Tommy is a 19-year-old college student. A natural athlete, he was a standout offensive lineman on his community college football team. In fact, he was co-offensive player of the game in his first two college football games.
His coaches began to talk to him about the possibility of scholarship offers from some of the big-time college football programs in the country for the next year. Then came the third game of the season. All was changed in an instant.
Tommy was carried off the field with a season-ending knee injury. He was understandably devastated. He questioned God why this would happen to him.
But then something remarkable happened.
Tommy began to attend daily Mass. Soon he was praying to God: “Lord, not my will but yours be done in me,” especially during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
What Tommy initially thought to be a tragedy turned out to be, by his own admission, a great blessing. As he prayed for God’s will to be done in his life, he recalled a recurring thought he’d had throughout high school: “Perhaps God is calling me to be a priest.”
And thus he began a newly diligent, more mature, discernment of a priestly vocation.
Tommy was already heavily involved in youth ministry, catechism, and liturgical ministry at his parish. He was already a young man of deep faith and pastoral zeal, but his knee injury was the catalyst to considering a whole new possibility for his life.
And so, through the guidance and friendship of a former seminarian at his parish, Tommy contacted the Office of Vocations to begin his formal discernment process with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
As we sat and listened to Tommy’s vocation story, we immediately recognized that there were two crucial factors at play here: daily Mass and eucharistic adoration.
Being closer to our eucharistic Lord was the surest way for Tommy to discern God’s will in his life. Why? Because Holy Mass affords us a wealth of spiritual graces.
We hear the proclamation of the Word of God in the Scripture readings and the inspiring and challenging words of the priest’s homily. And frequent reception of Holy Communion, together with quiet time before Jesus in adoration, draws us into closer conformity to the person of Jesus Christ, and thus more receptive to his holy will in our lives.
The Most Holy Eucharist is, as the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach, the “source and summit of the Christian life. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”
When we meet with potential candidates for the priesthood, we learn much about them by their love and devotion for the Eucharist.
A few months ago, a young man called the Vocations Office inquiring about the seminary.
He was a fine man in many respects. However, in our conversation with him, we learned two very important facts about him: he attends Sunday Mass only occasionally and he is not involved in any ministries or works of charity in his parish.
We all have much progress to make in our spiritual lives, but participation in, devotion to, and love for the eucharistic life of the Church are nonnegotiable. And most especially the Eucharist is the heart and center of the life of a priest.
Thus, Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist must be at the heart and center of the lives of our seminarians and candidates for the priesthood.
The good news is that Tommy’s story is not unique. Our seminarians and the many men in serious discernment for the seminary love our Lord Jesus Christ and are in close communion with Him in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and in service to the people of the archdiocese.
The Eucharist also denotes the communitarian nature of the Church. We are a family of faith in the Body of Christ. Tommy’s story highlights that discernment never takes place in isolation.
We must discern with the Church and in the Church.
Tommy’s friend and mentor Mark is a former seminarian and graduate of the archdiocese’s college seminary program. Now married and the father of a year-old child, Mark had entered the seminary as a young man but after a diligent discernment process he realized that he was not called to the priesthood.
He is nonetheless extremely grateful for his four years of seminary formation, and he is very active in his parish as a catechist and in youth ministry and as an ardent promoter of vocations.
He has been a trusted friend and constant support for Tommy, providing him with many valuable insights over the years about how to hear and respond to the voice of God in his life. Mark is a perfect example of our “team approach” to promoting, identifying, and supporting priestly and religious vocations.
Every bishop, priest, deacon, religious sister and brother, as well as all of the lay faithful are essential members of our efforts to create anew a culture of vocations in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
This is what National Vocations Awareness Week (Nov. 2-8) is all about. Please pray for Tommy and the other 45 men in discernment and our 77 seminarians for the archdiocese. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and Mother of Priests, intercede for them always.