By Nicholas Emsing
From as far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a priest. My mother loves to tell the stories of me drawing pictures of the crucifixion of Jesus, angels and churches (all of which were based on the images I would see at Sunday Mass).
I told everyone I knew about my desire to be a priest. When I finally began to fill out the application, I heard one key phrase from every person I encountered: “It will go by very fast.” I heard this from the people at my parish, from seminarians, and from priests, but I never believed them.
“How could it be fast?” I would ask, “it’s eight years away.” Thanks be to God, I am finishing my second year, and I owe everyone I doubted an apology. It has gone by quicker than I could have imagined. It is hard to believe that I am going into my junior year of seminary this fall and waiting to see what parish I will be asked to serve at for the summer. These last two years have offered an opportunity for tremendous growth.
One major area of growth is that I learned seminary does not mean ordination. What do I mean by this? In seminary (particularly college seminary) the young men are told not to “plan” their priesthood. They are not supposed to assume they automatically are called to be priests simply because they are in seminary. Just the opposite, actually.
Seminary is a place to more seriously discern whether you are called to the priesthood. It is a place in which you seriously reflect where God is in your life and where you believe he is calling you, which could end up not being priesthood. I have met many holy men who have said they went to seminary and discerned that God was not calling them to the priesthood.
I did not understand this when I was in grade school or even high school. I admit it was still hard to grasp even during my first year of seminary. I assumed that seminary worked like any other type of school, in which you take classes suited to your career path and one day, you get the degree and a job in whatever field you studied.
In seminary, as you advance, you realize just how unqualified you actually are. While this may sound despairing, it is actually a good thing. Learning you are “unqualified” in seminary does not mean you will never be a priest. To realize you are “unqualified” means to realize your weaknesses and places where growth is needed. You are given the resources to overcome these so that you may be the man God is calling you to be.
I can admit right now that I know I am unqualified. Discerners are encouraged to remember that many of the holiest men in scripture realized how unqualified they were for the tasks God had laid before them. Moses doubted that he would be able to confront Pharaoh, but God promised to be with him (Exodus 3: 11-12). Isaiah says that he is a man of “unclean lips” and an angel purifies his lips with a burning coal from the heavenly incense so that he may deliver his prophecies (Isaiah 6:5-6). St. Peter, upon seeing all the fish caught in the net and realizing who Christ was, said “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
Notice, God does not turn them away for being unqualified, nor did they try to “make the shoe fit.” They did not presume they were already holy enough or ready for the tasks when God first called them. They acknowledged their shortcomings, trusted in God, and he was able to work wonders through them.
This is what God does. He does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If I had to give a theme to the last two years of formation, this would be it.
I ask that, as this year draws to a close (and a premature one at that) you offer your prayers for myself and the other seminarians of the Diocese of Gary as we continue on the road of discernment. Please be assured that as you offer your prayers for us, we are offering our prayers for you.
Nicholas Emsing is a sophomore college seminarian studying at Bishop Simon Brute college seminary in Indianapolis. He is supported in his vocation by his parents, Alan and Terri Emsing. He is a member of All Saint in Hammond and also serves the Extraordinary Form (Latin Mass) at St. Joseph in Hammond. Summer assignments include working with the Missionaries of Charity in Gary and teaching in the Totus Tuus program.