“Fr. What A Waste”

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 needsThe 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.

Emily Martinez