I’ll start this by giving you an inside scoop into what takes place in seminary formation.
Every seminarian is assigned a Formation Advisor to go over their training, so to speak, to become priests.
In a meeting I had with my Formation Advisor over a year ago, he asked me what I think is the purpose of parish internship. It was a fair question to me at that time, and I stumbled my way to answering it. Needless to say, he summed up to me its purpose in one word:
It turned out to be a great meeting and I kept our conversation in mind onwards. Flash forward into my internship year, and I ended up immersing myself into various ministries in the parish where I was assigned: liturgical, faith formation, outreach, etc. I immersed myself into those ministries not just because I was needed in each of those, but also for the purpose my Formation Advisor pointed out to me. It was the only way for me to discern the priesthood as a seminarian, since I cannot discern the priesthood as a priest yet.
Peculiarly enough, one thing that enabled me discern the priesthood the most was when the pandemic affected the parish where I was at. Almost everything that was normal at the parish was either withheld or moved to the online platform. In the midst of all those, I found myself with a lot more time than I was accustomed to having at my parish internship. One of the things I got to do with that much time was reading. I picked up one novel that I had wanted to read, which was Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. It is a story of a French clergy, Bishop Jean-Marie Latour who served as a Vicar Apostolic in the southwest region of the United States in the 19th century. It is, more than anything, the story of a priest. In hindsight, reading that novel helped me with my discernment to the priesthood. In the novel, I found myself reading vignettes of the priest and his encounters with different priesthood. Along with those encounters are his encounters with his own priesthood. There were stories of aspiration, hope, tensions, loneliness, and surrender to the grace of the Lord. Bishop Latour is characterized with his clemency, illustrated by the author’s words when he encountered Jacinto from Acoma:
“Jacinto liked the Bishop’s way of meeting people; thought that he had the right tone with Padre Gallegos, the right tone with Padre Jesus, and that he had good manners with the Indians. In his experience, white people, when they addressed the Indians, always put on a false face. There were many kinds of false faces; Father Vaillant’s, for example, was kindly but too vehement. The Bishop put on none at all.”
It make sense that Jacinto, and everyone in general, would admire this quality. In the face of reality that can be crass at times, this quality brings a message to everyone that life can still be manageable and will never be without meaning even in the face challenges. Often times the challenges of reality can turn us away from the peace we have within. Jacinto found that I would even go far to say that we experience the presence of God the most when we demonstrate or see this characteristic. The great priest, then, exhibits this quality. Some of the myths I’ve heard about the priesthood is that it is a life completely away from reality. As I went through my internship year, I quickly realized that it was not the case. On the contrary, the priest is often the one people turn to over their reality: welcoming a new life into the faith, walking with them at the end of their lives, counseling them over their reality that has been burdening them, preaching to them where to find God in their reality.
Not to mention their own realities as priests which can include just as much thorns as roses.
Most of the first readings during the Easter season featured Paul’s missionary journey. If there is anything that Paul’s missionary journeys tried to tell me when it came to my discernment, it was that the priesthood will never be without challenges. For Paul, the challenges were things like being stoned by those he preached to in Iconium and Lystra (Acts 14:19-28) and imprisoned by the people who he used to be. Those readings about Paul got me reflecting on why Paul did not give up on what God called him to be despite what he went through. Looking back on my vocation story, the beautiful things drew me to the priesthood. Paul’s story as an apostle of the Lord showed me that the priesthood will include seasons of tension and suffering. Yet, most importantly, his story told me that nothing will ever sustain the priesthood but the love of God. Paul endured all he had to because he knew deep down that God loves him, and he found peace and joy nowhere else but in that love.
I moved on from my parish internship, a chapter of my journey to the priesthood, with the insight that great things await for me in this vocation, things that are meant to be shared to everyone craving the Lord. All the things that we experience are nothing but yearnings to fully experience God. Ministerial priesthood is all about sharing the presence of the Lord to everyone. Yes, that life will present challenges. The LORD did not promise an easy life for everyone – whether married, single, or religious. But He did promise His love to remain in us. And that’s the love I look forward to unpacking myself as I continue on this journey.