On this date in 1957, I entered Mater Christi Seminary in Albany, N.Y., to begin my studies for priesthood. It was the beginning of the second semester of my second year in college. I had spent the first three semesters at the College of the Holy Cross.
I grant that this is not the most significant of anniversaries (to tell the truth my sister, Helen, is the only other person on earth who remembers the day). But, I always remember it because as I look back at the story of the development of my vocation to the priesthood, the decision to enter the seminary remains the most difficult one in the whole process.
Please don’t misunderstand, I did not take lightly other decisions to be made — petitioning for holy orders, responding to the call. I tried to make those thoughtfully and prayerfully. But, I didn’t have to wrestle with them as much as I did with the decision to enter the seminary.
Once the decision was made, I never regretted it even though, both pre- and post-ordination, there were and have been days which ranked below 5 on a 0-to-10 satisfaction scale. The truth is the great majority of those days have been happy ones. And, as the years go by, I have come to realize that, often enough, even the days that fell well below 5 contained the seeds of blessings which came to maturity some time later.
A couple of mornings ago, Zach Enes and Peter Mottola were at the 6:30 a.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Peter and Zach are among the five young men who are spending a year at Becket Hall as they seriously consider the possibility that they may have a vocation to the priesthood. I pray often for these men hoping that God may be leading them that way. As I observe them, I see their good gifts, so I pray that God will plant in their hearts a desire to be priests for the service of our diocese.
Being aware of this stage of their journey reminded me of the parallel stage in my own, and the challenges attached to it. No two vocation stories are exactly the same. Moments that I found challenging, one or another of them might find quite easy and vice versa. God doesn’t lead us in the same paths even though God may lead us to the same destination.
I am very much aware as I write that these words — changed to fit the circumstances — could be applied to a range of vocations. Single people, married couples, men and women religious, I am sure, can all look back and name the good times and the tough ones, the hidden blessings that emerged from experiences they would never have chosen for themselves. That’s the way life is when we try to follow the Lord’s leading. We set off in faith. We try to be true to our inner lights, open to the guidance of people who love us and attentive to the quiet inspirations of the Lord’s spirit. When we fail or go astray, we pray for the grace of a new start, mindful that the Lord never gives up on any one of us.
All of us can look back and identify with some precision the moment in which we took the first step in pursuit of our life’s vocation. And, we can track through the years noting the ebb and flow of life and the people, experiences and circumstances that helped us to grow or made growth difficult.
To do so, I believe, is a good thing for a couple of reasons. Such a review teaches us a lot about ourselves, and about God’s ways with us over the years. No less importantly such awareness reminds us that our vocations are continually to be lived. It’s never all done. We’re never finished. Rather, God calls us to new growth every day, no matter how many days we’ve been around.
Remembering day one in the seminary 51 years ago is point one in a continuum that continues through today and, I hope, will go on a good deal longer.
I hope that these last days before Lent will find you in touch with your own vocation, its rhythms through the years and your own hopes for tomorrow.
Peace to all.