Today we’re debuting a new series here on the blog and it’s all about…vocations! We’ve got some great guest posts lined up for you and can’t wait to share all these stories of young people who are courageously pursuing their own unique call to holiness. Since today is the feast of All Saints and Blesseds of the Society of Jesus, we figured we’d start things off with Santiago’s story. -B
Jesuit Priesthood: Not an Oxymoron
Someone I hadn’t seen in more than ten years recognized me one afternoon this past spring. I noticed her waving at me from her car, while I was waiting for a red traffic light to turn green. We lowered our windows and exchanged greetings, as the light turned green. Not wanting to block traffic, I asked her to follow me. She quickly merged behind me, and parked on a small street by a public school.
Caroline and I had taken a course together at the University of Miami, and had hung out in the same circle of friends for a couple of years. She told me what had taken her to Toronto and what she was doing at the moment. She then inquired about my last ten years. I told her I had moved to Canada with my family, and in 2008, I had joined a religious order. “I’m Jesuit scholastic – a seminarian – I’m studying to be a priest,” I offered. She looked at me as though I had just declared myself to be a flying purple cow. “How come?” she asked. I guessed her real question: “How come somebody would want to a priest, nowadays?”
“Yes.” After a brief pause she added, “And how come you became a Jesuit?”
Many people before Caroline has asked me about priesthood and religious life. At times, I struggle to express exactly how I know this is the way of life to which God is calling me. I usually reply that spiritual discernment is a bit of a bumpy ride and it has taken a lot of time for me to realize and accept the call to be a Jesuit priest. I explained this to her. I added that my vocation does not really come out of nowhere. The examples and circumstances that influenced my life started when I was very young. “As time passed,” I told her, “each year has represented its own challenges. Every experience invited me to face my fears, shed old vices and develop some new virtues. In that process, I started to recognize God’s calling.”
“Sorry if this bothers you,” she said, “but could you be more specific?”
“Oh no,” I said waving away her concern. “It does not bother me. I can be more precise.” I paused for a moment while I looked for the words. I told her that as I understand it I have received two complementary vocations. “The first vocation is to be a Catholic priest. The second vocation is to be a Jesuit.” To me, these two vocations are expressed in a twofold kind of unity; they express my identity and my call to speak the word of God within the Church and to offer that word to those outside of it.
I told Caroline that over the years, one idea had helped me clarify my vocation: “Your vocation is found at that place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.” What the American theologian Frederick Buechner conveyed in this powerful statement is that when we choose to live joyfully for others, we feed the world’s deep hunger.
I shared with her a lesson I had learned over the years: “I’ve realized that the world is hungry for goodness, beauty, love and truth. It’s also hungry for justice and peace.” I paused, wanting to see if she followed. Her look indicated she did. “These hungers are an expression of our hunger for God. I have learned that what brings true joy and peace to my heart is to witness to goodness, beauty, love and truth, and to minister to human pain, to care for the most vulnerable in society.”
She understood me. “That’s quite a life,” she said with a smile.
“Yeah, you know… life,” I said. “It ain’t easy, but it is quite fulfilling.”
We made small talk, exchanged contact information, and went our separate ways. That conversation inspired me to keep reflecting on my vocation, and my identity. As a Jesuit in formation for the priesthood, I am learning to care for the needs of a broken world. I am also learning the ministry of interiority: to help men and women hear and live the Word of God. When I am ordained, God willing, the ministerial priesthood will allow me to live more fully my daily acts of self-offering to God on behalf of humanity.
This is a mystery I am still grappling with. It is a journey that transforms and amuses me each day. It is a gift for which I am very grateful. It is a calling that summons me to proclaim the kingdom of God at all times, and in all places, even on the side of the road.
Santiago Rodriguez, S.J., blogs at Ibo et Non Redibo, a web-log of miscellany by Canadian Jesuits. He was born in Colombia, and lived for a time in Florida before calling Canada home. Santiago is currently working with the Apostleship of Prayer in Milwaukee, as well as doing young adult ministry throughout Canada and the United States. He is interested in politics, sports, and social justice.