Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



Vocations 2008: Answering God’s call with a glad and generous heart

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Oct. 2, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

In my more than 30 years as a bishop and nearly 50 years as a priest, I’ve heard all kinds of questions. People are curious about their priests – and that’s a good and wholesome thing. Priests are not entirely unique, but we’re not entirely common, either. And perhaps, as the Church in the United States has experienced fewer and fewer men engaged in priestly ministry, priests – yes, and bishops – have become even more of a curiosity.

Common questions range from, “When did you first decide to be a priest?” to “What sort of man makes a good priest?” In a way, the answer to both questions is quite similar: It depends on the individual.

God calls to each of us. Each of us has a unique place in God’s plan, whether that means married life, or life as a single person, or as a vowed Religious, or as clergy. Part of growing up is that process of deciding what it is we want to be someday. Ideally, what we want to be will be what God wants us to be. Not necessarily, but ideally.

If we listen for God’s call – if we pray, if we reflect, if we examine our gifts and our interests and our passions – we had a much better chance of doing what it is God wants us to do. And, ultimately, if we base our life decisions on discerning God’s will, we will be much happier individuals.

Some men answer the call to priesthood from an early age. I was just 14 when I left for the seminary. Other men answer a call to priesthood after professional training in another field, or perhaps even a life spent on a different career path. Discernment of God’s call is something that never stops in this life. When does a man decide to be a priest? It depends on the man.

There are certain qualities I would hope to find in a man who presents himself for priestly formation. Prayer is perhaps foremost: a habit of personal prayer, and a clear commitment to the liturgical life of his parish. He should have a clear sense of his own identity, in and of itself – that he is more than what he “does.”

Related to that, I would pray to find a deep sense of service. The ordained are unique. They answer a call from God that is not common. Far more men answer God’s call to be loving, faithful husbands and fathers than to priesthood. But that cannot lead to a sense of entitlement. We can be proud of doing God’s work to the best of our talents and abilities. We can be proud of our brother priests as we strive together to build up the Kingdom of God. But that cannot grow a false sense of pride, or superiority. We are ordained, not to rule, but to serve the People of God, to minister to God’s people on Earth. It is a joy, and it is a privilege.

What sort of person makes a good priest? And when?

It depends on the individual. But no matter who, it depends on listening for God’s loving call to ordained ministry, and answering, with a glad and generous heart, “Yes!”


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