Perhaps priesthood has crossed your mind, but fear pushes the idea away:
- Fear of commitment
- Fear of celibacy
- Fear of being unworthy
These fears are very common, even for men who are already in seminary. But literally thousands of men have had the same concerns and then went on to become holy and effective priests.
The first principle to remember is that God does not speak through fear. Fear is a tactic of the Enemy to keep you from pursuing God’s will; it is like the bite of an animal that paralyzes its prey to keep it from moving. A man in fear will find it difficult to move toward God’s will.
So how do you overcome fear? Here are five ideas:
1) Turn your fears into concerns. You may have legitimate concerns about celibacy or preaching—but that is not the same as being afraid. Rather than feeling fear, look at the requirements of priesthood objectively. Sure, it’s true that priests need a certain level of self-control and ability for public speaking. These and many other areas require serious self-assessment. Yes, you probably will discover areas that need to change and improve. But go about your discernment with a cool head, not a fearful heart.
“Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). Recall that when Jesus called Peter (Lk 5:1-11), our first pope said, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus then assured him that there was nothing to fear in following him. Likewise, Jesus knows your difficulties and weaknesses. If you trust him and “cast your net into the deep,” all will be well.
2) Reflect on God’s love. Fr. Brett Brannen, in his book To Save a Thousand Souls, recommends this meditation when a man feels fearful: “God is infinite in power and he loves me infinitely. There is no snatching out of his hand. God will never send me where his grace cannot sustain me. If he asks me to do something difficult, like become a priest, he will give me the grace to do it. I will not fail because he is with me. And I will be happy because I am doing his will. Even if I lack some of the needed qualities, God will help me develop them. In his will lies my peace.”
3) Entrust your fears to the Blessed Mother. Recall that after the angel told Mary to “fear not,” she readily she accepted God’s will for her: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Entrust your fears to her intercession, and she will help calm your heart and find the will of Jesus.
4) Remember what seminary is for. From a purely practical perspective, it’s comforting to know that if God calls you to be a priest, ordination is still years away. Seminary offers a period of intensive formation to help a man address his concerns, grow in holiness, and prepare for an effective priestly ministry. No man enters seminary ready to be a priest!
5) Look to Scripture for Consolation. If you have some fears concerning priesthood, know that you are not alone. Those prophets and apostles whom Jesus called in the Scriptures also had fears. See the Scriptural references below to see how God encouraged them.
- I’m not holy enough: Isa 6:1-9; Lk 5:1-11
- I’m afraid I will fail: Ex 14: 10-31; Lk 15
- I’ve made mistakes and I’m a sinner: Jn 21:15-23; Mt 9:9-13; Lk 7:36-50
- I’m too young: 1 Sam 3:1-18; 1 Sam 16:1-13; Jer 1:4-10; Lk 1:26-3
- I’m not talented enough: 1 Sam 17:32-51; Lk 1: 26-38
- I want to have a family: Gen 12:1-3; Mt 12:46-50; Mk 10:28-30
- I want “the good life”: Mk 10:17-31; 1 Cor 2:9; Mt 13:44-46; Jn 10:10; Mt 16:24-27
- I’m afraid of making a permanent commitment: Ruth 1:15-17; Mt 28:16-20; 1 Cor 12:5-10
- I’m afraid of public speaking: Ex 4:10-17; Jer 1:4-10; Jer 1: 9-10
- I’m not smart enough: 2 Cor 4:7-18; Ex 4:10-17
- I’m afraid of being alone: Ex 3:4-22; Lk 1:28-38; Mt 28:20
- I want to be happy: Ps 37:4; Mt 5: 1-12; Jn 10:10; Mk 10:28-31; 1 Cor 2:9
- I’m filled with fear: 1Jn 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
As Pope John Paul II reminded us so often throughout his pontificate: Be not afraid! Don’t let fear paralyze you. Instead, ask a priest you trust to help you with your concerns. Remain faithful to daily prayer, trust in God, and your heart will be at peace, no matter what your vocation.