Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Seminary Appeal Talk

This is a slightly edited representation of my address to Our Lady of Victory parish this past Sunday (September 23rd). The readings for that day may be found here.

Seminary Appeal Talk

I would like to talk about vocations, specifically the vocation to the priesthood. We can see from the many different people gathered here that God has called us to married life and single life. Likewise, many of you have a great number of occupations that you were drawn to as well. But God also calls young men to consider the priesthood as his calling in life. The call to the priesthood and a unique life of service is given a special prominence in the Gospels and New Testament as a whole. All are called to conversion but only a select few are called to serve as Christ for the sake of His people.

The Apostles are a prime example of this call. Jesus Christ entered into their lives—He sought them out—and commanded them to follow. The Apostles are a group of different men and it is worthwhile, I think, to look at their responses.

Peter was a fisherman, and when Christ entered into His life Peter fell on his knees and said “Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man” to which Jesus simply responded “Be not afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (see: Lk 5:1-11). After this Peter left all he had and followed Him. 
Peter: a man of great courage but one of many faults and weaknesses. But he was able to acknowledge those weaknesses and through Christ was set apart as an example of forgiveness (because he was forgiven) and leadership (his teaching and martyrdom)

James and John were likewise fisherman and when they heard the call of Christ they left all they had and readily followed Him. The call of St. Matthew too had different circumstances as well. Matthew, whom we celebrated on September 21st, was a tax collector. He was regarded as a traitor and an outcast for the Jews and perhaps hated by even his own family. It was possible that he embezzled money, but at the very least he was employed by the Roman Empire. Yet when Jesus came into his life he left his own way of life behind and followed Jesus without hesitation.
Matthew: surprised that Jesus, a Jew, might call for him to be his disciple, he converted and immediately drew tax collectors and sinners to share in the same joy Christ gave him.

I believe we can all say that our lives are similar to the Apostles. We have felt Jesus come into our lives in some manner and lead us to where we are today. He searches us out and calls us to Him. In the seminary, in my own class, we have men who were laborers, ex-military, farmers, teachers, lawyers, and seminarians like myself. We can see that like the Apostles God isn't picky with whom he calls—in fact we're fortunate His call reaches ever corner and every life.

As such, I would like to speak to my own experience, in brief, in hopes that it encourages you to listen for God's whispers in your life.

I first began thinking about the priesthood in 5th grade. We had recently received a new pastor and it was a day like any other. At the words of consecration and the raising of the host I remember I said to myself, “Maybe I could do that.”

And that was it. Is wasn't earth-shattering or overpowering, just a subtle feeling and an inclination. But I didn't fight it nor did I dismiss it. Rather, I accepted it and simply lived my life after that. I was encouraged by that same priest to consider the priesthood and so I did.

When I went into 8th grade I was still on the fence, but the concern was more academic. Eventually, however, I noticed that I was happier at Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary and chose it. I'm happy to say it was probably the best decision of my life. The opportunity to be taught by priests and laymen and women was an excellent one. They not only taught us the necessities a student needed in subjects such as literature, history, language, theology, and science but each teacher had an appreciation for the Catholic tradition and instilled in me a real love of our Catholic heritage.

Time went on and I joined the college seminary. Now, at that point I was still riddled with old habits and dispositions, many of them bad, and likewise I had yet to mature into a priestly identity that I had taken for granted. At the same time I was still 18 years old and growing—I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to grow in the seminary with authentic and attentive human formation. I was there for two years before I went for 3 (blessed) years in Washington DC. Though much happened at St. Joseph's and DC I will share with you one experience of prayer that has given me an image of priesthood that I still consider and follow today.

I was praying at a 24-hour adoration, perhaps it was 11, 12, or 1 in the morning. I recall the image came to my mind almost like a dream:

I was standing above a large crowd and as I looked down everything was gray. People were walking back and forth, much like what you would see downtown on Michigan Avenue. Each of them, however, had their heads down. Some were scared, others crying, others anxious, while others still seemed indifferent or apathetic. I recall looking on them with a great deal of sadness and compassion. Just then a hand was placed on my shoulder that said, “My son, do you see my children down there, crying and broken? Who will go and comfort them? Who will be with them?” Without any real hesitation I remember that I turned around and said, “Please, Lord, send me.”

