November 7, 2022
by Father Jim Stenberg, CSB
I was an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church. I often tell people that religion is like a childhood illness; when you catch it as an adult you have a more severe case. I’m joking, of course, but there is a grain of truth in the humour: when you have taken one big step in your faith journey, the prospect of taking another big step doesn’t seem so daunting.
There is another similarity too. Both steps involve discernment. First, I had to ask whether I was being called to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Then I had to discern how my life as a Roman Catholic would be lived. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, since I have been working with several young men – all of very different backgrounds and experience – who are going through the RCIA process. My take on it is that the essential task of RCIA is to discern whether the candidate is called to join the Roman Catholic Church. They learn about the faith, but most of all they practice it. If they find prayer and the mass a source of spiritual nourishment, then the answer to the question is likely “yes.”
In this respect the two discernments are quite different. Someone who is thinking about becoming a priest does not have the option of trying it out and seeing if they like it. In this respect it is like being a doctor or a lawyer. Just as you are not allowed to practice medicine or law before you are qualified, neither can you celebrate mass or hear confessions until you are ordained. For this reason, a candidate needs the help of people who are already in the profession to discern their calling. Just as a medical student or law student is trained and evaluated by their instructors, just as someone who is thinking of the priesthood will receive training and evaluation from a diocese or religious order.
And here we discover another similarity between the RCIA and the process of discernment. Does the candidate know their faith? Do they practice it? Do they find prayer and the mass a source of spiritual nourishment? The standards are quite high. As there is a shortage of priests, it means that the quality of those being ordained must be higher than ever. They need to know theology, and that usually means that they need a philosophical background. They need to be open to being formed as a priest and be willing to follow the instructions and example of their bishop or religious superiors, and they also need to have the qualities that make a good leader. They need to be men of prayer. This is both for their own sake and the sake of the people they serve.
And if they are called? Well, there is no life like it, and to have found your calling is to be truly blessed.
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