Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A lawyer, a cop, and a journalist enter Blessed John XXIII Seminary together. The lawyer ends up leaving to resume his practice but the cop and the journalist get ordained. Two out of three isn’t bad. You can take the man out of the law but you can’t take the law out of the man.
At BJ23 Seminary stories like these are common. The studentry is diverse. Men from different professions—from ages 30 to 70—leave their careers and become priests after receiving the mysterious summons from Jesus Christ: “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19).
The call from the Lord can be irresistible. He appears in our lives unexpectedly, even if we think we’ve heard it all before. His powers of persuasion are substantial. The men he called to become his apostles were focused on families and careers. Then one day Jesus shows up at the lakeshore and makes them an offer they can’t refuse.
In our Church there is unity through diversity. Jesus decided to set up shop and hang his shingle in Capernaum—a bilingual region inhabited by pagans—and then hire workers of all ages from different professions to devote their uniqueness to God.
Church unity is paramount. “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand,”Jesus says (Mk 3:24). To many he is a cause for division (Lk 2:34b) but he came to unify not divide, “so that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you” (Jn 17:21). Diversifying the Church ensures the unbroken chain of the covenant between God and man remains intact. To draft the outcast and the stranger, the great and the lowly alike, doesn’t weaken the lineup but adds depth to the roster and makes the team stronger. He packs the bench with men and women who ordinarily wouldn’t mix. A fisherman. A Pharisee. A tax collector. A traitor. A lawyer, a cop, and a journalist.
“Is Christ divided?” Saint Paul asks in his First Letter to the Corinthians. For Paul disunity in the Church was unbearable, particularly regarding liturgical infractions in Corinth that made their liturgical assemblies akin to celebrating Mass in a casino. Paul labored long and hard to bring fallen members back into the fold. Like Jesus, Paul evangelized in synagogues and in centers of commerce, wrote letters to his churches from prison and he worked with Romans, Jews, and Greeks. He drew no distinctions.
The lawyer with whom I studied at the seminary left after two years. He discerned that he missed the entanglements of the justice system and the power to serve his own summonses. Christ called him to use his legal skills and today he is a renown advocate for the pro-life movement in a Northeastern city by the sea. A few years in the seminary can soften a hardened heart or firm up a listless spirit frozen by fear at the thought of allowing the Lord to work through one and accomplish great things.
The sea is the source of life, the baptismal waters that initiate us into the Christian faith. The men Jesus called to be apostles had the tools of the trade to haul in the catch of the day as well as the chum and the dross. But when they received their calling the dropped their nets and walked away from lucrative professions (Mt 4:20)—and the potential to gain a whole lot more of what the world deems to be important. Their nets provided their livelihood but nets can also mean entanglement. By saying yes to God they freed themselves from those webs.
Saint Francis de Sales , a bishop and a journalist, was convinced that God sees humanity as a great and varied garden, each person beautiful in his or her own uniqueness. The various callings in life—priest, widow, Protestant—are like flowers in a field, Francis said. God loves us all. Through his or her own calling each person can find a way to a deeper friendship with the Creator. But we have to drop the net.