I found myself thinking about my father and his brother this morning, as I sat waiting for Mass on the feast of Joseph, the patron saint of this Dominican Province, of fathers, and of me. I felt a sudden awe, glancing down the choir row at so many young men in white, knelt in prayer, and I thought of my father and uncle on the eve of battle. My uncle, a bomber pilot, was killed in action in December 1943, shot down while returning from a mission. He drowned (or died of exposure, it was December) in the Zuider Zee. My uncle’s name was Webster Bull.
I came to the House of Studies two days ago thinking I might write a book about vocations to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. I thought, The priesthood is a mystery to our culture today and therefore a compelling book topic. But the priesthood is also a mystery to me, a convinced Catholic, so my topic is also a question, and personal.
Why would anyone want to be a priest, given so much recent trouble in the Church, given the promiscuity of pleasures available to young men today? Why would a man give up everything for this?
This morning, I realized that I had the answer to this question in my own family history, in the narrative of my father’s generation. An entire generation of American men gave up everything, or risked it, for something they believed in. Many of them knelt on the eve of battle just like these young Dominicans, with the same deadly serious mien.
If God is Someone you believe in, if in fact you put God above country, why would you not risk everything for Him?
Of course, such a choice, the choice of a vocation, or the response to the call, is usually not something that plays out on a purely rational level. “Finally, Meg,” Thomas More tells his daughter in the movie A Man for All Seasons, “it isn’t a matter of reason. Finally, it’s a matter of love.”
Already in my 48 hours here, I have had the distinct privilege of hearing the vocation stories of several young Dominican priests and one young Cistercian monk in training for the priesthood. None has involved a single flash, like Saul struck from his horse, but all clearly have involved love, and still do.
My dad and my uncle Web loved their country, their homeland in the same way. It was a special joy to offer my silent intentions for their souls at Mass this morning.