So, it turns out that today (Wednesday, September 22, 2010) I’m back at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough, and just had a year-group talk (for all the guys in 3rd Theology who just returned from their pastoral internship year). This talk was great! It was given to us by Bishop Attila Mikloshazy on preparing ourselves for ordination (as our year group is ‘scheduled’ for ordination to the diaconate in 2011). Of course we have been preparing ourselves for ordination since we entered seminary (5 years ago!), but at an ever increasing urgency (for lack of a better word). Anyways, this talk tonight was great (as I said above). Bishop Attila made many great points, some being: we need to pray and grow deeper in love with Jesus every day, we need to approach this vocation with absolute fear, AND with absolute trust. Fear, because of the gravity of this position (priesthood), and trust, because if Christ is calling us to this vocation He will give us the grace necessary. After all, it’s His priesthood, His Church, Him calling. We need to discern properly because this is a huge, serious commitment. We are promising our lives to serving Christ. We also will likely always ask ‘why?’ because it is a mystery why Christ would choose us (me) to serve Him in this way. I am inadequate. Then I have to trust. God knows me, He knows my past and present sinfulness, if He is calling me, what can I say? “Lord, I am a sinful man”, yet still He says, “come follow Me”!
Ok, so that’s obviously not where my vocation story starts, but where it happens to be today. So, going back to the beginning…
I always say, the first time I thought of the priesthood, I think I was about 7 years old. I was at Mass with my family, and the priest was sprinkling us with holy water, and I didn’t get wet! And I was so mad! I said to myself, “if I was a priest I would soak everyone!” Well, obviously some one was listening….(but this is an example of how great God is! That He works through anything and everything to draw us into love with Him. He used my sins of pride and criticizing others to help me see what He is asking of me). So, this thought would come and go, I would watch the priests at Mass and picture myself as one of them, thinking, “could I do that? what would I say? what would I do differently?” And I say this questioning in my mind was kind of like Newton’s 3rd law of motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As God would pull my heart towards Himself and my mind to thinking of the priesthood, I would go with it for a while, and then after some time push it away and think of anything else. And then after some time I would think of the priesthood feeling a stronger call towards it, and then push it away with stronger feelings towards marriage (usually after meeting a new girl in class, new infatuation). My family had always practiced the faith. After being born in Ajax and living there 4 years, we grew up in Barrie (rather, just outside in Minesing). We always went to Sunday Mass, and some times to weekly Mass, going to Confession monthly or so. We usually participated quite actively in the parish, having the priests over for dinner, serving as altar boys, helping with coffee and muffins, and the like. So, growing up in this environment it was not strange to think about the priesthood, as today it is, if it is even thought about at all. My grandfather (mother’s father) was a deacon, and our family has 4 boys, so it was kind of assumed that at least one of us would become a priest. Anyways, in 1998 (my parents who are both retired teachers) pulled all of us (5 children) out of school, and we began to ‘home-school’. Right at the beginning of the New Year (1999) my dad decided that we should take a trip as a family. So he said, “pack whatever you want, we’re going to drive. We don’t know where we’re going, we’re just going to let God guide us’. We ended up driving through the States, down to Alabama, seeing Mother Angelica’s convent, meeting many people along the way. There we turned West and headed out to Texas. In Corpus Christi TX, we went to Mass at the basilica. After Mass my parents would always talk to people and us kids would go back to the car and wait (impatiently) for them. Finally they ended up coming to the van, with a priest. The priest was young, and ‘cool’. He invited us to come check out his seminary. This was the first time I had been to a seminary, let alone heard of one. We ended up staying there for 2 weeks and met amazing priests, nuns, and seminarians. I was now 13 years old and still going back and forth (with ever increasing momentum) in my mind, heart and soul, between the priesthood and marriage. While in Corpus Christi, we attended a “youth conference” (all that clapping and singing praise and worship which drives me mad). However, one night they had Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and priests available for Confession. I went to Confession and made a good confession. I realized that all this time that I thought I was living the faith, being a good Catholic, I was pretty much the opposite. This was huge. This is conversion. From death to life. From