Rev. John P. Cush is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. He serves as Academic Dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. Fr. Cush holds the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor of Theology and U.S. Catholic Church History. He has served as a parish priest, high school seminary teacher, and as a Censor Librorum for his Diocese, as well as a theological consultant for NET TV. Fr. Cush is a regular contributor to the Brooklyn Tablet and the Albany Evangelist.
Saint Thomas Aquinas is a model of the Christian life and is an example of the virtues for all Christian people. However, as a priest, I’d like to put the focus on one aspects of Saint Thomas’ life: his vocational journey to religious life and priesthood.
His vocation story wasn’t easy. He could have had it made as a member of the Benedictines, following the example of his uncle, an abbot. He had been already a student at Monte Cassino as a young boy of the age of five. (Talk about young vocations!) His parents approved of his of a choice of religious life, just as long as it was the Benedictines, with the knowledge that, with his family’s connections, Thomas might wind up as abbot one day. So enraged were his parents, Landolfo and Theodora, that their son wanted to run off and join this new, radical form of religious life as a mendicant preacher, a “Dog of the Lord,” a hammer to the heretical Albigensians, a follower of Dominic Guzman, that they imprisoned him in 1244, asking him to reconsider his choice of vocation.
The stories of temptations of the flesh and the spirit during this time are famous, but the Doctor communis sustained himself by memorizing all of Sacred Scripture and the Book of Sentences and receiving visits from John of San Giuliano, an inspiration to his own vocation. In fact, it was during this time that he persuaded his own sister, Marotta, to herself become a religious.
He certainly didn’t have an easy time with his family, to say the least.
And the truth is that one who chooses the consecrated life or the priesthood rarely has an easy time with his family and friends. Because what we do is not what most people do. It is not the way of the world, at all. Even in the most supportive of families, there’s always the fear that parents and families have when it comes to the choice that we have made with our lives.
When I was doing recruitment for the high school prep seminary in my diocese, I would stand at these high school fairs among all the other Catholic high schools and, as the boys would come closer to examine the folders and speak to our students or me, invariably there would be certain parents who would physically move their sons away, so that he wouldn’t have to think about the minor seminary or even see or hear about it. Every year that I taught, I had at least one family of a boy who was about to graduate and who wanted to go on to the college seminary whose parents discouraged or forbade him. And this is after four full years of minor seminary! These parents, by and large, were all heads of good, practicing Catholic families, and yet, the very idea of a vocation was completely abhorrent to them. Sure, they wanted more priests — just not their sons. That negativity boils down, I think, to fear.
There’s the fear I’m told from parents that my child will be lonely, that he or she will be alone without a spouse and a family. And yet, nothing could be further from the truth. True, loneliness can come into any life, even into those in the married states, but I think that the support system of prayer, apostolic works, studies, and fraternity in the priesthood and in the religious life helps us to experience the peace and consolation that can only come to the Lord.
There’s the fear that my child will not be life-giving, with no sons or daughters of his or her own. Nothing can be further from the truth. Think of those to whom you give life daily, just by being the person whom the Lord Jesus, in his plan for your own personal salvation and for the salvation of the world. This is especially true for the priest, whose spiritual fecundity is seen as “Father” to the people whom the Lord has blessed him to shepherd, most especially in the Eucharist.
There’s the fear that the quiet life lived by the religious or the priest is unimportant, compared to the doctors and lawyers and other high paying jobs that we could have with the amount of education we’ve been given. The truth is that priests and religious will never grow rich doing what we do; we will never get famous, unless we do something wrong; no, our fame comes from only striving to do the will of the Father in this life so that we can be with him in the life to come.
And yet, all that matter is that we, in our own lives, are able to radiate the light that is Christ, to be a beacon of hope, a sign of the world to come and living reminder of the presence of God active and alive in our world.
We all know the famous story of when Thomas was praying before the crucifix and the corpus came to life, asking our patron, “What is it you want most in this life? Whatever it is, I will grant it to you.” Thomas looked into the eyes of the Lord and uttered three little word, “Nil nisi te” “Nothing but you.” In our lives as religious and priests, ultimately, and, indeed in the lives of all the baptized, we have nothing but him. It is the Lord Jesus who is the gift and the crown of the life of the priest and religious. Pray for vocations to the religious life and priesthood and, in a special way, for the families of those discerning a call or in formation for religious life or the priesthood. May we realize that gift that is a vocation to service as a priest or religious and may “Nil nisi te” be on own our lips and in our hearts every day.