in life that our desires and God’s desires actually come together. In a great mysterious way, we actually begin to lead the life that God has always wanted us to lead, and the life that is going to make us happiest.

I think it is important too that we realize priests are human – especially as we go through these difficult times of the church. Priests are taken from among human families. Take a moment and think of all the priests in your life.

Think about all the priests you have ever known. Close your eyes, and try to remember them. Chances are, hopefully, there have been priests that have been really good to you – priests that have loved you, and priests that have shown you this wonderful way of God.

Maybe a priest has hurt you. Maybe there was a priest that disappointed you, or a priest that caused you anger, or a priest that frustrated you.

It is important to remember that priests are human, and that we are sinful as well. I invite you in your heart to try to forgive any priest that may have hurt you. It is also important to recognize the priests that have helped us – especially on this Priesthood Sunday.

Thank God for the priests that he has placed into our lives. Thank him for the priests that have shown us our call, baptized us, confirmed us, given us our first communion, heard our confessions, and maybe even married you. Thank God for the priests that have been with us along the way.

Every priest is taken from among the people, but the priest is ultimately chosen then to be a representative to them. I love this line because this is where it deals with you. He says, “Priests are chosen from among men, but he is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and errant.”

That part is about you. Just kidding.

He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and errant. Why? He himself is with weakness because we ourselves are beset with weakness. We know what it is like to struggle. We know what it is like to go through difficulties in life.

Some of the most loving and gentle priests that I have known have learned compassion because they struggle themselves. So, we, too, because of our own struggles, are able to deal patiently with all of those that come to us in the sacraments.

As we celebrate this Priesthood Sunday, pray for all of us priests, and thank God for the priest that he has placed into our lives.

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.