Struggling through discernment

Miscellany/Keith Jacobs

Miscellany/Keith JacobsSome priests are born knowing what they want to do with their lives. For others, the road is much harder to find.

The toughest obstacle is often choosing between a wife and children or a celibate life devoted to God.

“Celibacy will be a struggle for the rest of our lives,” said Renaurd West, who attends Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland.


He knew God was calling him from the time he was 15, but had a hard time accepting the commitment and discipline required. He entered seminary, but West said he was too young and immature to flourish.

He then went to college and spent time with friends, but was never at peace.

“I realized I was just running away,” West said. “And I realized I couldn’t run away anymore. I had to give God a real shot.”

He said he was so relieved and grateful when God opened the door to seminary again.

Worthy of the call

Another stumbling block is feeling unworthy to serve as Jesus’ representative.

The bottom line, said Deacon Matthew Gray, is that no one is truly worthy, but God still calls.

Deacon Gray was ordained to the transitional diaconate in July and attends Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.

But it wasn’t long ago that he was a non-practicing Presbyterian with a completely different life in mind.

He was attending the University of South Carolina, and said he was more interested in joining a fraternity than a church. But when he realized he was close to flunking out of school, he decided to revisit his choices.

His first step was to put Christ back in his life, but which church?

Deacon Gray said the last denomination he visited was a Catholic church that was locked. He took this as a negative sign, but then met a couple in the parking lot who opened another, spiritual door.

Bible study, inquiry sessions, and the catechesis process followed. The Easter season with incense, bells and music was the clarifying moment.

“I was just amazed at the reverence people had,” Deacon Gray said. “They truly believe Jesus is present in the wafer. And I decided if that’s where Jesus is, I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”

When people encouraged him to consider the priesthood, though, he put on the brakes.

The deacon said he overcame his worry about what others would think when he realized he was happier in the church than anywhere else.

But joining the seminary did not automatically resolve all doubts.  Deacon Gray said there is still the constant question of worthiness.

Ordinary guys, extraordinary lives

The priests and seminarians he knows help him with this question each day, Deacon Gray said, just by being ordinary guys who like sports, have hobbies, friends and families, but still answer the call.

He recalled his first retreat, when one of the priests rode up on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. It made him laugh, and realize the men are just everyday people.

“They are different from other people, but they are still normal guys, just doing an extraordinary thing with their lives,” he said.