By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
When I was discerning my vocation to the priesthood shortly after high school, I was deeply conflicted because of my interest in the sciences. I couldn’t decide whether to proceed to the seminary or go to the university to study medicine. I finally decided to give seminary a shot. I wrote to a bishop in a diocese in Nigeria outside my home diocese, in a different state from where I was located. The bishop replied and invited me to visit whenever I was ready. Unfortunately, there was no cellphone system in Nigeria then, and the Internet was unknown. Communication was primarily through snail mail. And in Nigeria, prior to cellphone and the Internet, you could just visit someone you knew unannounced or without an appointment.
Because I had received a letter of invitation from this bishop, I decided one day to take an early morning bus and traveled to see him. My goal was to arrive while the office was still open. I arrived around noon, but unfortunately the bishop had traveled out of state for an urgent meeting and was not expected back to the office until the next day.
I decided that it would be best to wait until the next day to see him; it made no sense to make another trip. I didn’t know anyone there, and going to a hotel was the last thing in my mind because I hadn’t enough money to pay. But since the bishop’s office was located in the cathedral, I decided to go to the parish priest who was the pastor of the church. I explained my situation; showed him the letter from the bishop, and presented him with my ID from the junior seminary (high school) I had graduated from. I told the priest that I needed somewhere to stay overnight so that I could see the bishop the next day. To my great disappointment, the priest told me that he didn’t invite me and hence he had no place for me. He told me to go sleep at the public bus station or wherever; that it was not his business. He yelled at me to leave.
Wow! That was a blow for a young man who was struggling to discern his vocation to the priesthood! I thought to myself as I walked away, “Is this what I want to be? Is this how priests behave?” It was a big shock.
As I made my way to the gate of the cathedral, I heard someone calling, “Hey you, come here.” I turned around and saw another priest, a younger one. He was the assistant to the pastor. He had apparently overheard my conversation with the pastor and followed me. He quietly took me to one of the lodgings in the pastoral center and paid for my accommodation. (The pastoral center of the diocese was used as lodging facility and had many rooms located there on the cathedral premises.)
The next day I saw the bishop, but I didn’t tell him what happened. We discussed what had brought me there, and he gave me a letter to give to my parish priest when I returned home.
On my way home on the bus, I thought over what had happened the previous day and how the first parish priest had treated me and dismissed me. I was so hurt that I immediately thought that it was not worth being a priest. I decided to open the letter the bishop had given me for my parish priest. It was a beautiful letter that said he was interested in having me join his diocese, and that he needed a letter of recommendation. Too late! I was too pained and discouraged. So I tore up the letter and decided that I had no more interest in going to the seminary.
On returning home, I didn’t discuss anything about my trip with my parish priest. In the first place, he wasn’t even aware that I had made the trip. He was, however, aware of my thoughts about going to the seminary. But he did not know that I had changed my mind. No one knew.
After a period of back and forth and a lot of deep reflection, the memory of the younger assistant priest who had helped me with accommodations came back to me. “Priests are not all the same after all,” I thought. Eventually, with the support and encouragement of my parish priest, I decided to accept admission to the seminary, this time in the archdiocese where I resided. The year I was admitted to seminary the diocese of Kafanchan was created, and I was assigned there.
Nine years later, before my ordination to the transitional diaconate, I searched for the young assistant priest who had helped me with accommodations at the cathedral. I told him what he had done for me and thanked him. He neither remembered the incident nor recognized me, but I had not forgotten his single act of charity that rescued a vocation. I invited him for my priestly ordination, and he came.
In retrospect, I have come to believe that God allowed the incident with the first parish priest in the cathedral to happen because it was not God’s plan for me to be in that diocese. God wanted me right where I am, not where I thought I should be. I’m happily a priest today. This incident could not be an accident. This was God’s way of teaching me a very good lesson. Although I felt very discouraged about the priesthood because of the attitude of one priest, God sent another priest to help me and counter my discouraging thoughts about the priesthood.
I came to understand that it wasn’t the priesthood, as an institution, that had treated me badly. It was an individual, a person. This distinction between the priesthood and the individual/person was fundamental to my decision to say “yes” to my calling. Without this understanding, I would have remained angry about the ill treatment I had received from this pastor and disappointed with the priesthood or the church. This would have closed my heart and prevented me from seeing the alternative door that God had opened for me through the priest who assisted me. Looking back, I have come to believe that it was not me who was acting. It was God, working behind the scenes for my benefit because He knew His plans for me. Who knows? I might not have ever become a priest had I joined the other diocese. God saw what I could not see. Though I was very disappointed at the time because what I had wanted didn’t materialize, I have since come to realize that God’s plans are greater than my disappointments.
I hope my story will help someone who wants to give up on any kind of life endeavor to understand how God’s will plays itself out. It may not always be pleasant, it may not always meet our expectations, but His plans for us are greater than ours. We need to learn to submit to His will when things don’t work out as we plan. Sometimes when we insist on something in particular that we want, we keep praying for it but nothing comes.
We end up disappointed with God. But in many cases God is showing us an alternative answer to our prayers, and it may be right beside us — we just can’t see it because we are bent on getting what we think we want! We get so stuck in our disappointment that we become totally blind to the alternative answer God points us to, even though it is actually a better alternative.
We must have the courage to accept an alternative solution to our problems or plans if God so wishes. God is more powerful than we humans are. He wouldn’t give His child a snake when He knows he needs a fish (Luke 11:11). He is constantly working behind the scenes for our good. He disappoints us only to bless us with more, with the best.
Father Jacob Dankasa is a parochial vicar at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Wylie.