Everyone knows of Christmas and Easter Catholics, but for some reason many of them turn out on Ash Wednesday as well. It's not a holy day of obligation but I've noticed that even many non-Christians observe Lent; not in the religious sense but in their desire to exercise self-discipline. Giving something up for Lent is not required of us - save for abstaining from flesh meat on Fridays - but almost everyone does so anyway whether it's caffeine, chocolate, cigarettes, or other treats.
It's a period of self-examination. Ideally we should be exerting greater effort in combating our sins, flaws, and defects compared to the rest of the year. The last year has been spiritually difficult for me. I struggle with the truths that 1) God loves me, and 2) He has a plan for me. It's easy to believe those things when everything is going great. When plans don't work out, when you wonder where your next paycheck is coming from, when you don't know where to turn or whom to trust, it's more difficult. As a rational matter, I know that suffering is inevitable. Intellectually, I know that God keeps his promises on his terms and his timeline. On an emotional level, I sometimes wonder if he's forgotten me or if I somehow don't have a part to play in his plans for the world, not even as an extra in the background.
All Catholic men who take the faith seriously discern the priesthood or religious life at one time or another. I was in the seminary for two years. You can probably figure out why I'm no longer there if you don't know already. Suffice it to say, I had no patience for walking on eggshells or holding my tongue in the face of manifest silliness or outright error. I did for a short time. Well do I remember all those times Father Z has told seminarians to keep their mouths shut at all costs because the elderly Modernists on many seminary faculties are looking for an excuse to dismiss orthodox young men who yearn to roll back the errors and follies of the last fifty or so years. There came a point where I finally said to myself, "Fuck that noise." It's that kind of thinking that has led to the Church's current fugue state. That unwillingness to speak the truth, that hesitancy to declare that the emperor has no clothes has led to decades of ecumania, of a crippling lack of confidence, of grown men having to sit in silence as clip-haired, mean faced old broads in pantsuits henpeck them in umpteen committee meetings because the seminary drills you hard on whether you have a "problem with women."
I love the priesthood in its Platonic ideal, but given the modern understanding of the priesthood and the way it is lived in most parishes in the 21st century I'm not at all surprised they struggle with recruitment. Men are willing to give their lives for a mystery, but not for a question mark. It's brought me more inner peace since I decided that it's not for me. One thing the diocesan vocations director said to me before we parted ways for the last time was, "You'd have been a good priest 60 years ago." I fail to see why that should make a difference. I was under the impression that the Church is the same today, yesterday, and forever but apparently I was wrong.
I'm personally embittered about it to some extent, but I'm angrier over the general pattern. I'm far from the only man to be dismissed for being too Catholic for the seminary's taste; it's happened to much better men than me. I'm angry because the priest shortage is a 100% manufactured problem the Church inflicts on herself because the bishops are too stubborn to see that the pastoral strategies and changes of the last few decades have been manifest failures.
I stick with the Catholic faith because the Catholic faith is true. If I depended on the examples set by bishops and priests, I'd have left a long time ago. Maybe God allowed it all to happen as a way of increasing my faith in him instead of the institution.