blindness to sight. From separation from God to union/love with Him. I began to realize that all this time I had been seeking my will and not His. I was seeking what I thought would make me happy (a nice wife, a big house, a fast car), and not trusting Him who knows what will make me happy. I also read a booklet at this time called What’s Life All About which explained to me the purpose of life – Happiness. And so I began to pursue happiness with vigour, but still my idea of happiness. I would ask God what He wanted me to do, without really listening. I would say, “God lead me wherever you want, and help me to hook up with this girl”, “God, show me your will, and help me to marry this girl”. And now since I had not only given God permission to guide me but asked Him to He called me continually with ever greater intensity to the priesthood. Yet again, somehow, I would always push Him away and seek marriage. This back and forth reached its culmination when I met a girl that I thought was perfect for me – I wanted to marry her, not just marry anyone, or marry to avoid priesthood, but I wanted to marry her, and if not her, then fine, I would become a priest. I think I had finally realized that God was calling me to the priesthood and was desperately trying to find a way to avoid it, and then end of my running happened to coincide with meeting “the girl of my dreams” (I think a mean joke on God’s part, well, maybe not. Maybe it was to help me discern right in the beginning if I was really called to this). So, things began to move quickly at this point (around 2003). My family moved to Kirkfield, in the Diocese of Peterborough for one summer. Somehow the vocation director said he heard I was thinking about the priesthood. I don’t know how because I didn’t tell him. He ended up asking me if I was serious, and serious enough to sign up for seminary, which I was and did. So, I entered St. Philip’s Seminary (The Oratory) in the West end of Toronto (Dufferin and King) and studied 2 years of Philosophy there. Then I entered St. Augustine’s Seminary, where I am presently, to study Theology. The formation program here is 5 years: 2 years of Theology, 1 year of Pastoral Internship in a parish, and then 2 more years of Theology. The time has flown by since I entered St. Philip’s and I am now in my 3rd year of Theology, ‘scheduled’ to be ordained to the Diaconate this coming May. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve doubted that I am being called to the priesthood, but that hasn’t made it always easy to stay here. There are always temptations to leave. Always young women who are looking for a young practicing Catholic man. The studies are quite difficult. And more than academics, the program here is called formation because we are meant to be formed into an alter Christus (another Christ). That is difficult. That requires serious work (seriously letting the Holy Spirit work in our lives). And so, hearing the talk from Bishop Attila tonight was great. It was inspiring. Frightening. And I think I’ve noticed this shift in my discernment: from being relieved and happy to enter the seminary to feeling scared of the greatness of this call and wonderment as to why God would call a sinner like me. So, that’s pretty much it. I still have to pray and discern. Please pray for me. God bless you.
I suppose I’ve missed large parts of my story because I didn’t expect to write the whole thing in one shot, as I just have tonight. So, if you have any questions, please ask me.
other thoughts:I've seen many guys leave the seminary, and they've said it has been a great part of their life. They've learned much, and it has made them better men. I think all guys should enter the seminary and discern from inside. If God is calling you to the priesthood, you should put yourself in a position where it is easier to hear Him. If God's not calling you to the priesthood, He'll let you know.I believe that all priests should feel an attraction to marry (want to get married) because that's only natural. The priesthood is a supernatural calling, which I believe is meant to be lived celibately. Thus, if one feels drawn to marriage, that is not a sign that he is not called to the priesthood. I'm drawn to marriage every day, especially when I see a potential spouse, but if God is calling me to be a priest, He will give me the grace to live a celibate life.In my discernment, I believe I'm where I'm supposed to be at this moment. God could call me to leave the seminary tomorrow, and that would be fine. Whatever His will is, that is what is best for me. I just have to learn to listen to Him.
Some helps for discernment for young men:Pray, hope and don’t worry. Ask God what He wants of you (He wants what will make you most happy).Spend time with God in Adoration. Talk to your Mother (Mary). Pray the Rosary. Talk to people (parents, siblings, friends, priests, seminarians) – vocations are not discovered in a vacuum but in community. Read articles on discernment from good Catholic websites/publishers.Read What’s Life All About (4 Levels of Happiness):http://www.lifeprinciples.net/whatslifeabouttext.html
By Seminarian: Nic Carvalho