Recently, I was asked if I had any regrets about being a priest.
To the questioner’s surprise, I said yes I did. I went on to explain that while I had regrets that didn’t mean I was unhappy being a priest. Quite the contrary in fact.
My regrets make clear to me how much I value my vocation. When I call to mind the things I could have done, reflect on their value and the satisfaction that I would have come from doing them and I realize that the rewards of being a priest are more than worth the sacrifice.
But to imagine that I didn’t make any sacrifices, that I didn’t give up some good things to receive the good thing of the priesthood, would be to lie to myself. Actually, it would be to lie to myself about myself and about the importance I place of the work I do as a priest.
None of this, I should say, is unique to the priesthood. It is simply part of being faithful to our vocation. Trade offs in life are inescapable and sacrifice isn’t sacrifice–as Fr Chris told me in college–unless it hurts.
Think of the sacrifice of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-19). When God commands him to sacrifice Isaac, the patriarch has a choice to make. Does he value obedience to God more than the fulfillment of God’s promise and his own most deeply held hopes for his future? In other words, does he love God more than the promises and things of God?
For many, the Gospel is less about picking up the cross and following Jesus and more a coping mechanism. Yes, I can use the Gospel to protect myself from the bumps and bruises (and worse) of life. Doing so, however, means that I prefer the things of God more than God Himself.
And it means that I’m not following God or making the sacrifices that come my way. Instead, I’m trying (futility) to lead God, to make Him follow me.
How easily I turn to God and flip Ruth’s words to Naomi: “I will go where you go. I will live where you live. Your people will be my people” (Ruth 1:16).
The irony here is that I don’t need to compel Him to follow me. He does this already. He is always with me, leading the way, clearing the path before me to the Kingdom.
All the sacrifices we make are not simply ours. They all share in the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
The thing is this: Before I pick up my cross and follow Him, He picked up His Cross as part of joining Himself to us. Before we are His companions, Jesus is ours. Before we sacrifice for Him, He has sacrificed for us.
So yes, I have regrets about being a priest. But the cost of the priesthood pales in comparison to the myriad rewards of the priesthood. And again, this isn’t unique to the priesthood.
If we are faithful to our personal vocation, the rewards will outweigh the costs. This doesn’t mean there won’t be moments when we will wonder, or even doubt, whether this is the case.
Painful as they are, these moments of doubts are moments of grace; they are invitations to renew and deepen our vocational commitments. They are our personal experience of climbing the mountain like Abraham with Isaac following along wondering if, when the moment comes, we can be obedient to the terrible thing God asks of us.