Last Tuesday, many of the priests of the Diocese went to our presbytery day. It is a day when we hear from our Bishop and are brought up to speed on anything we should know about within the Diocese. In addition, there is usually a speaker to give us a short day of reflection. This year we had a priest who had done much work in the field of vocations. He had worked at the seminary level as vice rector and later as the vocations director in his Diocese.
Our speaker gave us some recommendations we could use to promote priestly vocations, especially in a time when there seems to be a declining response to it. One of the recommendations was that we, as priests, share our own stories during the homily occasionally.
At first, I thought, this is easy; I know my story well. After attempting to put the retelling of my discernment into writing, I realized that giving my whole story during a homily was unrealistic. Multiple things happened to me before I noticed a calling and many things before leaving for the seminary.
Using the readings provided for this weekend, I found an excellent place to start talking about my story. The readings for this weekend come from the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C.
The reading from St. Paul to Timothy tells him to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith.” I start there because I would not have been ready to listen for anything from God had I not first pursued the same things as Paul was mentioning. I grew up Catholic, went to Catholic school, and went to Mass when the family did, yet there was much I did not know about the spiritual life, among other things.
One of the first things that got my attention was how some spoke about what they called a prayer life. For me, at that time, prayer consisted of grace before meals or something you did when others needed help with something, hoping that God would help. Something called a prayer life was foreign to me; I did not know what it meant or looked like. (there will be a post coming that tells more of this part)
Once I had begun to form a prayer life, I also started to desire to know what else I was unfamiliar with regarding my Catholic faith. This is where the pursuit of the things of God, which Paul speaks of to Timothy, came into my life. A paragraph doesn’t do justice to that part of my journey, but I will leave that here for now.
As a result of taking my faith to another level (the credit is more to God than me), I began to see many things differently. I started going to confession regularly once I understood the value of God’s grace and our living in it. I then began making greater efforts to avoid near occasions of sin, knowing that all sin throws a wedge between God and us. Once I realized Mass was offered daily, I tried to attend Mass whenever my schedule allowed. People who had noticed this development in me began to invite me to the faith-based groups they were affiliated with. I accepted many of these invites and enjoyed being around people interested in growing in their faith.
After some time, maybe a couple of years, my life became much more about the pursuit of the things of God than they had ever been. During this pursuit, in my daily prayer time, I began to pray for direction as to what path I should take. I had been going to community college for nearly four years and was far from any degree. With my funds depleting and many changes in my field of study, I decided to see if God would point me to a degree I would actually complete. I figured that if anyone knew what I should be doing, it would be my Creator. Even then, I did not expect God to call me to the priesthood. While I loved where I was going in my faith journey, I still had my sights on a worldly career.
It was not immediate, but God’s response would come to me through other people’s words. On three consecutive days, seven individual people approached me and asked if I had considered the priesthood. For someone who never had anyone speak of the priesthood, that many people in a short while was astounding. Of those seven people, only a few knew me personally; the others were strangers. One of these individuals was a coworker who always told us at work that he was an atheist. So, it blew my mind that he would have said something like this to me.
There was no way to explain what happened on those three days of having been asked whether I had considered the priesthood other than that God had His hand in it. Seeing that I was expecting a different type of direction initially, my prayer time in the evenings was spent considering why this was the response I received. I at least knew that the life of a priest involved sacrificing many things, things I wasn’t sure I was prepared to leave behind.
There is obviously much more to my story, but I want to stop there for now. If it wasn’t for the growth that happened to my faith and prayer life, I might not have ever prayed for help and direction. Likewise, I may have never wanted to learn more about the Church and the many things it teaches and passes on to us. I believe that God sent other people into my life at the right time, people that encouraged the growth they saw in me. Like St. Paul to Timothy, telling him to pursue the things of God, to compete well for the faith, I had received the reinforcement I needed to keep searching.
As one who benefited from such encouragement from so many over time, I ask that you do the same for others, not just concerning a priestly vocation. With as many distractions and discouragements in the world, everyone, regardless of status or age, needs support when growing in their faith. So don’t ever think that a simple invite to Mass, or mention of God’s working in your life, would mean little to a person. It could be one of many inspirations that God wants you to give to someone else, as it happened to me. Even though they didn’t know it, I heard God’s call and answer to my prayers, through them.