Continuing with the story of a vocation leads me to focus on two things in particular that were essential to my hearing the call to ministry. First, is the relationships with priests of our diocese and the example which they set. Second, is the importance of prayer in discerning one’s Christian vocation.
Let me turn first to the priests of our diocese. At this morning’s parish celebration of the Eucharist we read from chapter eleven of the Acts of the Apostles,
It was in Antioch that the disciples were called Christians for the first time.
Clearly the people in the Church of Antioch were so closely following Christ in their lives that people began to even name them after the person whose life they were trying to imitate. I shared with our parishioners this morning that it has been my experience that the Church of Antioch still has members who allow Christ to be made present through their daily living. It was in a small Antiochian Orthodox Church in North Carolina that I began to find the way of praying in community again after having lost my way and it was another member of the current day Church of Antioch who reminded me of the beauty and simplicity that can be present through the Christian life. As I was growing up, especially as I reached my teen years, I was fortunate to meet several priests who led by that same kind of example and gave me an image of the priesthood that was positive and attractive. They presented themselves as men who loved what they were doing, who were men of prayer, men who cared about those they served and were human enough to make me realize this vocation might be a direction for my life too. It was their witness that opened the door for me to explore the possibility of a religious vocation.
A large part of my own discernment began when one morning before classes began at my high school I made what at the time seemed to be a small decision. Every morning most of the students who arrived early to school spent their time in our cafeteria, eating breakfast, chatting and quickly catching up on homework we had avoided doing the night before. Since this was a Catholic high school, another option during this free time was to attend mass. One day I decided that instead of hanging out in the cafeteria, I would head to the chapel. Something strange happened. I decided to go again the next day, and the next. Pretty soon I had established a new place to spend my mornings before classes began each day. Then yet another unexpected thing happened. I began for the first time to listen to the prayers that were being said at the mass, especially the words of the Eucharistic Prayer. Each day I saw more clearly the connection we have to all those who have gone before us as followers of Christ going all the way back to those first called by Jesus on the shores of Galilee. I began to listen more closely to the readings as they were proclaimed each day and would look for a way to live out those readings in concrete actions before going to bed at night.
Through both the example of priests and daily prayer God seemed to be calling me to ministry of some kind in the Church. It was exciting but made me nervous and I kept it to myself for quite sometime. But the journey had begun and I continued to listen as best I could.