“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” – St. Augustine
Those words from St. Augustine written in Confessions, remind all of us as Christians that seeking to know the Almighty, and how to best serve him by our own gifts and talents we have been given by God, is essential to fulfilling our God-given vocation. A vocation is a calling from God to fulfill a distinct role in life where one can attain holiness. In the Catholic sense, this means being called to the Holy Priesthood, Religious life, Marriage, or Single life. To discern one’s vocation is to discover in the innermost part of your heart, what God’s intended purpose is for you in life. To quote Thomas Merton, “Vocations are intended by God to manifest His love.” God loves each one of us infinitely, and He has gifted us many talents and natural abilities to serve Him, by discerning your God- given vocation, you are discerning how God wants you to best serve Him, with your own natural gifts and within your capacity. To discover your true vocation in life is the most important discovery you will ever make. In my own case, it took me 17 years to figure out what I truly felt called by God to do with my life, and I’ll now share with you my journey thus far in discerning my vocation.
I am originally from Tabernacle, New Jersey and I’m currently a sophomore at the Mount, where I’m currently a philosophy major with a history minor. I also compete on the cross country and track and field teams as a 5,000m and 10,000m runner. I previously attended Seneca High School where I also ran for all four years. My faith background before the Mount was mostly sparse. I was baptized Roman Catholic in 2003, a few months after my birth, as per tradition in the Roman Rite. But after which, I remained non- practicing along with my family until, by the grace of God, I returned to the Church in March of 2020. In the months leading up to March, I had garnered much success and satisfaction in my life in most areas, especially in running and competing. However, a sudden desire fell upon me and grew ever so slightly by the day, which was a genuine longing to thank God for the ecstasy I was experiencing. Discussing the matter further to my best friend at the time, who was coincidently also in the same situation spiritually as myself at the time, and who also attends at the Mount, only progressed matters until one day, it was as if a sudden wave of purpose overwhelmed me that pushed me further to finally return to the Faith. As one of my first actions in igniting my spiritual life, I started attending my high school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings.
The first time I attended one of these meetings I was pleasantly surprised at the warm welcome I received and the genuine energy of the dozen strong group in attendance. When asked what church I attended during pleasantries with one of the coordinators, I was taken aback and flushed with a wave of embarrassment and even shame, as I did not, nor had I regularly attended any church my whole life. From that very moment I had the internal conviction that I would attend Mass for the first time in my life that very weekend. So, on March 7, 2020, I attended my local parishes’ Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday evening. From the very moment I walked in, as new as it felt, I remember instantly feeling an overwhelming feeling that I was finally home, and that unbeknownst to me at the time, I had just made the most significant decision in my life, to begin my reversion to Roman Catholicism.
A few months later, after the main portion of the COVID-19 lockdown period had ended, in which during it I maintained a steady prayer routine after only attending a few Masses before lockdown, I began to expose myself to other aspects of the Catholic Faith. Especially the Tridentine Mass, or Traditional Latin Mass, which greatly enhanced my spiritual life due to its structured rubrics focused on reverence and tradition, and its mysterious nature as the Priest faces the altar and not the people. The summer of 2020 though, was where my vocational discernment began. After a prolonged period of uneasiness about my future endeavors I recall vividly while attending a Saturday evening Mass in August, it was in the moments shortly after Holy Communion had been distributed, I looked up to the crucifix above the altar, and in the silence of my heart, hearing God say to me in a soft voice, “Be a Priest”. Instantly this overwhelming wave of emotion overcame me that almost brought me to tears, a lot of it was relief and joy, but the other portion was fear. I had not been so familiarized with the Priesthood by this point with only having practiced the Faith for 5 months, but I certainly knew that the Priesthood entailed celibacy. The discipline of clerical celibacy and of giving up one’s life in the service of God and for the salvation of souls is an idea so great and profound that it made me extremely intimidated at the time and flushed with feelings of unworthiness to think that God was inviting me, out of all people, to potentially one day share in His priesthood. This fear and uncertainty of mine at the time though would soon be transformed into a feeling of great peace and eagerness to do God’s will.
This further growth in my spiritual life leading into the Fall of 2020 led me to get in touch with my local vocation director for my home diocese, the Diocese of Trenton. I also began spiritual direction, which helped me orient my life further around prayer. I eventually committed to compete in Division I cross country and track and field for the Mount in November as well, knowing that the Catholic environment and seminary close by would foster the perfect atmosphere for me to continue in my discernment. After finishing my Sacraments in the Spring of 2021, that of Confirmation and First Eucharist, I only felt more convicted in my Faith and in the path I was pursuing now that I was fully Catholic.
