Meet the Seminarians
If one had asked me in my early teens what I thought my vocation was, I probably would have asked, “What’s a vocation?” My journey to the seminary began in the ninth grade of high school at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, RI. I would say that like many students my age, I was caught up in the “now” and not worried about what would bring me lasting joy down the road. My education was not on the top of my list of priorities. To be honest, I was content with mediocrity in my life. I looked forward to the Friday nights and the weekends, to getting together with friends, to attending the movies and hockey games. I look back and realize now, these things were good, indeed important as I still enjoy them, but certainly not the most important parts of life.
If I had to use two words to describe my early teens, they would be restless and directionless. St. Augustine best describes my understanding of encountering Christ when he said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. Often when I pray with scripture, I can see my former self in some of those Jesus encounters in his ministry. I can relate to Zacchaeus who, stuck in his way of life, was directionless. After encountering Jesus on a road in Jericho, Zacchaeus responded and allowed the Lord to transform him. It is he whom the Lord speaks about when he says, “…the Son of Man has come to seek out and to save what was lost.”(Lk 19:10) Christ gave this man’s life a direction and called him out of his selfish ways, asking him to use his gifts and talents to serve the Lord God and His people. From that day on, after he saw Jesus walking, Zacchaeus knew the path he needed to walk in order to follow Him.
In the tenth grade I was confirmed at my home parish, St. Joan of Arc in Cumberland, RI. As I look back, I believe it was here by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace that my discernment began. Shortly afterwards, I received a job as a sacristan working in the parish. I credit the long hours spent before the tabernacle in care for the sacristies, in maintenance work and cleaning, attending Mass after Mass, weekend after weekend, as the time God took to whisper in the silence of my heart. I had grown up in the Catholic Church, received the Sacraments, and was an altar boy at my parish. Despite my faithful Catholic upbringing, my faith did not define who I was or how I lived my life. Beginning with Confirmation, I developed a strong relationship with Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. I actually recall moments of awe, gazing upon the Blessed Sacrament and realizing the truths of the Faith in the Sacraments and Sacred Scripture. Slowly, the thought of the priesthood entered my mind, so I inquired about the priesthood to my local pastor and assisting senior priest. Their roles in my discernment were innumerable, and it is important to acknowledge the quiet encouragement they showed me and their patience in answering all my questions.
The following summer I was told about a vocations retreat called “Quo Vadis” camp held in Exeter, RI. There, I was exposed to a sort of seminary-like schedule including Holy Mass, prayer, fraternity, and meals in common. Leading the camp were current seminary faculty priests as well as seminarians. This experience had a deep impact, as I can fondly remember being amazed at the holiness, kindness, and normalcy of the seminarians and priests. These were men who, like me, felt a call to follow the Gospel of Christ to leave everything and follow Him.
After this experience, my whole life was changed. Several years later, a Sacred Heart Brother from my high school told me that when I returned back to school after summer break, I was a whole new man. I was getting better grades, was more concerned with my classes, and began taking everything more seriously. I felt like I really encountered the person of Jesus Christ on that retreat in so many fruitful ways. In attentiveness to the Gospel, in adoring his most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament, in offering of myself in union with his eternal Sacrifice at the Mass, through receiving His very Self into my soul in Holy Communion, in living and praying with others trying to imitate Christ himself, and in meditating on the Word of God in scripture, I had the opportunity to meet Christ for the first time in a way I had never met Him before. This experience provided me with more than a few promptings to pray about. I credit this time of prayer following the retreat in giving me concrete stirrings, a sense of a calling to the priesthood. In essence, the call is not a vocal utterance; rather, it is a silent yet screaming call in the heart. Until I entered seminary, I had no idea what it meant to “listen to the call”.
Upon arriving to the seminary, I quickly learned what it meant to listen to the call of God speaking silently in my heart. God is always speaking to us: in our thoughts, desires, in Sacred Scripture, in what jumps out at us in prayer, in the Holy Mass, in private or public prayer, in spiritual direction meetings with a priest, and in our daily interactions with others, to name a few. Some days it is hard to hear His voice calling, but other days its certitude speaks louder than anything else. He never stops speaking; it is me who stops listening. He is always calling us to conversion, to faith, and to follow in the vocation he has chosen for us. God is always offering us continual grace, but sometimes we can fail to respond. If He offers us the gift of acting in his very Person as a priest, making His call known to us, we need to respond! The sense of the call of the Lord must be present if we are to succeed. I must be aware of my utter reliance on the Lord for everything, who is always reminding me, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” (Jn 15:16) God established the Church to make known His salvation to the ends of the earth, proclaiming His Passion and death for the remission of sins, and to establish his Kingdom which is without end, inviting all to be partakers for eternal life and love. As a part of this plan, Christ instituted the priesthood to carry out His mission in an essential and sacramental way. Just as He called fisherman for His mission on the shores of Galilee over two thousand years ago, He calls men today. What an extraordinary gift it is.
Throughout my formation, the sense of peace that has accompanied discernment leads me to know that I am in the right place. I had no idea of what would await me when I heard God’s call. Although I have experienced much already, there is even more that awaits me as I continue to learn about the various aspects of priestly life and ministry at the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence. I have seen a growth in myself that I could have never imagined taking place. I think that Brother from my high school was right, I am a new man. Anyone who meets Jesus Christ and allows Him to take hold of his life cannot help but be changed. Each night when I retire, I measure the importance of every day by asking, “Have I served God and neighbor today?”