Throughout the entirety of my conscious existence, I had the greatest gift anyone could ask for, yet it took me many years to realize it.
For much of my Catholic upbringing, I never understood the significance of what my family and I were doing each Sunday at Mass.
I was accustomed to sitting, standing and kneeling at various points throughout the celebration, but I do not recall ever being taught, or caring enough to ask, why we were doing so. The routine of “church,” for me, was just that: a routine and not much more.
As a quiet, introverted and generally obedient child, however, I went along with the routine and even grew to point of enjoying our “Sunday morning church routine.”
Staying Under the Radar
My shy disposition as a child led me to adopt the guiding principle of “staying under the radar” for many of my decisions and actions. If something drew attention to me, I wanted no part of it.
In many ways, I just wanted to fit in. By the time I entered college and discovered Netflix, my life quickly became one of quiet desperation.
In my efforts to “stay under the radar” I sought to avoid evil, but in doing so, I forfeited the heroic pursuit of anything worthwhile.
I wanted no part of anything unfamiliar or which threatened the safe but suffocating world I had constructed for myself.
A New Discovery
It was not until my junior year of college at the University of Connecticut that I realized just how unheroic my life was.
I attended a spring break mission trip to the Appalachia region of Kentucky with our chaplain and other college students. Many of my peers were excited about their faith; they discussed Jesus in regular conversations, and they did so joyfully and naturally.
I realized that my own life did not consist of the same authenticity and fulfillment that theirs appeared to have.
My desire for a more vibrant and meaningful existence was always within me, but it was numbed over time by my own repeated self-centered decisions. Thanks to my newfound friends on the mission trip, I desired more.
Upon returning to UCONN after the mission trip, I sought to connect with others who sought to understand what living as a Catholic student meant within the culture of a typical college campus.
I wanted to discover more deeply the God who had brought such visible joy into the lives of the students whom I had met in Kentucky.
This newfound excitement led to more questions than answers:
What is prayer? How do I know if and when God is speaking to me? What is the significance of going to Mass? How should I understand the moral teachings of the Church?
It was at this time that God provided what I needed.
Rooted in the Eucharist
One day, a FOCUS missionary introduced himself to me after Mass. I soon discovered the Catholic community on campus, which consisted of others who were similar to me.
Even better–the Lord showed a group of Catholic who were a true family learning how to pray, investing in Christ-centered friendships, studying Scripture and grounding their lives in the Eucharist.
In other words, the community which the Lord provided for me was not just a community of faith, but a faithful community rooted in the Eucharist.
In praying before the Eucharist, Jesus slowly but truly set my heart on fire to discover as much as I could about Him and His Church.
Conversations with my peers, along with the missionaries and priests who were present in my life, became a significant part of this discovery.
The friendships I strove to foster with others always flowed from and led back to the Eucharist. And it was in my growing relationship with Jesus that I came to discern a vocation to the priesthood.
For me, the call to the priesthood was not determined by one particular occasion of private prayer when the Lord summoned me.
Rather, it was through attentiveness to the Lord Jesus over an extended period of time, remaining close to the Eucharist on a daily basis, listening to the counsel of those who knew me, and trying to respond promptly and faithfully.
The Eucharist is the Key
The Eucharist is the key to discerning God’s will.
While a faithful community is indeed critical for discovering one’s vocation, it is ultimately the Eucharist that must be the central focus of that community.
The Catechism affirms this:
“The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being.” (CCC 1325)
Through fidelity to consistent and personal prayer and discernment, complemented by a faithful surrounding community, the Lord has unveiled and continuously unveils the meaning and trajectory of His ongoing action in my life.
In doing so, He has gave me a greater capacity to look back and understand my life with deeper clarity.
Comprehending discernment and vocation can be difficult realities in the midst of our culture, but I firmly believe that discernment is much simpler than we often make it out to be.
Stay close to the Eucharist and strive to surround yourself with honest and committed friends who point you towards the Lord. Then, be attentive to what Jesus shows you, be it big or small.
Our Catholic faith teaches us that in the Eucharist, we possess a “pledge of future glory.”
Remaining close to the Eucharist, therefore, is to begin to live the eternal life of heaven, even now.
And this is the entire purpose of our vocation: practicing living and loving God and neighbor right now as we will in the eternal life of heaven.
Mike served as a FOCUS missionary for two years at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He is currently entering his third year of theological studies at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland for the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut.
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