Had my plans worked out, I would have left for a few days’ retreat today. Sadly, things didn’t work out, but I have no doubt the future will hold ample opportunity to go.
I would have travelled south to the Franciscans in the town of Megen. The retreat would have been a simple one, aimed at exploring vocations. At the moment, I am quite ready for any kind of retreat, but this one specifically appealed to me, because of a question that any (future) seminarian or priest may ask himself: will I be a secular or religious priest?
The term ‘secular priest’ may seem like a paradox, but it simply indicates a priest who lives ‘in the world’, ie. works in a parish among the people. ‘Religious priests’ have made vows, are monks or friars, and usually live in communities. Of course, it’s not always as clear-cut as this. Religious priests may also work in parishes, and secular priests may live in communities. But essentially the difference is in the religious vows.
Either option is, I believe, one that requires a conscious choice. The secular priesthood may be the default form, at least in the Netherlands, but it need not be.
Discerning any vocation includes an analysis of who you are and what makes you tick, and what your relation to God is. If done well – there’s no guarantee – you will get a clearer idea of what your vocation is; is it to the pastoral care of parishioners and administring the sacraments, to increase people’s faith in size and depth? Or is it a contemplative life of prayer and study, or manual labour and education, or any combination of these and more, underpinned by the sacraments received and passed on?
A visit to a community of religious priests (although not all the brothers at Megen are priests) is, in my opinion, an essential addition to this discernment. Thinking and praying is all well and good, but a hands-on experience of the subject, however fleeting, would certainly do no harm.
I don’t know what I’ll be, say, ten years from now. I hope and pray that I may one day be ordained, and that’s as far as I’m willing to go right now. The rest will reveal itself in due course.