Fr. Matthew McCarthy is the new director of the Office of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Toronto (you may remember him as the host of "ShareMusic"). Below he shares his thoughts on vocations, discernment and why the world needs priests during these difficult days.
After reading this blog, please check out the Office of Vocation's new daily video reflections series, which can help all Catholics reflect on their faith.
1. I’m sure people would like to know about your discernment process. Can you share a bit about how you came to the priesthood?
My earliest memories of when I started to think about the priesthood were when I was about 7 or 8 years old. After receiving First Holy Communion, I became an enthusiastic altar server and faithfully served Mass every Saturday morning at St. John Fisher Parish in Brampton. At the time, my pastor, Fr. Alfred Grima, would always ask me the same question as he prepared for Mass: “So, how’s my future priest today?”
Without a doubt, these times were when the first seed of the priesthood were planted in my mind.
But then middle school and high school happened – when sports, music, girls and Pokemon cards took rather prominent positions in my life – and thoughts of the priesthood started to fade. However, they resurfaced during my university years, when the two priest who were chaplains of my Catholic students group instilled in me an even greater admiration for the Lord, His Church and the priesthood.
Immediately after completing my university degree, I entered Serra House, where I began seminary formation, while simultaneously completing my philosophy requirements before studying theology.
2. Why is it exciting for you, as a priest, to help others discern a call to the priesthood?
Part of the excitement is guiding individuals through a particularly blessed time in their lives, as it certainly was for me. I remember the day I made the decision to enter the seminary. It came after a lengthy period of what I would call “running away” from what I knew was an invitation from the Lord. At that time, I wasn’t deciding to become a priest (at least not yet), but to take concrete steps to discern the priesthood. In other words, I finally decided to give God His chance.
That day was a turning point in my life. Things just seemed to click and I felt a genuine peace about the direction I was about to take. My experience that day was one I’ll never forget, and I’ll often mentally revisit that moment whenever I need a spiritual boost. I’m thrilled at the thought of getting other individuals to experience such moments in their own lives.
3. What advice can you offer someone who is discerning a call to religious life?
In addition to carving out time each day for prayer and reflection, my advice for a “new discerner” is to try and make it to Mass as often as you can. If there’s anytime, anywhere on Earth where we would give ourselves the best chance at hearing the voice of the Lord, it would be where he shows up!
Go to Mass, then, asking Jesus, “Lord, what do you want to communicate to me during this Mass?” Then pay special attention to the readings, homily, prayers, antiphons, etc., with that question in the back of your mind. In my experience, God has always been faithful in answering that question – even if it’s by giving me a single take-home point from each Mass.
After a period of making this a habit, the Lord will make it clear to you, as he did for me, what the next step will be.
4. Is there something that you realize today that you wish you knew while you were discerning your call to the priesthood?
I’m convinced that whatever knowledge (either about myself or the priesthood) I had during my discernment process was precisely what the Lord wanted me to know at the time.
However, there were many times when I was tempted to doubt God’s providence and grasp at things prematurely. A spiritual director once told me, quoting from St. Faustina’s Diary, “Christ says, ‘my priests do not trust me enough!’” My advice to all future discerners is to “trust the process,” as it were, and fully and joyfully enter into the discernment process the Lord has planned for you.
5. The Archdiocese of Toronto interviewed the Ordinandi Class of 2020 in February of this year, before the COVID-19 lockdown began. In those interviews, each man was asked, “Why does the world need priests today?” How would you answer that question, given our recent difficulties with COVID-19?
I would give the same answer regardless of the circumstances. As the recently ordained priests would say: the world needs priests because the world needs Christ. If humanity is the question, Christ is the answer – in all times and circumstances.
Perhaps the recent lockdown and conditions of social isolation (as horrible as these were and continue to be) have awakened a deeper hunger for the love and fulfillment that only Christ can offer. If this is the case, then priests will be needed, since they serve as unique channels of that same love, by bringing the faithful to encounter Christ in the sacraments.
As the Cure of Ars says, “If we had not the Sacrament of Orders [and men to receive that sacrament] we should not have our Lord.”
If you want to learn more about how the Office of Vocations can assist your discernment process, please visit their website.