by Phil Grant
My name is Phil Grant, and I am a second career seminarian studying for the Diocese of Charleston. I am completing second-year theology at Blessed John XXIII Seminary just outside of Boston, and with the help of God, I will be ordained to the priesthood in June 2004. Prior to joining the Diocese of Charleston, I was a member of the Serra Clubs of Atlanta and, for a time, president of one of the clubs and editor of the Serra newsletter. So how did I get from there, in Atlanta, to here, Blessed John XXIII Seminary?
In my youth I wanted to be a priest, I even entered a minor seminary and spent four years with a religious order before leaving and living a very full life. I was fortunate to have jobs that required that I travel. I have been all over the United States and to many foreign countries such as Brazil, South Africa, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Yugoslavia, and the list goes on. My company moved me to Atlanta in 1984, and until two years ago, I was happily residing in metro Atlanta.
Several years ago I joined the Serra Clubs, and this is when that “quiet voice” that all of us seem to have, but can just barely perceive, started to put suggestions of service to the church in the back-corner of my heart. The seed for my vocation had been planted many years ago when I was young, or should I say younger. It stayed there undisturbed for so many years. But I always new that my life was not going to stay as it was. I knew that there was something that I was being called to do. I didn’t know then that it was priesthood, but I knew there was another purpose to my life and a task I had to accomplish.
Now you should all know that every Serran prays daily for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life. They also pray for perseverance in their ministry for those with vocations. When I joined the Serra organization, I, too, started to pray that God would raise up vocations in service to the church and to the people of God. Boy, was I in for a surprise, guess whose vocation all the Serrans, myself included, were praying for? Once at the reception for a young man who had just been ordained a transitional deacon, I blurted out that wouldn’t it be great to spend the second half of your life in a monastery praying and reading. I didn’t know where that comment came from; it just came out, and of course it was overheard. My pastor reminded me of this comment, not too long after. In fact I was invited to join their order or, if I couldn’t make that commitment, could they place my name as a candidate for the permanent diaconate.
I had been thinking about priesthood, trying to be very private about it in fact. Now, my secret thoughts were known to others, and I could no longer mull them over in my private world. I believed then that I was being called to the priesthood, but that would mean that I would have to give up a very good job, a nice house, being with my friends whenever I wanted, keeping all my things. So what did I do? I chose to do it my way. Rather than give all that up I took the suggestion to apply for the permanent diaconate. God would accept that because I would still be in service to the church in a big way. Yeah, right!
The diaconate is a ministry of service, and I can speak from personal experience; there are a great group of holy and dedicated men, dedicated to the church and to service within the church that make up the permanent diaconate. I still keep in touch with the class that I was in for so short a time. As soon as I started my studies for the diaconate, I knew that I was really being called to the priesthood. I was the only single guy in a class that started with 26 married men. A month after classes started I was notified by my company that they were downsizing, and because of my age and my salary, they were going to give me early retirement. Soon after other doors started to close and one, and only one, was opened wide. It didn’t take a genius to get the point of what was going on. Once I said yes to Christ, what I ran from for so many years became the only thing that mattered to me. Since I said yes, I have not had any doubts or desires to do anything except work toward priesthood.
Out of all the Catholics in the world only about 1 to 2 percent of the men are called by Christ to become his priests, to share in his priesthood. Those he does call he has chosen from before the beginning of time, to become a priest forever. To become a priest forever means that our priesthood is not just for service to his church here on earth, but to serve as his priests throughout eternity. When you try to reflect on this one truth you can’t help but understand how awesome this call really is to act in the person of Christ and to do so through all eternity.
Now, if Christ is calling you to be one of his priests, he isn’t going to let up. He will give you time to come to terms with his choice for you, but as long as you don’t turn away from him he will continue to call you. There is a poem you might like to read, Francis Thomson’s “The Hound of Heaven.” God will pursue those he has chosen. Can you outright refuse his call? You can, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
If any one of you thinks that God may be calling you to the priesthood or religious life and who, like me, want to consider this privately for a time before you join a discernment group, please feel free to contact me via e-mail. I would be happy to take this walk with you, and you can keep your anonymity. My email address is email@example.com.
Phil Grant is a second year seminarian for the Diocese of Charleston.