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home : features : people of faith

10/22/2015 9:00:00 AM
Holy sabotage

Whenever I meet new people, be it at a church, getting my hair cut, going to the doctor's office or standing in line at the grocery store, the question, "What do you do for a living?" usually comes up.

When I explain that I am a seminarian, I get a variety of responses. Some people are interested; some express admiration; many don't know what a seminarian is; some express frustration with the Catholic Church; some simply change the subject.

Most people are polite, but some have had bad experiences with the Church and others believe negative stereotypes of the Church as judgmental, hypocritical, authoritarian or even bigoted.

Telling someone that you are a seminarian can be an uncomfortable experience, so the natural tendency is to avoid the question and say something generic like, "I'm a student." I think the best avoidant response I have ever heard was a priest who said, "I work for an international non-profit organization based out of Rome, Italy."

One question that keeps coming up is, "Why would anyone want to become a priest, especially today?" It is a good question. The devil has a strong grip on our modern culture. Everywhere we look, we see sin and evil glorified.

Sexual promiscuity, materialism, and self-centeredness are romanticized and portrayed as normal. Sins of excess -- consumerism, greed, gluttony and lust -- are on full display. Secularism is dominant and religion is mocked. Right and wrong are seen as interchangeable.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of some of these trends in western cultures as "a dictatorship of relativism." Anyone who tries to speak of real truth and send the message that God loves people and wants more for them than these sins is called names, ridiculed and socially punished. In the Middle East, Christians are being persecuted and killed. It seems so hopeless.

Why would anyone want to become a priest in the midst of all this brokenness?

For me, the answer is simple: This is why Christ came. He came to pull us out of brokenness. He came to save us. He loves us more than this and is offering us more than the pleasure that any sin can offer.

Christ sends His Church and His priests into this broken world to bring His love and build up His Kingdom. I love that! Priests get to bring people the Good News: There is a way out of despair! God forgives sins, and priests get to tell the sinner that he or she is forgiven.

Priests get to bring healing to those who are suffering and be with people as they journey to God. Priests get to laugh and cry with people. The priest gets to represent Christ. It is a source of great joy and suffering, but it is worth the sacrifice. The joy of the resurrection far outshines the pain of the crucifixion.

Famed author C. S. Lewis described the situation like this: "Enemy-occupied territory -- that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church, you are really listening -- in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery."

We are called to enter the battlefield and sabotage the plans of the evil one. We do this by coming together in communion with Christ and by overcoming our own selfishness and pride. Every time we serve another person, help another carry his cross, console another or make someone's burden just a little lighter, we sabotage the devil's plan.

Every time someone defends human life, shows Christ's love to another, devotes themselves to prayer, resists temptation and submits to God's love, the devil's plan is undermined.

A married couple raising their children to love and serve God, a woman who dedicates her life to God by becoming a religious sister or a priest living his vocation joyfully all obliterate satan's plans and build up the kingdom of God.

(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.)

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