Vocations in the works: why we’re considering life as a priest or brother
By Fr. Marvin Kitten S.J.
Why do some people explore the possibility of religious life? As the person in charge of ushering new members into his community, Father Marvin Kitten, S.J. wanted to know. So he put the question to the men he knew who were considering life as a priest or brother. Here’s what 11 men had to say about what draws them to a life lived in religious community.
- To follow Christ is to feel the heat of the burning bush that is not consumed (like Moses). Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.
- I speak as a man called to be a priest during my freshman year of college and one who finally answered three years after obtaining a Ph.D. in physics. People my age—born in the l960s and raised during the early years of Vatican II—are searching for stability and fulfillment in their lives. The church went through many changes in our youth. In my first grade the nun wore the full habit; by second it was modified; by third it was a polyester pant suit. We kids noticed those things! Nonetheless, the church was always a source of strength for me. Even now the church continues to change and adapt. A theology professor of mine at Fordham University says that it takes 100 years for a Vatican Council to be fully and properly implemented and understood—we still have a ways to go. Still, the church is a source of peace and stability for many.
- Priestly ministry comes from a desire to share those incredibly sacred moments of bringing Jesus alive in the world in concrete ways. It sounds so heady, but it is real. These are moments when we know we are in a sacred place: when we’re in a conversation and someone reveals a deep pain, and the tears shared show we have touched someone’s heart. Or when we’ve attended a good party and the word celebrate doesn’t seem adequate to describe the happiness, joy, and love that was shared by everyone present. Or when we’re tired after working hard in the yard and we sit back, drink a beer, look at it all, and say, “Yeah! I did a lot today and it was good.” And we give thanks for that. These are comparable to the sacral moments that I have tasted in ministry; moments which can only be enhanced by the gifts of priesthood.
- We’re called to live unselfishly. Love of God and neighbor are harmonious and magnify each other, and it is through this selfless love, not the pursuit of self-gratifying pleasure, that we find true peace. This love spreads out from itself instead of turning inward. The priest is one who pursues these ideals and thus finds his role in God’s plan. This quality of genuine living is what attracts me to be in the priesthood. The priest knows that while not all are called to live as he lives, we have all been created to submit our lives to God. The priest is a humble advocate of truth in a world that denies truth. He looks out for the good of all while the world entices us to think only of ourselves. He is a teacher, example, guide, and father. And he knows that he is all this only through God’s grace.
- What attracted me to the Jesuits was reading about the life of Saint Ignatius. His story is wonderful and close to my heart. The spirituality of Ignatius seems a perfect remedy for many of the maladies of our time. Also, what attracted me to the priesthood were some Jesuits, solid in the faith and generous and kind.
Sustained by love
- I believe that living in relative luxury (booming economy, never going hungry, nearly everyone educated, and so on) can bring about a true and sincere desire for some to help others elevate their standard of living, not only in physical terms but in spiritual terms as well. What is attractive about religious life is the focus gained by reducing distractions. God calls us all to run a race. For some it is the rat race. For me, it is a race to love, know, and serve God above all else.
- If you were running a race, would you carry a backpack filled with food, a second pair of boots, a set of formal clothes, and maybe a table with a lamp? Of course you wouldn’t. You would likely dress light and plan to eat along the way and carry nothing that wouldn’t help you run that race faster. This, I think, is one of the concepts of the religious life. I understand there is much more involved, but that is what I find most attractive.
- I agree with Viktor Frankl’s thesis that the primary motivational force in man is the search for meaning. Ultimately, it is my belief in God and specifically Christian revelation that gives meaning to my life. I then have to ask how I can best serve God and what type of environment will help me to do so. Clearly, as a Catholic, priesthood and religious life are options—and perhaps the best for me. Recently, however, as I prayed about my approaching vows I came to realize I am here and I do what I do for one reason only: I truly am and continue to be in love with God. It may sound too simple. But I’ve come to see that that love is what sustains me. I have never been as content and at peace as I am today, because I have discovered the meaning of my life.
- Often the response to me, when someone is aware of what I’m considering, is, “Why would you want to do that?” But people take interest, they want to understand. They sense that something is there. Someone willing to give up sex, money, and power is either crazy or is really onto something powerful. The call I sense is strong. I hear the gospel speaking to me in a loud way. The bottom line is this: I want to make a difference. I want to do something good in the face of so many growing serious dangers and evils in our world today. I sense that within religious orders there are people living in a radical way. I want to be there. I see so much evil in our world today and I have a desire to be on the side of the good guys. I am willing to do what it takes to do that.
- In today’s church, priests and religious are no longer given the unquestioned respect and power they once had. Priests and religious are challenged to find an identity outside the usual channels of social status that most people rely on. In many ways, at least for me, it is precisely these obstacles which cause me to be attracted to the priesthood and religious life. Being called upon to sacrifice so much of yourself for a life of service to others is not the normal and celebrated option these days. It calls one to be very serious, reflective, and committed in this endeavor. However, for me it seems a path of growth that you don’t easily find in many places. It is also a more real and more meaningful way of life. It gets at the heart of why we interact with others at all, not for selfish interests but to become more and more selfless, and so to grow in Christ, to get in touch with the Father who gave us this life as a gift in the first place.
- One of the big attractions to religious life is the ability to live one’s life without the usual culturally imposed boundaries. One can be with the poorest family one evening and with the richest family the next night. Not everyone has that wonderful freedom of movement. The three vows are indeed springboards to freedom!
- What really attracts me to life in a religious order is community life. It means so very much to be a part of something that’s much bigger than oneself. And especially a community that’s been around since 1540! It is very inspiring to be in the presence of men hard at work building the kingdom, men who go to bed tired.
Fr. Marvin Kitten currently is assigned to help with campus ministry at Spring Hill College where he currently resides.
2002 © TrueQuest Communications