Last summer YOU! Magazine – Thirst for the real stuff interviewed Fr Adam Zettel, LC, about WhyNotPriest in German. Here is the English translation of the interview provided by Fr Adam. The interview was published prior to his ordination to the priesthood, which happened on December 16th, 2017.
Can you tell us something about yourself, your origin, your family and briefly explain to us your campaign WhyNotPriest?
My name is Father Adam Zettel, I’m a deacon now, to be ordained a priest this December, and I help with an amazing apostolate campaign called WhyNotPriest? This year the campaign took me and some of my brother seminarians to the youth festival in Salzburg for Pentecost, where we played music, were joined by hundreds of young people and played soccer tennis on the city streets, spreading everywhere the message of how joyful you can be in the vocation to the priesthood.
What was the reason for you to become a priest?
When I was in high school I played the drums in a band – we used to go to a lot of events for Catholic youth and play at concerts, adorations, and Mass. I loved travelling, packing up all our guitars, drums, and speakers in a big van and going to another city to perform. I also had a girlfriend, and as I was finishing school and preparing to go to university. I wasn’t thinking at all of being a priest. I knew though, that God was the most important thing in my life, and that doing his will was what really mattered to me. I just thought for sure he wanted me to get married some day… except when someone spoke about the priesthood, which for a long time made me feel a strange tugging in my heart.
One night I was at a healing Mass in my parish. The priest sat down after communion, and with the microphone, told everyone present that he felt the Holy Spirit telling him that someone there was called to be a priest. “If you say yes” he said “you will be happy for the rest of your life”. I felt the same thing as I had felt before, an irresistible pull, but I wanted to resist it so much. I decided that I would think about it, but keep it a secret and not say anything to my girlfriend, who was also there at the Mass. After Mass she approached me and asked if I thought I was the one Father had mentioned. There was no way I could say no. After this event I gave in and let go, and began pursuing the vocation to the priesthood. It was very hard, but what that priest said was true, I have been very happy and fulfilled saying yes to God.
What fascinates you most about being a priest?
It’s fascinating that as a priest I can change people’s lives in a profound and existential way, that what people are hungering for more than anything else is exactly what a priest can give them. People need to know the mercy of God and they can find it in the words of a priest, in his preaching, in confession, in spiritual direction, and most of all in the Eucharist. It fascinates me that God would want to use a person who’s just normal, who’s even weak and imperfect, to do something so great, bringing his power and grace into the world. And it is really amazing that he does that!
What was your biggest obstacle on the way to priesthood?
Like many young men, I knew from long before entering the seminary that the one thing holding me back from being a priest was having to give up the possibility of being married and forming a family. Everything else about the priesthood seemed to be exactly what I wanted: being able to preach the Good news as part of my profession, guiding and counselling people in need, spending more time in prayer, living in a community of brothers with the same values and good desires… there was just that one big sacrifice that at times seemed too hard to give up.
But as I came closer to Christ, I began to understand better what the calling to a life of celibacy meant: not that I had to stop loving or love people less, but just the opposite, I would be able to love people more, and to love more people! I would even be able to be a father to infinitely more people by being a priest. At one point I found a lot of help in the Gospel that describes Mary breaking a jar of precious, costly perfume to anoint Jesus. I felt the desire to show how much I loved him by giving him that which is most precious to me, and something which is of great value.
What does faith mean to you? How would you describe faith to someone who is not believing in God himself?
Faith is actually something pretty normal, when you think about it. We use it all the time. When the doctor tells me I have this or that disease, and tells me to take a certain medicine, I believe him, because I know he has studied it. Maybe he has never even used that medicine, but he himself believes it will work because of a study done by someone else. Faith in God and in Jesus Christ works kind of like that. We weren’t there when Jesus did his miracles or rose from the dead, but some people were, his disciples, and they have told people about it who have told others, and passed it on to us, to me. Of course, I have to believe, and trust the people who have told me, but if I do, the same thing can happen as someone who takes medicine, he experiences for himself that it works.
Maybe some people get discouraged if they try believing but don’t “feel better” right away. With this medicine, you have to trust for a long time before seeing the effects. Or maybe some people give up when they see Christians who say they believe but aren’t really happy or live incoherent lives. That’s why I think the best argument for taking the leap of faith is the example of holy, happy Christians. I have met many: men and women who are extremely happy, fulfilled, and satisfied. And if you believe me I would say the same about my life. I threw myself in with an act of faith, I tried it, and it proved to be true.
Why should I become a priest? Would that not be something that will take away my freedom?
