In late June, I spent the weekend in Nashville, my hometown, and was in the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Sunday when two seminarians, Andrew Bulso and Austin Gilstrap, recently students at the Pontifical College Josephinum, were formally received as “candidates for the priesthood.”
They will soon fly to Rome and begin graduate studies in theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
Both would be well-suited for business or professional careers, but they believe that God wants them to be priests.
What does it mean to be formally received as a candidate for the priesthood? Good question. Indeed, when Nashville’s Bishop David R. Choby began the Mass that included this ceremony, he noted that few lay Catholics have ever witnessed such an event.
This is what occurs: After the Gospel, each candidate steps forward and publicly declares to the bishop his intention to study for the priesthood. It is not binding. However, it is not to be taken casually or lightheartedly.
The bishop, in turn, states that he, on behalf of the Church, has carefully reviewed the credentials of the candidates and has found all in order. Therefore, they are accepted.
The liturgical setting includes an admonition for the candidates. It alludes, understandably, to the education required for priests, but it stresses the critical need for them — if they are to prepare worthily for the priesthood and eventually become good priests — to be first and foremost completely committed and devoted Christians. Essential to developing and sustaining this commitment is a life of personal, constant prayer within the Church.
Seeing Bulso and Gilstrap in the days after their acceptance as candidates gave me the sense that prayer is already very important to them. God be with them and strengthen their resolve to be faithful disciples. God willing, in four years I will return to Nashville’s cathedral to witness their ordination as priests.
Any visit home is marked by hearing other news, all too often including learning about recent divorces among the children — and now the grandchildren — of my friends and schoolmates.
The Catholic community throughout this country is undergoing quite a disturbing change. It has to do with marriage. So very many Catholic marriages end in divorce, some astonishingly soon after elaborate weddings and others after decades and the rearing of children.
As Our Sunday Visitor reported a few weeks ago, another alarming fact is that increasingly Catholics are not bothering to be married in the Church, if they choose to be married at all.
Something has to be done, if nothing else than to avoid the pain divorce inevitably brings.
The candidates for the priesthood will have to complete four years of preparation before being ordained. Some of it will mean studying in classrooms or actual internships in pastoral situations. But fundamentally, they will be required to face the question of what Christ means to them personally.
How well do Catholic couples prepare themselves for marriage? It is not just about managing common finances and personality adaptability. Most importantly, how emphatically do we tell young Catholics that marriage is not an end in itself. Rather, it is the best way, seen in the eyes of the spouses, for each to attain sainthood. The Church teaches, basically, that the first responsibility of any Catholic spouse is to assist the other in achieving holiness.
If this focus seems odd and unrealistic, then we have evidence of the problem. Before anything else, Catholic spouses must approach, and live, their marriages as ways to spiritual perfection.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.