In his very first encyclical, Pope John Paul II, drawing on the wisdom of Holy Mother the Church from the beginning, teaches:

For the whole community of the People of God and for each member of it what is in question is not just a specific ‘ social membership’; rather, for each and every one what is essential is a particular ‘vocation’….we must see first and foremost Christ saying in a way to each member of the community: “Follow Me.” [1]


Since Christ is then calling every baptized person to follow Him we can joyfully assure ever boy and man who ask us if they are being called: Yes!
Specifically: to holy sacramental priesthood?
Discernment over time will make that clear, but our initial ‘yes’ to them, coupled with urging them to pray for clarity, will encourage them to continue to listen to the Holy Spirit who leads us to follow Christ.
Certainly some of our brothers are being called not to priesthood but to holy marriage, consecrated religious life, the lay apostolate or the consecrated state of virginity while living and working in the world.
But many more of our brothers, be they still children, youth, young adult or even older, are being called to holy priesthood.
Perhaps many more than we know because we are not consciously, publicly in fact, encouraging them to voice the call they are experiencing in their hearts.
There are those, priests and laity, some claiming because of published studies to have this nailed down as absolute fact, who for years having been pushing the notion that there is a critical shortage of vocations to the priesthood.
Frankly I think that is dangerously close to insulting the Holy Spirit.
The implication is that He is NOT calling forth generosity from among the baptized boys and men of this generation.
That is simply a lie.
There is no crisis of ‘call’.
There is an apparent crisis of ‘response’, mainly, if we be humble about it, in those countries, dioceses, parishes, where there is little in the way of orthodox catholic teaching, sacramental practice and a lack of Eucharistic adoration and true devotion to Mary.
The fundamental problem is one of holiness.
To the degree that we priests are holy, faithful to the teachings of the Church, visible in our own faith practice, and obviously devoted sons of Mary, Queen of the Clergy, to that degree those being called to priesthood will take note and be encouraged.
To the degree that our parishes are holy, our families are holy, to that degree boys and men sensing the call in their hearts will find encouragement to say a generous, indeed an heroic, yes!
We all know that someone who is obviously content, joyful, dedicated in their chosen profession/vocation, encourages the young to want to not merely imitate them but to join them in that life.
No secular profession would send dour, angry, dissatisfied, representatives on a recruitment drive.
Why do we?
It may seem a type of unfair stress but the reality is we are always recruiting, or discouraging, priestly vocations.
There’s no way around it for ours is a most public vocation.
We live in the main in rectories, which are at the very least quasi-public places.
Every sacrament we celebrate involves at least one other person {confession} and our dear people notice everything we say and do!
Even our ‘uniform’, which in humility we should always wear, renders us visible wherever we go.
Thus like Christ in whose person we are, we truly have nowhere to hide.
Not that we should ever be involved in anything we’d ‘need’ to hide for.
Thus each contact, direct through sacramental celebration, hospital visits, school visits, home visits and somewhat indirect, such as just walking around town, can be either an encouraging act of recruitment or a serious discouragement to he who senses the call of the Spirit.
How true is this when in particular we are celebrating Holy Mass!
The young in particular are extremely observant, and better informed about authentic sacramental ritual and orthodox catholic teaching than we perhaps realize.
They have, after all, grown up in an era that has made them media savvy.
They also have access to the internet and are used to a Holy Father, the world’s parish priest, who is accessible to them and to whom they listen far more intently than a lot of priests understand.
Indeed Pope John Paul II showed himself an astute encourager of vocations when he celebrated his fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination by publishing his book GIFT AND MYSTERY, in which he beautifully illustrates the reality of call and response:
The story of my priestly vocation? It is known above all to God. At its deepest level, every vocation to the priesthood is a great mystery; it is a gift which infinitely transcends the individual. Every priest experiences this clearly throughout the course of his life. Faced with the greatness of the gift, we sense our own inadequacy.
A vocation is a mystery of divine election: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.{Jn.15:16}” [2]

Our very existence as created persons is the beginning, for we priests, of this ‘mystery of divine election’.
Thus our very existence should suffice for an exhilarated heart.
All the more then should our gratitude be all the more joyous for the immense gift of Baptism and the totality of sacramental life.
Most especially for our entire Eucharistic life, from our First Holy Communion, to our first Mass celebrated when we were newly ordained, to this day’s Holy Mass and Communion!

