When I meet people for the first time and tell them that I am a seminarian, their response is often something akin to, "You're a better person than I am - I could never sacrifice my whole life like that!"

In this familiar response, people tell me a whole lot about how they perceive a religious vocation: It is something they admire, but see as a life of hardship - a kind of never-ending Lent.

Because they intend this as a compliment, I usually thank them, but the truth is that I have a completely different view of my call to be a priest.

I am not doing this because I feel called to live a life of sacrifice or because I feel God has given me a uniquely high tolerance for loneliness and hardship. Rather, it is what I must do.

I feel drawn to this life. The thought of doing what a priest does fills me with excitement. I never feel more joy than I do when I am engaged in ecclesial ministry.

I could give many examples of this from my three years in formation, and I could say a lot about the 15 mysterious and sometimes challenging years I have spent discerning how to respond to God's stirrings in my life. But in the end, it's simple: I feel the most energized and peaceful I ever have in responding to the call to be a priest.

Many of my friends are married and a number of others are in serious relationships that are heading toward marriage. No one questions why they are drawn to marriage because most people in our society regard romantic love as the best way to be happy in life.

Imagine how strange, how culturally inappropriate it would be if a friend told me she were getting married and my response was, "Wow, you've got guts. Better you than me!" Yet my married friends openly admit that a huge amount of hard work and sacrifice goes into making their covenant work.

God wants us to be happy. If romantic love were the pathway I felt attracted to - if I had a hunch that were the way I would be the happiest in this life - believe me, I would take it. God's will in our lives is often revealed to us by finding what energizes us and captures our imagination and doing it.

I think people's "distant admiration" of my religious path demonstrates a misunderstanding in today's Catholic culture.

Most people seem to think that religious life is not fun. They see it as lonely and somewhat depressing. But a Time magazine study conducted a few years ago measured the happiness of Americans in dozens of professions and found that Catholic priests were No. 1 on the list.

Despite their countercultural promises of celibacy and obedience, priests are not at all miserable. As a group, they are the most satisfied and content people in our society.

Many people have a fear of sacrifice. It's human to want to live the most comfortable and pain-free life we possibly can. But no one's life on this planet is without sacrifice.

I often feel that the limitations and frustrations I face as a seminarian in religious formation are puny in comparison with those my friends who are married with children face. But if you ask parents if they are happy to be raising their kids, most would admit that, despite all the hassles and hardships - the lost sleep and hours spent each week driving across town to appointments and sports practices - they wouldn't change it for the world.

We are all called to be disciples of the One who made the greatest possible sacrifice for us. We can do that beautifully as parents, but that is clearly not the only way.

I am certain that there are people reading this who have a vocation to priesthood or religious life, but have believed that to respond to that call would make them lonely or unhappy. I challenge you to put your fear aside and investigate this path more closely. See for yourself if coming closer fills you with more peace and excitement.

Any path we humans choose will be hard at times, but we can know for sure that if we are being called by God, responding to that call is the sure road to our deepest joy.

(Scott VanDerveer is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.)

This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their studies, work and development. To read previous installments, search for "seminarian diary."