From Quiet Desperation to Authentic Communion
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.”
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 was going to draw attention to me, I wanted no part of it. In many ways, I just wanted to fit in. By the time I had entered college and discovered Netflix, my life quickly became one of quiet desperation. In my efforts to "stay under the radar" I had sought to avoid evil — but in doing so, I had also forfeited the heroic pursuit of anything worthwhile. I wanted no part of anything that was unfamiliar to me or which threatened the safe but suffocating world I had constructed for myself.
It was not until my junior year of college at UConn that I realized just how unheroic my life was. I was attending a spring break mission trip to the Appalachia region of Kentucky with other college students and our chaplain. Many of my peers were excited about their faith; they were talking about Jesus in regular conversation, and they were doing 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 had been numbed over time by my own repeated self-centered decisions. Thanks to my new found friends on the mission trip, I found a desire for more.
Upon returning to UConn after the mission trip, I sought to connect with others who were also seeking to understand what it meant to live as a Catholic student 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. A FOCUS missionary introduced himself to me after Mass one day, and I soon discovered the Catholic community on campus, which consisted of others who were similar to me. Even better, however, was that the Lord showed me a community that was not merely a group of people who also happened to be Catholic, but 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 that was rooted in the Eucharist.
In praying before the Eucharist, Jesus slowly but truly continued to set my heart on fire to discover as much as I could about Him and His Church. A significant part of this discovery was done through conversations with my peers along with the missionaries and priests who were present in my life. The friendships I was striving 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 being attentive 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 then trying to respond promptly and faithfully.
The Eucharist is the key to discerning God's will. For, 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 by stating that “‘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).
It has consistently been through fidelity to personal prayer and discernment, complemented by a faithful surrounding community, that the Lord has unveiled and has continued to unveil to me the meaning and trajectory of His ongoing action in my life. In doing so, He has also given me a greater capacity to look back and understand my life with deeper clarity. I realize that "discernment" and "vocation" can be difficult realities to comprehend 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 — and 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.” To remain close to the Eucharist, therefore, is to begin to live the eternal life of heaven even now. And that is the entire purpose of our vocation in the first place: practicing to live and love God and neighbor right now as we will in the eternal life of heaven.