We live in sacramental reality:
The Eucharist constitutes the culminating moment in which Jesus, in His Body given for us and in His Blood poured out for our salvation, reveals the mystery of His identity and indicates the sense of the vocation of every believer. In fact, the meaning of human life is totally contained in that Body and in that Blood, since from them life and salvation have come to us. In some ways, the very existence of the human person must be identified with them, so that this existence is fulfilled in so far as it can, in its turn, make itself a gift for others. [3]

Not only our response then, but the very gift we make of ourselves, and the very way in which we encourage vocations to the priesthood, is irrevocably Eucharistic.
Thus the example of a priest with a true love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, who celebrates Holy Mass with ritual fidelity, reverence and joy, who visibly radiates his being in persona Christi capitis giving the living Christ to his brothers and sisters in Holy Communion, becomes a true icon of the splendour and joy of priesthood to those boys and men sensing deep in their hearts the call.
As priests we know true Eucharistic piety deepens daily our own fiat.
Naturally the critical environment for the first responsive stirrings to the invitation from the Holy Spirit for a yes to the priestly vocation is the family.
A truly orthodox, faith living Catholic family is the ideal environment to nurture the future adult male’s vocation response.
How vital is our priestly support and service for families.
It is the Domestic Church which is the bedrock of the universal Church.
Look at this more closely: a faith-filled family nurtures faithful adults.
In particular, men who will enter the seminary with hearts open to formation towards sacramental ordination as priests in persona Christi capitis.
We priests do a grave injustice to Holy Mother the Church, as well as a serious disservice to men contemplating the priesthood when we are constantly telling horror stories about seminary life.
The seminary is not supposed to be either a mere college dorm, an ecclesiastical frat house any more than a pretend monastery.
Seminary is a serious experience of intellectual, moral, philosophical, theological, liturgical and spiritual formation. It is the place and time of deep encounter with the Holy Spirit who purifies a man’s soul that He might configure the man to Christ Priest. Thus seminary formation itself is a constitutive dimension of our vocation.
Seminary is the soul’s journey with the shepherds to the cave, the wise men to the home where is the Child and Mary and Joseph. Seminary is Nazareth, the Desert, the house at Bethany; it is to be in the company of the Apostles, learning from the Master Himself; it is Tabor and the Upper Room, the Garden, the Cross and sometimes the tomb, that place of utter stillness trust awaiting to be called forth, like Lazarus, to life renewed.
We are led by the star to Mary who presents Jesus to us, we adore Him with the gifts of our body, heart-love, and soul-will [Mt.2:9-11].
This stirring in our souls noted by the Holy Father as ‘divine election’ is akin to the star which guided the Magi and the seminary must be the place of encounter with the Child Christ, the Teaching Christ, Christ who heals, forgives, with Christ Priest, Christ on the Cross, Christ Risen, Christ ascended to heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father.
The man who is now a seminarian brings the gifts of himself, body, mind, heart, and soul.
Seminary is both epiphany as encounter with Christ and a gradual inner epiphany for the man being formed.