Discerning as an undergraduate since I arrived at the Mount in the Fall of 2021 has been both a blessing and a challenge simultaneously. The lack of a structured formation environment that I would have had, had I entered seminary instead was something that I was uneasy about not having, despite my unwavering conviction in coming to the Mount. For context, I had previously started the application process to enter college seminary a few weeks after committing to the Mount in the Fall of my senior year, but eventually forgoing that path to recommit to the Mount and to give myself more time to discern, as in retrospect I did not feel ready, nor fully convicted in entering seminary after high school and I am still very glad I made the decision to come to the Mount. However, while the Mount is strongly Catholic in its identity; it was not quite the Catholic haven I had envisioned before I moved onto campus. While I was not as naïve to think that there would be no non-Catholics on campus, the amount that was not Catholic or practicing Catholic surprised me and was certainly a culture shock. This was most prevalent as a student-athlete at the Mount. While this of course can be great to have others on campus who are not Catholic or religious, especially as it presents a healthy opportunity for evangelization, and to hear and learn from opposing viewpoints and backgrounds, I would not be fully truthful if I did not say that at certain times, I certainly felt like an outcast as being a devout Catholic who took my faith seriously. This has made it, and still makes it difficult in certain environments to communicate with others on campus and on the athletic side who are on a different mode of thought, due to an active faith life being absent, along with myself being more on the introverted side. Despite this challenge though, I can certainly say that I would not be the man I am today without the teammates and people who I have befriended over the past two years here at the Mount, both with and without active faith backgrounds.
Having close and devout friends along with the Seminarians on the same campus to interact with however provided the enriching Catholic atmosphere I was looking for, to contrast the secular environment that I entered when at athletic functions. Ultimately, living faithfully at the Mount is an atmosphere that affords devout Catholics many opportunities to practice their faith, with numerous Mass, Adoration, and Confession times available every day. This was something that has been critical to the further development of my faith life, along with serving in Mass every Sunday.
In a surprise turn of events though during the latter half of my 1st semester at the Mount, I felt the long reigning peacefulness of my calling to the priesthood shift, a feeling of peace in which I had not left me since the summer of 2020 when it first developed. This conviction came through deep prayer and meditation and very much caused great shock, to the peacefulness I found within this new orientation. Little did I know at the time, but this newfound feeling would last until the following year. Throughout that span of time, I remained deeply devoted to my prayer life, and even furthering it during that time, with now feeling called to marriage and not holy orders. The priesthood would enter my mind on occasion, but it did not evoke a deep and profound feeling inside of me as it once had.
What became a consequence of this time though was my sense of purpose. While I truly felt genuine about my vocation not being the priesthood during this period, I struggled and went back and forth on what would become of myself if not a priest. I thought about being a philosophy professor, or joining the military which was a constant passion of mine for most of my early youth with being heavily involved with the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets for 4 years, but I could not come up with something where it sat unquestionably right with me. A profession that I could call my ultimate dream. This feeling continued into the late Fall of 2022, until I attended my diocese’s pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., which is where I can pinpoint my reinvigoration in my calling to the Priesthood, and where I received a mental wakeup call, to finally say yes to my calling and enter seminary. At the pilgrimage, I had the opportunity to serve in Mass with the seminarians from my diocese. Having this honor to serve in Mass that day with the seminarians, and many priests from the diocese, and my bishop, gave me an overwhelming sense of conviction to recommit myself to discerning the priesthood. From that very moment, the strength of certainty in my vocation being the priesthood only grew, which by God’s grace eventually led me to decide to begin the application to enter seminary in the Fall of 2023 to finally begin my formation and studies for the priesthood.
While potentially soon leaving the Mount and uprooting myself after 2 years of forming friendships and memories will be extremely difficult, there is a constant level of restlessness that remains inside of me the more time I spend not in seminary and not being a seminarian. I desire with all my heart to do what I believe the Lord is inviting me to do, for Him, His Church, and for the salvation of souls. I also understand the significant importance of answering the call to enter seminary in this day and age, to one day God-willing be ordained a priest, and to be a holy one. I will look back on the time I spent as a student-athlete at the Mount not only as crucial for my discernment, but also as a joyous and fruitful time in my life where I can say that I grew much as a person, mostly due to the influence of the many friends, teammates, coaches, and faculty that have influenced and guided me. I additionally hope that by sharing my journey, it can be of merit to all of you who are discerning and discovering your own vocation, and that you have the courage to respond to what the Lord is inviting you to do. As to quote our late Holy Father, Pope Benedict
XVI, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”