I am often asked, "How long does it take to become a priest?" Whenever I answer, "Between four and six years," I can't help but laugh, as most people are taken aback and ask, "Why?"

Wishing that the process was quicker is a common feeling we share. However, when I take the time to look at it honestly, would I be able to say that I am ready to be ordained tomorrow? All eagerness aside, the answer couldn't be anything other than no, as I am nowhere near ready, qualified, educated or as willing as I hope to be in time.

When I first began discerning a call to the priesthood, I was under the presumption that you had to be 100 percent certain before even applying. This couldn't be further from the truth - and, fortunately, that's the primary reason preparation for priesthood takes so long.

How does one finally get to the point of saying "yes?" The simple answer is by God's grace, His working in you and being open to the Holy Spirit through formation.

The unique quality that sets a seminary apart from any other university is formation. When hearing this for the first time, I was overwhelmed: It sounded like I was walking into a "boot camp" program that would break me down in order to build me back up.

Seminary formation isn't based upon a need to wipe the slate clean first, however. I find it centered around one question: "Am I open to the Lord being in control?" This can apply to every aspect of a person's life, future, routine, decision-making and so on. As we become more open to the Lord taking the wheel, we become more open to saying yes when we may prefer to say no.

This couldn't be more important for a priest, since priests are called upon to serve willingly at all hours, day and night.

Seminary formation helps us to recognize the need to let go, challenging us throughout each school year to look deep within ourselves for what stands in the way of our relationship with the Lord and His plan for each of us. From my own experience at seminary, I can honestly say that there isn't a single person on campus who wouldn't do all they can to help us in this journey.

This requires a level of openness and honesty, a desire within to want to change for the better, willingness to follow through and, most importantly, being able to recognize that God's work is not complete in us.

A formation director at Mundelein Seminary always uses the adage, "You're no done muffin." As silly as that may sound, it summarizes every seminarian's need to take a "leap of faith," let go, trust in the Lord and allow Him to take over.

Only then can we begin to approach such issues as fear, chastity, obedience, worldly desires and so many more that cause many men to hesitate when considering the priesthood. Once we take that step, however, we can see that we are no longer resistant to change, no longer concerned with being in control and unwilling to step back.

Having said all that, four to six years may still sound like too much - but all good things take time for good reason. As Catholics, we the parishioners are the beneficiaries, so the more experience, training and education a future priest has, the more capable he will be to help when we are in need.

The result of years of training a future priest is a person who is well-rounded, centered on and knowledgeable about his faith, and driven by the desire to serve God and His people. As seminarians, when we readjust our focus on God's will and plan for our own life, we are able to accept that, even though it may seem like a long time, it wouldn't be right to reduce the amount of time, effort and resources it takes to become a priest, because we would be shortchanging those we will serve.

(Brian Kelly is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. A native of Newtonville, he was formerly business manager at Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes.)