Encourage young people
By Fr. Keith Clark, OFM Cap.
When I was in sixth grade, our teacher, Sr. Dorothy kept me after school one day. She sat me down and said, "I've taken a lot from you, Keith Clark, because I think you might have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. But I'm here to tell you that I'm not taking any more!" I had never thought of being a priest or a religious!
In eighth grade, I thought I might want to be a priest. My best friend, Dan, wanted to be a dentist. I'm not sure though that God was calling us to be a priest or a dentist. It was just what we saw ourselves doing.
I entered St. Lawrence Seminary for high school. All I knew was that the idea of being a priest appealed to me. In my freshman year of college, I sat up in bed one night and said out loud, "All right! I'll be a Capuchin!" I had a sense that God was calling me to religious life.
I told Fr. Crispin the next day. I was very confused and unsure, but Fr. Crispin said, "Oh, I knew it."
I applied for admission to the Capuchin Order, quite sure that they would not want me, but they accepted me. The next year, I went to novitiate, fully expecting the novice master to tell me I was not the material they wanted. But he didn't.
A year later, I made vows for three years. I was sure that, during those years, I would be told this was not the life for me and I'd be sent home. But I wasn't!
Now I am a Capuchin and a priest. As a spiritual director at St. Lawrence, seminarians talk to me about their efforts to discern what God might be inviting them to do.
There is a big difference between these students and myself and my friend, Dan, 45 years ago. Then a high school student could decide what he or she wanted to do in life, and begin to pursue that vocation.
Today there is no real support for high school students deciding what to do with their lives. No one takes them seriously. And few are encouraged to believe that God calls them.
When a student tells me he might want to be a priest or a religious, I tell him to cherish that invitation. I encourage him not to allow anyone to tamper with that vocation. "If God is calling you, you will be able to respond to the call in perfect freedom," I tell him. "God never tampers with your freedom. He may invite you to be more than you think you can be, but God will never force you."
I am a Capuchin priest today because Sr. Dorothy, Fr. Crispin and others showed me I could without telling me I should.
And, yes, Dan is a dentist.
(Fr. Clark is president emeritus of St. Lawrence Seminary in Mount Calvary, Wis.)