The priesthood is an amazing adventure! I would say to any guy who begins to feel pulled towards the priesthood, that he should let himself be pulled, and take the courageous step to start discerning. The priesthood is a huge honor, a grace that no man is worthy of, but that God gives out of his special love towards the one he calls. It doesn’t take away your freedom. It makes you so much more free. It makes you free to love everyone, the whole world, to love many, many souls in a way much greater than you could ever love on your own. By calling you to be a priest, God gives you an infinitely greater capacity to do good in the world.
What advice would you give to a young man who is considering a vocation to priesthood and is struggling with it?
Be courageous! Don’t be afraid of the sacrifices you’ll have to make. If God gives you the grace of having this vocation, he will also make you very happy doing it. Some might be tempted to think their talents would be wasted on the priesthood. Not at all! God wants and needs young men with talents and with something great to offer to the world. The Church needs you, and souls need you! So be a real man and take the challenge!
Can you give us some advice on how to discern our vocation?
There are two things that are really important: Spiritual Direction and Prayer. First you need the advice of a good, holy priest who can guide you in listening to God and understanding where he is directing you. You need to be open to him and tell him everything that might help him understand you completely. Yes, you need to be totally sincere with yourself and with him, admit that (if it’s what God wants) you’re not going to try to get out of it. Just openly seek to know what he really wants.
The second thing is prayer. Spend some time every day with Christ in the Eucharist. If you are called to be a priest, you’re called to have a special relationship with the Eucharist, so there is the best place to hear the call and develop that relationship. Read the Bible. The words will speak to you and give you light about what God wants. And whatever you feel and experience in prayer, speak about it with your spiritual director.
How would you describe God? Who is God for you?
God is all love and goodness. And all love and goodness comes from him. For me, to think about him, I have to remember that I’m a creature, and that my life and existence are good because he has just chosen to make me and share his goodness with me, for no reason at all, other than love. He also wanted to redeem me, and show me love, in the person of Jesus. I keep that in mind and try to remember that everything I have is from him and I owe him everything. My life is full of the certainty that to touch him is to have everything I need, and that to do that all I need is enter inside my own heart in prayer, in faith.
What makes the Catholic church special? What is significant?
The Catholic Church is a family, a big group of friends who are united in a way that no other human group is united. It’s like a big party, but where everyone has a special connection of love between them and every other person in the room. I think that description is actually pretty accurate, because in the Church we’re already connected with those who are in heaven. It’s like being in a group chat with millions of members, but instead of being connected by phones or devices, our hearts are united. That is why the Eucharist and the other sacraments are so beautiful: they are moments of connection with the whole family.
What was the coolest thing you ever did since you started to follow your vocation?
There are lots of cool things I did in my years as a seminarian. I played the drums in a music video for WhyNotPriest, and have been blessed to be able to travel to Germany and Austria on missions. I’ve performed music for Pope Francis too. But I think the thing that is really the coolest is being able to share my faith with others. When you take the time to listen to someone who is struggling a lot, and give some words of advice, and see the change in their life over time… that is really cool. Or when I’ve had the opportunity to distribute communion to hundreds of people in Saint Peter’s square, nourishing their souls with the healing Bread from heaven. I think as a priest, in a few months, these experiences will only be multiplied and be much more real, when I can forgive sins in confession and consecrate the Eucharist at Mass.
What are your hobbies/interests?
Well I think it’s obvious one of my biggest hobbies is music and singing! I play drums, guitar, and a little bit of the hammered dulcimer. I love writing songs and have also done some compositions for our seminary band and for the liturgy. Last year I was blessed to compose and sing the psalm for the ordinations Mass for my brothers who were being ordained priests. I also like to run for exercise, play some soccer and love hiking in the mountains.
Who is your favourite saint?
St Thérèse of Lisieux. I have already booked my first Mass at a church dedicated to her in Rome. She has been an inspiration to me for years with her example of childlike simplicity and her teaching on unconditional trust in God. I’ve asked her to pray for very special intentions several times, and a few times have received direct answers to my prayers. I think that she more than anyone else has discovered what it means to receive the kingdom of God like a little child.
What do you think about the Quote: ain’t no party like a catholic party, cause a catholic party don’t stop!
The real party is the one that never stops, the one that we can only begin to experience here on earth, in an amazing way, but which will be complete and perfect only when we get to heaven. And we should be living our lives constantly desiring to get there, and to be more and more a part of that party, even here on this earth! The amazing thing is that it’s a party which is completely different from the parties of the world, which very often takes place in silence, and is not visible at all. Our mission with WhyNotPriest? is one that involves a lot of “partying”, which people see and love to be a part of. But our hope is that people will get into the deeper party, that our testimony be an invitation and a door to go beyond the singing and the noise, and into that awesome party which we share with God, who wants us to celebrate with him forever!