“When Jesus heard of it (the death of John the Baptist), he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, ‘This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves’.” -Matthew 14:13-16
As I am in the midst of my last semester at Brute and preparing to transition from here to St. Meinrad in the fall, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect upon the journey that I have experienced over the last four years. I could talk in depth upon the many friendships that I have gained and nurtured, the many stories that I could tell about life at Brute, or a vast majority of other experiences. In this post, however, I want to talk about one thing in particular; namely, my understanding of the priesthood and how that has changed over the last four years through both what I have learned and what I have experienced.
When I first thought about the priesthood, I was attracted to it because I saw what the priest did each Sunday and I wanted to do the same. As I grew older and the thought of the priesthood was still present, I was still attracted to the priesthood because of what the priest does, but I also realized that a priest does more than just celebrate Mass. The months leading up to entering seminary I included within my understanding of the priesthood the notion of being with people during the most joyous and most sorrowful times of their lives, but it would not be until a couple years later that I really understood what the priesthood is about.
During my first year and a half of seminary, I fully entered into the process of formation and began looking at areas of my life that I needed to work on and allow God to enter into more deeper. I also remember describing this time as having a sense of peace knowing that I was in the right place and that my understanding of the priesthood pretty much remained the same during this first year and a half.
Fast forward to sophomore year, and in particular, spring semester of that year. Sophomore year we are required to participate in sophomore service and earn a certain amount of service hours each month. At first, this was not too challenging, but as time went on, I found it somewhat hard to go each time that I had said I would go and serve because I wanted time for myself and I wanted to rest after a long day instead of going out and serving like I knew I had committed. Towards the middle of the spring semester of that year, I began to realize that my time is God’s time, which means that my time comes from God and belongs to God and that I needed to go outside of myself to serve and encounter people even when it was difficult and challenging. Because of this, I began to realize that the priesthood is more than just celebrating Mass and providing the sacraments and that the priesthood is also about being with people and giving of your time to be present to people even when it is the most challenging and most difficult thing to do.
The formation staff at Brute conveys to us all the time that the reasons why we come to seminary and the reasons why we stay are completely different. I can say that this is definitely true for me and that this moment from spring semester sophomore year is the reason why I am still in seminary. I chose to come to seminary because God had placed a desire in my heart, and I was first attracted to the priesthood because of the externals such as the vestments the priest wore, the things he used at Mass, and what he did at Mass. Although I had a bigger picture of the priesthood than this when I first came to seminary, the attraction to the externals was still there. I chose to stay because of how this experience changed my understanding of the priesthood, and although it was still a challenge to give of my time when I wanted time to myself, I had this desire to be present to people and to interact with people in a way that I had not really experienced up to this point.
Now that my knowledge of and my desire for the priesthood was expounded upon, I was given the opportunity to experience what I had learned throughout junior year, but in an even greater way this past summer in Jeffersonville. I fully entered into the experience and was excited to meet people and be present to them. The one thing in particular that I learned was that I was better able to remember people’s names if I had an encounter with them outside of Mass. Whether it was seeing them at a parish function or going to their house for dinner, I realized that if I had something to point to, such as a conversation that we had or just something about them, I was able to remember their name and I could look back and say that this person’s name is this and I went to their house on this day and we talked about this certain thing. Although Mass is the most important thing that we as members of the faith can do each day, it is only a small portion of a priest’s day, and, as I learned sophomore year, this cannot be the sole focus of the life of a priest. Being present to people and entering into their lives is crucial as a priest, and I could not imagine where I would be had I not completely learned this when I did.
I chose the Scripture passage that I did to begin this post because I think it encompasses the totality of what I have learned and experienced over these past four years. I definitely see myself as being one of the disciples my first year and a half of seminary in that they were tired and wanted time to rest and did not want to have to provide the people with food. To be a priest requires much sacrifice and love, and often times it involves setting aside your own wants and desires to provide for the needs and desires of the people that have been entrusted to the priest. As I continue in seminary formation and prepare for the transition to St. Meinrad in a few months, I ask for your prayers, not just for the transition, but also that I might always keep my focus on Christ and his people and never allow my wants and desires to get in the way of ministering to his people. God bless!
Matthew Perronie is a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and a member of the class of 2018.