WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Fr. Marc Cramer says when he was working at a gas station, he prayed about whether he should become a priest. The answer? 'You'll be happier when you're a priest.'
In the eyes of Father Marc Cramer, a call to the priesthood "freaks out most young men."
Cramer says in his new role as archdiocesan vocations director, he will have to help those freaked-out young men reflect on the question, "Why is God calling me to something that I am not comfortable with, and is outside of my purview?"
In fact, God calls all people to action. The call to priestly or religious life, however, is a calling that often needs careful guidance from others.
Cramer, while still pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Wetaskiwin, has been appointed vocations director, assuming the role from the former-Father Paul Terrio who has become bishop of St. Paul.
Archbishop Richard Smith told the WCR that Cramer has such an enthusiasm for the priesthood that selecting him as vocations director made perfect sense.
What's evident in Cramer are his openness to men who are discerning, and his willingness to serve them as they venture through the process, Smith said.
Another part of Cramer's duties as vocations director will be to help pastors and parish teams promote a culture of vocations. This is an important undertaking, said the archbishop, as promoting vocations is a pastoral priority of the archdiocese.
"With Father Marc, you can tell in the way he exercises his ministry that he has a real love for the priesthood. He is someone who would be very open and excited to invite others who might be discerning a call from the Lord to look very seriously at this," said Smith.
Terrio worked in the schools and parishes to promote the priesthood as well as with priests and parents. Cramer anticipates doing the same.
Part of his task will be to share his own unique journey with other men.
Raised in the hamlet of Cherry Grove, Alta., Cramer developed a love for the Scriptures, and learned about preaching and mission work. He had attended Catholic school and was a member of the local Catholic parish. But with no youth group, he turned to the Mormons at age 16.
He got married in 1994. The marriage lasted three years, and the Mormon Church later annulled it. Only after feeling a great sense of emptiness did he return to the Catholic faith of his youth.
While taking his undergraduate degree in education and working the graveyard shift at a gas station that he managed, he felt a calling towards the priesthood. He prayed about it.
"I got the answer back: you'll be happier when you're a priest," he said. "There was truth to that, I realize many years later. God was leading me."
As with any man contemplating a religious vocation, there was plenty for him to consider with his academic, spiritual, pastoral and human formation.
Cramer entered the seminary in 2001, and was ordained a priest in 2006. As vocations director, he expects to be in Edmonton about once a week.
Cramer drew a comparison between marriage and the priesthood. Just as there is more to discerning marriage than dating lots of women, discerning the priesthood is often a long, arduous, step-by-step procedure. A man might determine that he likes a certain woman, they start dating and only over time does he decide whether to marry her.
"No one can explain or talk clearly about marriage until they're married. Having been married, it's a little easier to explain. Or, if you've been a father, you can explain fatherhood to someone else. But until you experience it, you can't," said Cramer.
The same process applies to a priest explaining the priesthood to other men, he said.
Every vocation story is unique. Cramer listens to each man's circumstances and learns what brought him to that point. There is usually a calling of some sort, whether it's an internal prompting or people urging the man to consider the priesthood.
A mistaken view is that men who are sexually attracted to women should not discern the priesthood. On the contrary, Cramer said the same men who would make good husbands and fathers, men who are mature and balanced, are the ones who would make good priests.
Giving up sex is countercultural, he continued. But being celibate for the sake of the kingdom and giving up marriage and fatherhood are necessary sacrifices.
"It's a serious thing. Asking someone to marry you or becoming a priest is a serious thing, and not something to be taken lightly," said Cramer.
"Most people realize how inadequate they are. That's how it was for me - I felt the call, but I also felt my inadequacy."
The vocations director aims to have a prayer calendar in every home to establish a structured way for parishioners to pray for seminarians. Hosting a "vocations fair" is another idea.
Archbishop Smith emphasized that promoting vocations is everyone's responsibility, including parents of young Catholic men, to help young men discern their call to the priesthood.
"Who in our midst seems to be showing signs of a possible call from God to the priesthood?" he asked. "How do we encourage and invite them? How do we walk with these people, and help them in their discernment?"
Everyone is asked to respond to his own individual call, which emanates from Baptism, to a life of holiness, "but we should also be encouraging one another, if a call is felt from the Lord to follow him as a priest or as a member of a religious community," said Smith.