He was normal. He was so genuine. He was charismatic and kind. He looked you in the eyes when he spoke, and he made a true effort to listen.
No, I didn’t have a crush, but had I met him in any other context — without the collar or the “This is our seminarian friend, Jim” introduction — I would have regarded him as an amazing man whom any girl would be lucky to marry. I would have pinned him as an outstanding future father.
So how was Jim so peaceful about the priesthood?
While on my journey deeper into the Catholic faith, I learned about a term used by certain Catholic girls: “Fr. What a Waste.” I asked the girls for clarification. What did that even mean?
They gladly shared the definition. “It means that there are certain priests that we think are attractive, and/or would have made amazing husbands and fathers,” one of them told me. “What a waste that they are priests.”
Something about the term rubbed me the wrong way — but at the time, I couldn’t explain why.
Back to Jim. I met Jim right after my return to the Catholic Church. I was full of questions, and there seemed to be a surprise for me around every corner. From the sacraments to adoration (whatever that was), from religious sisters to the priesthood, I was quickly discovering the richness of the Catholic faith. I was seeing beauty for the first time in my life, and I was completely dumbfounded.
Somehow, the last semester of my senior year at UNL, I found myself in Rome on the trip of a lifetime. The vast history of the Church was physically in front of me. I could actually touch it. St. Peter’s, the catacombs, St. Paul’s: the list was never-ending.
One night, we decided to stop by a pub to meet up with a few Lincoln priests who were studying in Rome. The thought of drinking with priests was absolutely foreign to me, so it’s a good thing we were in a different country, I suppose.
We all sat down, started introductions — and that’s when I met Jim. I was caught off guard for a second because this guy looked as if he were my age. Up until this point, I had never really met a seminarian…and to be honest, I was confused. He was my age.
A 22-year-old seminarian. Wow. And normal. Wow. And funny. Wow.
Clearly at the time, I had a certain expectation about what priests were like. They were kind, trustworthy and put-together. And…well, older.
But meeting Jim stumped me. He seemed like a normal boy, with a deep trust that the Lord was calling him to something “normal boys” don’t seem to be doing nowadays.
I asked Jim how he knew God was calling him to the priesthood, and his answer was simple.
“It’s kinda like that feeling you get when you’ve dated someone for a really long time,” he said. “You aren’t questioning marriage; it just becomes evident that that’s what’s meant to be. No words spoken.”
After that encounter, I felt as if I had a new friend. I knew I wasn’t going to see Jim again for a very long time — but something about his peace and the way he spoke about his vocation stuck with me. He didn’t pretend to be fearless or overly confident; he was just at peace with where the Lord had led him.
Now, almost five years later, I understand why the “Fr. What A Waste” term bugs me so much.
The “Fr. What A Wastes” of the world are exactly what and who the Church needs. The fact that they would have been amazing fathers and husbands is exactly why they are amazing priests. They understand love; they understand sacrifice; they understand trust and peace.
They are not priests because they had nothing else to do with their lives. They are not priests because they couldn’t get a girlfriend and this was the next best thing. They are priests because Jesus Christ was a priest, and Jesus has personally called them to follow Him in this way. And what a GIFT it is that we have men who are willing to give all of themselves — all of their time, all of their energy, all of their love — not to a family at home, but to their family sitting in the pews.
No, they are not a waste. Not in the least. They are fathers — and good fathers are never a waste.
At the beginning of this month, I spent New Years Eve in Lincoln, NE, for old times sake. I was reminiscing about my life and all the ways in which I’ve grown, but more overwhelmed by all the ways in which I still needed to grow. I was lacking trust and I could feel it.
The morning after NYE, I decided to go to the 8am Sunday mass. Weird. But I’m weird, so it’s fine. I went to my favorite church in all of Lincoln, St. Teresa’s. It’s small and worn in, and I love it. As I’m sitting there praying for trust, we were told to rise for mass to begin. As I stood up and turned my head to see who was celebrating the mass, God answered my prayer almost instantly.
It was Jim, Father Jim, walking toward the altar.
I burst into tears! What the heck?! I don’t even know him that well, but it was probably one the most beautiful moments I’ve had in a very long time. There he was, five years later. I had heard that he had just been ordained but had yet to see him. I must have looked like a dang weirdo smile crying at the beginning of a less than crowded 8am mass the day after New Years Eve. But I am so grateful to have been given a glimpse of what is to come in this man’s priesthood. His trust that day in Rome flooded back and I left that church with complete peace.
We must trust where He has us.
What a gift the priesthood has been for me in my own life. They used to terrify me, and now I have 18 priests in my phone. WHO AM I!? But they are friends.
They are Fathers. Not wasting their lives. Changing lives.