I have just read another letter from yet another twenty-something girl who is being jerked around by her twenty-something boyfriend who doesn't know if he has a vocation to the priesthood or not. Despite them breaking up over it and getting back together again over and over again--not to mention all the snogging and whatever--the man thinks he might have a vocation to the priesthood.
One thing that young Catholics never seem to understand is that it is actually insulting for a man to tell his girlfriend that he is discerning a vocation to the priesthood. He may be discerning a vocation to the priesthood, but he's also saying, "I think I might spend the rest of my life without you." If I were the queen of the world, I would make it a law that every woman would have to dump her suddenly discerning-a-vocation-to-the-priesthood boyfriend and refuse to talk to him until he showed at her door crying and begging forgiveness.
I am happy to say that I know at least one woman who gave the guy she was seeing the old heave-ho as soon as he pulled that stunt. It was a very weird courtship, anyway, since he took her home to meet his parents almost immediately but wasn't that interested in huggin' and kissin'.
Normally it's a relief when a guy keeps his hands to himself, but after you've been dating for some time you begin to wonder why. Does he not find you attractive or does he have a super-strict confessor or is he secretly and self-loathingly gay? I can only imagine how awful it must be for a son of a pious Catholic family to discover he is gay, but wasting the time of innocent Catholic women is not the solution to anything.
Whatever his own issue, this guy announced that he was going abroad to determine his vocation, and the woman said, "Hmm. Shouldn't you consult this with me?" And the guy was surprised. Astonished. It hadn't even occured to him that his girlfriend should be consulted. It was all about him, him, HIM. Overwhelming self-absorption is not really a sign of the priestly charism, now, is it? Anyway, she dumped him and met an absolutely fabulous guy, a guy whose courtship was a lot more slow, cautious, selfless and meaningful. Best of all, perhaps, he had long since figured out that the priesthood was not for him.
Once upon a time there was this marvellous institution called the junior seminary. Maybe they still exist in some places; I know a priest in his 50s who was in one in Eastern Europe. The junior seminary was a special high school where teenage boys went to be educated and discern their possible vocation to the priesthood. This was deemed later to be bad for boys, but it was certainly great for girls, because it meant we did not have to deal with discerners all the darned time. And the priest I know attended junior seminary is a wonderful priest, very sweet and kind and even innocent. No doubt he hears all kinds of horrors in the confessional, but he has a quality of innocence all the same. He's a junior sem success story.
I am sure these letters will keep coming, but I have to say that nothing burns me up as much as the story of yet another college sweetheart breaking the bad news about his sudden need to discern the priesthood. Could he not have begun that when he was confirmed? It might not be his fault, of course; I cannot remember anyone talking to my confirmation class about discerning vocations to priesthood or religious life. But, really, if you only start talking to teens about this stuff when they are 19 and dating, isn't it too late?
At Confirmation, when you are about 14, you become an adult in the Church. And as an adult-in-the-Church you should start thinking about how you might best serve the Church when you are an adult for real. Don't put off contacting this religious order or that vocatons director after you're had your fun dating and kissing and telling this boy or that girl that you think you love him or her.
At this point, I discern several voices shrieking, "But, Seraphic, you always tells us that vocation can come at any age!" Yes, it can---and for the simple reason that vocation comes from God. God calls, and you answer. But you shouldn't wait until you're 19 to start listening for it, just as you shouldn't have zero clue what you want to do with your life as you muddle your way through junior year.
And call me crazy, but if you have a boyfriend you can't quit, or a girlfriend to whom you keep returning, it might just be a sign that you are not called to perpetual celibacy. By becoming a vocational tourist, you're holding the life and future of the person who might love you more than anyone else in the world hostage. Stop it. Forget about what you might be called to; ask yourself, just who do you think you are?
The Nashville Dominicans told me I was too old for them when I was 35. They were right; it was a shot in the dark and a waste of their vocation director's time. But at least I wasn't dating anyone when I asked. Nobody cried because I called them.
Do your fellow twenty-something Catholics a favour; work out how you feel about lifelong celibacy BEFORE you make out with them, okay?
P.S. Once you are out of the seminary/convent, and have spent a year acclimatizing yourself to the ordinary world, then go ahead and date. Go for it. Recovered ex-postulants and ex-seminarians can make marvellous spouses. But if you suddenly change your mind, mid-snog, and hare after the convent or seminary again you're a jerk. Sorry, but you are. I feel sorry for the heart you're stomping on, not you, drama queen.