There is a tendency among us Americans, common and obvious enough, recommended by common sense and successful practice, to estimate a person�s aptitude for a profession or for a career by listing his strengths. Jane speaks well, possesses an able mind, exhibits genuine talents for leadership and debate; she would be an excellent lawyer. John has recognizably good judgment, a scientific turn of interest, obvious manual dexterity and deep human concerns; he would make a splendid surgeon.
The tendency is to transfer this method of evaluation to the priesthood, to estimate a man by his gifts and talents, to line up his positive achievements and his capacity for more, to understand his promise for the future in terms of his accomplishments in the past, and to make the call within his life contingent on the attainments of personality or grace. Because a man is religiously serious, prayerful, socially adept, intellectually perceptive; possesses interior integrity, sound common sense, and habits of hard work--therefore he will make a fine priest.
I think that transfer is disastrous. There is a different question, one proper to the priesthood as of its very essence, if not uniquely proper to it: Is this man weak enough to be a priest? Is this man deficient enough so that he cannot ward off significant suffering from his life, so that he lives with a certain amount of failure, so that he feels what it is to be an average man? Is there any history of confusion, of self-doubt, of interior anguish? Has he had to deal with fear, come to terms with frustrations, or accept deflated expectations? These are critical questions and they probe for weakness. Why? Because, according to Hebrews, it is in this deficiency, in this interior lack, in this weakness, that the efficacy of the ministry and priesthood of Christ lies.
"For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted ... For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning ... He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is beset with weakness." (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 5:2).
How critically important it is for us to enter into the seriousness of this revelation, of this conjunction between priesthood and weakness, that we dwell upon deficiency as part of our vocation! Otherwise we can secularize our lives into an amalgam of desires and talents; and we can feel our weakness as a threat to our priesthood, as indicative that we should rethink what was previously resolved, as symptomatic that we were never genuinely called, that we do not have the resources to complete what we once thought was our destiny and which once spoke to our generosity and fidelity.
Read the rest! It is powerful stuff, and gives me much food for thought and reflection and prayer.