It is to be fervently desired, as in prayed for, that the man will enter a house which is a place of profound encounter with Jesus and Mary; a place of orthodox teaching, love of the Church, loyalty to the Holy Father, liturgical fidelity, joyful chastity and absolute charity.
Seminary years should be marked by a willingness on the part of the man to enter more deeply than ever before in his life into the ‘garden enclosed’ where alone are the soul and the Trinity. There, in intimate converse and love, the Holy Spirit brings about the necessary radical conversion of heart, metanoia.
The false self, so bound by the sin of the world, by personal sin, wounded by the sins of others, perhaps uncertain about relationship with the Trinity, is taken by the Spirit into the very heart of Christ’s own kenosis that the man be emptied of all that is not of Christ.
Seminarians must begin here to take as the normal ebb and flow of daily life that we need to have our face to the ground in both a constant plea for mercy and a heart’s love-adoration of the Triune God. Equally vital is a heart which listens and learns from the wisdom, faith and fiat of the Blessed Virgin Mary, having a devoted son’s confidence in her maternal love, guidance and protection.
Thus, like the Magi, the man will eagerly lay at the feet of the Child the gift of himself, and as a true disciple will embrace the cross and follow Christ, surrendering himself totally to the movement of the Holy Spirit who configures us to Christ Priest.
Lived authentically, seminary life itself is an ever more generous and joyous response to ‘divine election’.
It is a period of particular grace.
The attitudes towards self, other, Church, orthodoxy etc., developed in the seminary are the template of priestly life.
Jesus teaches us how it should all come to pass, for we are ‘scribes’ instructed by the Holy Spirit [Mt.13:52].
Naturally enough to be properly instructed presupposes a willingness to learn, that humility which admits it knows not everything!
Seminary is, after all, the place where we are to be formed as shepherds according to His own Heart:
The seminary can be seen as a place and period in life. But it is above all an educational community in progress:….to offer to those called by the Lord to serve as apostles the possibility of reliving the experience of formation which Our Lord provided for the Twelve. In fact, the Gospels present a prolonged and intimate sharing of life with Jesus as a necessary premise for the apostolic ministry. Such an experience demands of the Twelve the practice of detachment in a particularly clear and specific fashion, a detachment that in some way is demanded of all the disciples, a detachment from their roots, their usual work, from their nearest and dearest [cf.Mk.1:16-20, 10:28; Lk.9:23, 9:57-62, 14:25-27]….
In its deepest identity the seminary is called to be, in its own way, a continuation in the Church of the apostolic community gathered about Jesus, listening to His word, proceeding towards the Easter experience, awaiting the gift of the Spirit for mission…..
The seminary is, in itself, an original experience of the Church’s life……
From the human point of view, the major seminary should strive to become “a community built on deep friendship and charity, so that it can be considered a true family living in joy………
It is essential…..that the seminary should be experienced not as something external and superficial, or simply a place in which to live and study, but in an interior and profound way. It should be experienced as a community, a specifically ecclesial community, a community that relives the experience of the group of Twelve who were united to Jesus. [6]

