Cardinal Donald Wuerl joined a room full of young adults at Buffalo Billiards in Washington on May 8 for the monthly Theology on Tap gathering held by the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Young Adult Ministry.

He was first asked to tell the standing-room-only crowd about his vocation story, and how he decided to become a priest.

“I knew I’d get to go to Theology on Tap, and I knew if I’d go to theology on tap, I’d get a free beer,” he joked.

More seriously, Cardinal Wuerl gave credit to the close-knit parish community in the Pittsburgh neighborhood that he grew up in as the starting point of his call to the priesthood. 

“That parish was a home,” he said, adding that when he watched the parish priests there, he started to think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to try to do that?”

“That is probably true for all of us,” he said. “It is the witness of other people, the goodness of other people, that inspires us.”

In addition to being inspired by others, Cardinal Wuerl pointed out, “We impact other people” through the way we talk and act. Going back to the early Church, Cardinal Wuerl recalled how “little by little, the Church began to grow,” even in the midst of the very secular culture of the Roman Empire.

“That Christian community began to have such an impact, because people would say, ‘Those people are really nice…they care for people,’” said Cardinal Wuerl. “That is at the heart of our lives. Each one of us has a calling, I just happened to be called to be a priest.”

When asked what advice he would give to young adults searching for their own vocation, Cardinal Wuerl said the primary thing is, “You have to be convinced there is a purpose in your life.”

“We are not just here helter-skelter, because we happened to be born,” he said.

For most people, part of the purpose of their life includes falling in love, getting married, and having children, he said. In addition to that, people have a calling to do something to support that family, which is “not so much a job as it is a call to be something or someone,” the cardinal said.

In order to discern what their life’s purpose is, Cardinal Wuerl told the young adults they need to “be aware of the circumstances around you.” Rarely does God directly say, “This is what I want you to do,” but rather, “God speaks to us through the circumstances we find ourselves in, the people in our lives, [and] the events that take place,” the cardinal said.

“We just have to be open and listen in our hearts,” he added.

That ability to do that is something that “we are losing the ability to do” amid the fast pace of life and many distractions, Cardinal Wuerl said. 

“My sisters and brothers, God does speak to us,” he said. “He speaks to us through very ordinary means…we just have to find the time to listen.”

One young adult named Zach Vila asked Cardinal Wuerl what sort of spiritual dangers he thinks exist in the lives of young adults. 

“The real challenge is to get so caught up in all the things of life – all the noise, all the activity, all the sound – that we don’t find enough quiet space every day,” said Cardinal Wuerl. “…If you don’t find some quiet time every day…the secular world that says that the only thing that counts is here and now, that is going to roll over any relationship with God.”

Vila, who works for the Department of Justice, said he wanted to ask the cardinal that question because he imagines there are things going on in his own spiritual life that maybe he isn’t paying attention to.

“It’s pretty cool that the cardinal would come to something like this,” said Vila. “It is really engaging. It is outreach and evangelization.”

As the room full of young adults sipped their glasses of beer, some of them asked the cardinal questions about marriage, about life in a capitalist and consumerist society, about who his favorite saint is – he said St. Thomas More is one of them – and about how to interpret the story of Adam and Eve, to which the cardinal said, “the story is not as important as the message” that God created everything there is and believes it is very good.

One young adult asked the cardinal about whether there could ever be a situation in which he would encourage someone not to become Catholic.

Cardinal Wuerl said there may be a circumstance in which he would ask, “Are you ready?” but he would never say to someone, “You are not ready,” because “I don’t know that.”

“The goal is for all of us to become a part of that Body of Christ that flows with grace from the sacraments,” said Cardinal Wuerl. “The Church is not made up of everyone who is 100 percent perfect, because the Church is meant to be Christ’s family. There is space for all of us, even though some of us might be struggling with lots of things...I would always encourage people to be a part of the Church because of the sacraments…We are not perfect – we are on the journey to get there.”

At the conclusion of the evening, the young adult who asked that question told the Catholic Standard that he had been wondering for a while if there was ever a bad motivation to become Catholic. While it is still a question he is pondering, he said if someone who was not Catholic had come to Theology on Tap, the cardinal’s response had conveyed the message, “I’m here with you guys. We are all sinners. We all require grace.”