Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

As we're called, not as we need

by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the Feb. 26, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Vocations. A subject much on people’s minds these days. There’s a lack of vocations, some say; others, there’s a lack of suitable vocations.

Mostly what people think about is the vocation – the calling – to priesthood or Religious life. All of us are called, though – baptized believers, called by God to come and follow, leaving behind our fishing boats or whatever else it is that keeps us from listening to and following God’s voice in our lives.

Mostly, though, we think of vocations to priesthood and Religious life. And perhaps even more specifically, vocations to priesthood. The sacrament of orders.

How we approach this has changed over the years. For decades we thought of diaconate as a stepping-stone to priesthood, but since Vatican II we recognize that it’s a very separate and distinct vocation. It’s one aspect of the sacrament of orders – deacons are ordained, as are priests and bishops. But not all deacons are called to be priests, no more than all priests are called to be bishops.

Religious life, on the other hand – whether a nun or a Brother or a priest (or a deacon) who’s a member of a Religious order – is another separate and distinct calling. We tend to lump Religious life and the sacrament of holy orders into one basket, but they’re two very different things.

The call to Religious life is one thing. The call to diaconate is another thing. The call to priesthood is yet another. Sometimes those things overlap — a deacon who’s a Benedictine monk, or a Franciscan priest (or Brother), and of course various configurations of communities of women Religious: Carmelites and Holy Names and Poor Clares and so many others, just in our diocese alone, blessing and enriching all of us. But separate and distinct from the sacrament of holy orders.

No one has a right to ordination. A good many people feel they need to be ordained. As things stand now, the Church is not going to ordain me, a validly married man, to the priesthood, no matter how much I kick my feet and scream. (Besides, I’m pretty sure I’ve got more dignity than that. A little. Maybe.) Providing, of course, I thought I was called to priesthood.

Full disclosure: I spent nine years in the seminary before I finally heard God telling me to do something else with my life. But even in those days, 35-some years ago, there were women involved in seminary formation. Teachers, mentors, deans, professors, and yes, clerical support and, even, cooks. I would point out there were men along the way who occupied those positions as well. I ate very well from the kitchen of Brother Columban for six hearty years. I would be surprised if the new Bishop White Seminary was somehow closed to women, as some have suggested, especially since the diocese’s priestly formation council counts three women among its members.

The fact is that yes, we need to pray for vocations to the priesthood, and to Religious life, and to the diaconate. We need to pray for vocations to committed marriages, and to people who live life as single adults. I would hazard a guess that we all need all the prayers we can get.

Because we’re all called. We all need to hear that call. And we all need to answer that call – not as we need, but as we’re called.

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