Thus throughout our lives as priests we should be able to recall our seminary years as a period of graced formation.
Most important from those years should be our recalling of the beginning stages of a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Remembering, therefore, this precept of salvation and everything that was done for ours sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again…..[7]

Essential to our remembering, that we might live in the profound reality of ‘living, moving and having our being’ in the Father, with Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, this seminary formation, immersion in the Holy Gospel, is crucial and should be frequently drawn upon from a joyous memory.
Prayer – in particular intimate communion of love with the Holy Trinity – is the atmosphere we must live in for our souls as surely as we necessarily live in an oxygenated atmosphere for our very lives sake.
Prayer – especially Holy Mass, adoration, Divine Office, lectio divina, pious devotions, in particular meditative praying of the Stations of the Cross and the Holy Rosary, with Mary as our teaching guide deep into the mysteries of our redemption and faith, is not only foundational during seminary life but in our daily lives as priests.
If we have not already become men of prayer during the formative years in the seminary, immediately is a good time to begin!
Pope John Paul II, with great wisdom and joy, sadly with much misguided criticism, amplified the ranks of Saints through the canonization of priests, religious and laity from all possible vocations and nations. This in turn has led to a greater awareness of, and telling the stories of, holy ones in our midst who may, or may not, be presented someday for canonization, but whose lives bear specific witness to the joy of holiness.
The joy of self-gift, of fiat, for the sake of the Kingdom, charity towards all and for the love of God!
One such soul whose story is now being told is a particular witness to the critical importance of seminary formation and of a profound life of prayer for seminarians and priests alike.
He is also a witness to the joy of divine election and willing response to that call.
His name is Father Eugene Hamilton.
Father, on this earth, was a priest with us for barely a few hours.
In heaven, priest like us, he remains, as we shall, priest forever.
Since at every Holy Mass, at each altar, we are celebrating on earth the heavenly liturgy, he is with us still.
Any man, at least of high school age, certainly all priests, cannot fail but to be inspired, encouraged, by the example of this young priest. Even in his barely formed youth Father understood that configuration to Christ Priest means precisely that!
His story is admirably told by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. in his book: A PRIEST FOREVER.
It is a book to be highly recommended as a gift to any young man considering priesthood.
These words of Fr. Hamilton stress prayer as constitutive of our response to divine election:
The importance of prayer to me is rooted in my upbringing and life experiences. Chief among these is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is from the Eucharist that my daily prayer takes root. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours for me is an extension of that high point of prayer, the Mass. From such an appreciation comes a better understanding of Christ’s Presence in the other Sacraments as well, especially Penance. The Rosary provides an opportunity to meditate on the mysteries of Christ’s life, while walking in faith with Mary…
Thus my personal prayer life has been developed with the goal of union with God, recognizing that I have been called to serve Him and His Church. My prayers motivate my thoughts, words, and deeds towards this end…..
Intellectual examination of the importance of honesty, chastity, docility, humility, charity, and prudence has translated into the application of such virtues in everyday life. All of this takes place while being grounded in prayer.
The ability to give Christian witness, especially in the area of perseverance and quiet charity, is something which stems from my trust in God. [8]
Prayer is the experience of encounter with the Divine Lover, Christ Priest. From this flows a wellspring of prayer lived: fidelity, openness to Christ in all His Sacraments, the teachings of the Church, service to Her, loving service of all our brothers and sisters with a heart which is honest, chaste, docile, humble, charitable and prudent.
It is faith lived.
Faith, noted exquisitely by Fr. Hamilton as the ever deepened experience of encountering Christ in the mysteries of our salvation, the mysteries of the Holy Rosary: ‘walking in faith’ in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
…many of us – to the grave detriment of the Church, to the great sorrow of the faithful – have forgotten who we are, have mis-learned what the priesthood is all about or have been mis-taught the realities of the holy priesthood of Jesus Christ……
…Of course many priests are faithful to the traditional ideal of the priesthood, the ideal of the priesthood as developed by the early Christians, as presented to us by…the true believers of all times, the saints who have laid down their lives century after century that priests, ordained priests, should be truly ministers of Christ’s benefits, graces and love for the people of the church and for the whole world.
Yes, saints know what a priest is. Saints have always had a total faith in the transformation which takes place in a poor sinful man at the moment when the bishop imposes hands upon him. Saints have always seen in the priest a great glory, the glory of Tabor, the glory of the risen Christ shining through the personal sinfulness of a man. We have hands of clay, feet of clay. We stumble and fall like every other human being. We commit sins, any one of the seven capital vices, including all their ramifications. True, but saints have seen in us something beyond the sinfulness, beyond the intelligence or stupidity of a man, beyond his immense weaknesses. They have seen Christ. They have crawled to priests on their knees for forgiveness. They have adored with all their might the sacrament he confected at Mass. They have given their lives for that sacrament. They have hungered and thirsted for the bread and wine which he alone can provide to feed them and strengthen them in their terrible spiritual combats, in their life of total self-giving, of sacrifice and ever increasing life….
Catherine Doherty….with all her heart says to priests, “I love you. I believe in you. Be who you are. You are Christ….I believe in priests. I always will. For I know they are Christ. Christ’s love and mercy and tenderness made visible upon earth and multiplied all over the world wherever there is a priest.”[9]

This is our divine election.
This is our vocation.
This is our joy [Mk.16:19, 20].