By Fr. Hau Vu
I recently approached a young man and asked him, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” And his response was, “Yes, Father, I have thought of it and I actually believe God is calling me, however, my mom doesn’t want me to pursue this vocation because she said that she doesn’t want me to live a lonely life.”
Like this young man’s mother, many people believe that a priest’s life is a lonely life. Even St. Josemaría Escrivá’s father warned him, before entering the seminary, that he would lead a lonely life if he chose the path towards priesthood. However, many years later, St. Josemaría concluded that his father was wrong. The life of the priest is not lonely. He said, “People who say that we priests are lonely, are either lying or have gotten it all wrong. We are far less lonely than anyone else, for we can count on the constant company of the Lord, with whom we should be conversing without interruption. We are in love with Love, with the Author of Love!”
It is true! The life of a priest is not lonely at all. I cannot say that priests do not experience loneliness from time to time but, who doesn’t? Whether you are single, married, a priest or a religious, we have all experienced the feeling of loneliness. Loneliness is part of being human. If anyone ever told me that he, or she, has never experienced loneliness before, I would say they are either lying, in denial, or they really haven’t experienced much of life. Even Jesus Christ experienced loneliness within His life on earth. I could imagine Jesus feeling lonely when he spent forty days in the desert, before beginning his public ministry; or at the hour of his death, when all of his disciples, except the beloved disciple, abandoned Him. His cry on the cross to His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” speaks to that feeling of loneliness as well.
Like Jesus, we have all experienced moments of loneliness within our lives, but loneliness does not mean that we are alone. In the same way that God the Father was with Jesus, Jesus is always with us. For Christ said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (Jn 14:20). That day Jesus speaks about, is the day of His Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. As we approach the day of Pentecost, Jesus reminds His disciples, and us, that “Unless I go away, the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (Jn 14:7).
As baptized Christians, the Word of God reminds us that we are never alone. But Jesus never said that we would not experience loneliness. What that feeling of loneliness tells us is that deep down inside each one of us, is a desire for communion and relationship. And that desire is not just something physical, but more importantly, it is spiritual. As St. Augustine said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in God.” The loneliness that each one of us experience is essentially a desire to be fully united with God, and that reality cannot be achieved until we reach Heaven. But in the meantime, the only way to address that loneliness that we may experience from time to time, is by being with God. This means spending time with Him. There is no other way. Like our path towards Heaven, Jesus is the only way towards dealing with loneliness.
As a priest, when I am feeling lonely, I believe it is a nudging from God to enter into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him. That is why it is so important for me, and all priests and religious, to spend at least one hour each day in prayer and adoration. That time we have with the Lord really serves to shape the loneliness we experience, into a solitude that brings holiness into our lives.
This is why I am convinced that spending time with God, in prayer and adoration, has helped make my life as a priest a joyful life and not a lonely life. I am certain that the majority of priests you will encounter will say the same. So, do not be afraid if you are being called to the priesthood or religious life, because it really is a life filled with mystery, wonder and joy.
Fr. Hau Vu is Associate Director of Vocations in the Diocese of San Bernardino.