This is an image I've kept with myself for some time now and one that informs my image of the priesthood. I realize it can seem rather dire and serious and at the time it did seem this way to me. As with many things in life, however, what seems one way at first grows with us over time. Now there have been numerous instances where this has been a great source of joy and reflection for me. Not every person who is worried or afraid is depressed, rather they are looking for God at pivotal moments in their life. There are parents who wonder if they can raise their family right, there are married couples who wonder if they'll make ends meet, and there are those who are alone in the hospital who feel abandoned. A priest is with these people at their most important stages as a living image of Christ. I don't mean in the sense that I or a priest replaces God, but a priest is one who is sent to minister to His people. The job of the priest is to listen, to guide, to teach, and help those he meets go to the Father, just as Christ did.

I believe that the Gospel is also helpful in this case (Mk 9:30-37). In the seminary, even though I'm 24 years old, my friends and I are still guys. We're competitive, at times confrontational, and enjoy hanging out (with the idle talk that comes with it). Here we have the Apostles acting like guys. They have already experienced Christ and listened to them. They have been taught be Him and they are already following Him and yet “they were arguing among themselves who was the greatest.” Jesus responds in a surprising way, however. He places a child in their midst and says “Who ever among you wishes to be great must make himself as this little child.”
The reaction on the Apostles face indicates, I think, the difficulty and puzzling nature of Christ's command for them and His insistence that this would be "greatness" before God.

Now, at this time period in time a child was considered as completely dependent, helpless, and as someone generally disregarded. A child was someone who could never hope to repay someone back but needed your help all the time. It was a lowly life. But what an image for a holy priesthood! It's a powerful image to think that what I and other men are called to is in the likeness of a little child. What this means is that a priest must constantly humble himself, both because he is called by and led by God to do his work but also because of the great responsibility of leading others while expecting nothing in return. A priest is a sower of the Word and a shepherd to the people, but not everyone will hear nor will every sheep remain. But it is His task to be at the total service of his people, which are in reality His people. Without child-like trust and humility we would never listen to God, and without child-like concern and love we would never be attentive to the people who need us most.
What I've learned over the course of time is that God does not call those of us who are the best speakers, the greatest intellects, the most pious, the most athletic, nor the most skillful—necessarily. Rather He calls those whom he sets apart for a special task and for some that special task is a priest of Jesus Christ. For indeed “before I formed you in the womb I knew you [and] before you were born I dedicated you” (Jer 1:5a). God calls those from families who have perhaps fallen away from Him to act as a voice that calls them back. He calls those from broken families, common jobs, and who live simply. He calls those who come from loving homes, highly trained, and from affluent areas. All of them are called to serve and give what has been given to them.

In conclusion I would ask all of you to rededicate yourselves to encourage young men to the holy priesthood of Christ. In the same way I encourage you to affirm young women to consecrated life and religious life (guys too). When you see in someone qualities that you want in the priesthood you should affirm it. My vocation began in part because my pastor said to me 'I think you should think about the priesthood.' Our voice can be an instrument of God that leads young men and women to discover what God wants from them. They can certainly deny your words or discover that religious and/or priestly life isn't for them but as the people of God we must recognize in those who we raise the qualities of a good spiritual father and good shepherds. Are we courageous enough to speak when we see these qualities in our brothers, our sons, our nephews, and our friends?

I ask humbly that you continue to pray for me as I discern God's call in this my 11th year of formation. You know, many of you, my past and with it my weaknesses, habits, faults, and failings. I ask you pray that I persevere while also humbling myself always to be molded and formed in Christ Jesus in order that I become the man that God wants me to be for His people. Please pray for my fellow brothers who are doing the same.

Pray especially that we all, especially young men, are attentive to the call God has placed in their hearts. I thank you for the encouragement and nourishment that you have already given me in abundance.

Thank you,