He was normal. He was so genuine. He was charismatic and kind. He looked you in the eyes when he spoke, and he made a true effort to listen.
No, I didn’t have a crush but had I met him in any other context, without the collar, without the “this is our seminarian friend, Jim” introduction, I would have pinned him as an amazing man that any girl would be lucky to marry. I would have pinned him as an outstanding future father. So how was he so peaceful about the priesthood? Those two things, husband and father, didn’t equal priest in my mind.
I met Jim right after my return to the Catholic Church. I was full of questions, and there seemed to be a surprise for me around every corner of the faith. From the sacraments to adoration (whatever that was), from religious sisters to the priesthood, I was quickly discovering the richness of the Catholic faith. I felt like I was finally seeing beauty for the first time in my life and I was completely dumbfounded.
Somehow, the last semester of my senior year at UNL, I found myself in Rome on the trip of a lifetime. As if I wasn’t already overwhelmed at the vast history of the Church, now it was physically in front of me. I could actually touch it. St. Peter’s, the catacombs, St. Paul’s, the list was never ending. I even found myself at the installation mass of Pope Francis. Everything was falling into place.
One night, we decided to stop by a pub to meet up with a few Lincoln priests who were studying in Rome. The thought of drinking with priests was absolutely foreign to me, so it’s a good thing we were in a different country, I suppose.
We all sat down, started introductions, and that’s when I met Jim. I was taken off guard for a second because this guy looked as if he were my age. Up until this point, I had never really met a seminarian… and to be honest, I was confused. Of course he was my age. That makes perfect sense. All priests were young once, Emily!
But 22. Wow. And normal. Wow. And funny. Wow.
Ha. Clearly at the time, to me, all priests were older and, well, priests. They were kind, trustworthy, and put together. Meeting Father Holdren, the assistant chaplain at UNL, marked the beginning of my “they must be normal” suspicion, but I wasn’t quite sold yet. He was older, and therefore wiser.
But meeting Jim stumped me. He seemed like a normal boy, with a deep trust that the Lord was calling him to something “normal boys” don’t seem to be doing nowadays. It was completely counter-cultural for me. I asked him how he knew God was calling him to the priesthood and his answer was simple.
“It’s kinda like that feeling you get when you’ve dated someone for a really long time. You aren’t questioning marriage, it just becomes evident that that’s what’s meant to be. No words spoken.”
It wasn’t a long meeting, probably an hour or two. But I felt as if I had a new friend. I knew I wasn’t going to see him again for a very long time, but something about his peace and the way he spoke about what God was calling him to, stuck with me. He didn’t pretend to be fearless or overly confident, he was just at peace with where the Lord had him. I thought then, that I would never forget that meeting and I haven’t.
As time moved on and I dove deeper into the Catholic faith, I learned about a term used by certain Catholic girls. “Father What a Waste”. I asked for clarification. What did that even mean? They gladly gave it.
“It means that there are certain priests that we think are attractive, and/or would have made amazing husbands and fathers. What a waste that they are priests.”
Something about the term rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn’t explain why yet. Now, almost five years later, I can.
The “Father What a Wastes” of the world, are exactly who the church needs. The fact that they would have been amazing fathers and husbands is exactly why they are flipping amazing priests. They understand love, they understand sacrifice, they understand trust and peace. They are not priests because they had nothing else to do with their lives. They are not priests because they couldn’t get a girlfriend and this was the next best thing.
They are priests because Jesus Christ was a priest and Jesus has personally called them to follow Him in this way. And what a DANG GIFT that we have men who are willing to give all of themselves, all of their time, all of their energy, all of their love not to a family at home, but to their family sitting in the pews. Their family that might not even know what it’s like to have a loving father.
No, they are not a waste in the least. They are Fathers, and good fathers are never a waste.
At the beginning of this month, I spent New Years Eve in Lincoln, NE, for old times sake. I was reminiscing about my life and all the ways in which I’ve grown, but more overwhelmed by all the ways in which I still needed to grow. I was lacking trust and I could feel it.
The morning after NYE, I decided to go to the 8am Sunday mass. Weird. But I’m weird, so it’s fine. I went to my favorite church in all of Lincoln, St. Teresa’s. It’s small and worn in, and I love it. As I’m sitting there praying for trust, we were told to rise for mass to begin. As I stood up and turned my head to see who was celebrating the mass, God answered my prayer almost instantly.
It was Jim, Father Jim, walking toward the altar.
I burst into tears! What the heck?! I don’t even know him that well, but it was probably one the most beautiful moments I’ve had in a very long time. There he was, five years later. I had heard that he had just been ordained but had yet to see him. I must have looked like a dang weirdo smile crying at the beginning of a less than crowded 8am mass the day after New Years Eve. But I am so grateful to have been given a glimpse of what is to come in this man’s priesthood. His trust that day in Rome flooded back and I left that church with complete peace.
We must trust where He has us.
What a gift the priesthood has been for me in my own life. They used to terrify me, and now I have 18 priests in my phone. WHO AM I!? But they are friends.
They are Fathers. Not wasting their lives. Changing lives.