You Are My Beloved Son

Near a statue of the Blessed Mother, a small rock sits on my desk. Every day the simple image of Christ, painted on its front stares at me, and I stare at it. That rock does not tell me what time it is. It does not keep track of notes or missed calls. It does not help me to complete my tasks for the day. It simply sits. It stares at me, and I stare at it. And yet, I have heard the voice of the Lord speak—simply looking at this almost insignificant relic of the past.

This rock reminds me of September 14, 1999: the day my life changed forever. Somewhere, in a small town in Southern Romania, I left the hand of an extraordinarily generous woman, so that I could be given to the hands of a mother and father. She had given me life, and now, one she could never offer.  On this day, for the first time, I breathed in air on a whole new continent. Shortly after this day, I would be baptized. In a short period of time I went from orphan to son, and from little boy to Child of God.

“What a wonderful Father we have, who has created a plan for each of us.”

I never fully appreciated this day, until a cold January morning, almost 17 years later. I was standing in front of an abortion clinic. It was cold, and snow had fallen, but the true pain was seeing these mothers and fathers walk into this clinic. Here they would have their unborn children ripped apart from them and thrown away. Here “the greatest destroyer of peace”, as Mother Theresa called abortion, would reign. At least that’s what I thought.

We stood on the sidewalk, as we usually did, to pray for an end for abortion. We would never go to protest, or to condemn, those considering an abortion. As the motto went, we were there, “to be the last sign of hope, and the first sign of mercy.” We prayed that women would change their minds, and choose to give their child life. But if they didn’t, as it often seemed to be, we were there to show the compassion of Christ, and his unconditional mercy.

It was a normal morning of prayer with nothing too strange happening. Person after person would walk in, and we would offer a word, or a prayer, and in the blink of an eye, they would be in the building. Then came a change. As we were in the midst of praying, another woman came to go into the clinic. She didn’t shut us out, though. She had an air of sadness on her face, and she seemed to be full of anguish and distress. I thought for a moment, and against my usual disposition, I spoke up.

“You don’t have to do this,” were the first words I could think of. And then, the unexpected happened: she stopped. She looked at me and I looked at her. I don’t know who was more nervous, her or I. In that short moment, I let go of the fear of what she would do, and by God’s grace, I told her the truth.

“Your baby has a future. God already has a plan laid out for your little son or daughter. Who knows what amazing things He will do in their life? And if you do this, you are ending that.

“I was adopted. My mother could have chosen abortion, because in some ways, it may have seemed easier. But she didn’t. She chose life. And here I am, I can never thank her in the way that I would like, but here I am.”

She paused. She began to tear up, “We just don’t have the money,” she said, “I don’t want to do this any more than you want me to, but I don’t have a choice.”

“You can choose life, and I will do anything I can to help you,” I said. And she walked away, crying.

In that brief exchange that seemed like an eternity, my world collided. So filled with anguish, I had no idea what to do. I began begging God to spare this helpless child. What kind of future would her or she have? What would he or she accomplish in their life? What would he or she do for God? I was distraught at the thought that this may be the end. I began begging St. Jude, the patron of impossible cases, to intercede for this poor child. I prayed. I waited. And finally, I left.

As I left I couldn’t help the overwhelming thoughts of worry, distraught, and sorrow for the sin of abortion. I didn’t say too much to those I was around, and I simply continued in prayer.

As the Lord would have it, we had some time to spare later that morning, so we managed to swing by the clinic once more to pray one last rosary. As we prayed, I kept begging, begging the Lord for a miracle.

Finally, as we began the last prayers of that rosary, the door of the clinic opened. A small buzzer rang, and I saw a figure walk out. It was Amy. My heart dropped. She walked straight up to me. “It’s a boy. I couldn’t do it,” she said.

She showed me the little boy on the ultrasound, she smiled, a tear came to both of our eyes, and she left.

In this second of two brief exchanges, everything changed, but everything was just the way Christ wanted it to be.

I have not seen Amy since that cold January morning, but I know that that baby boy is alive and well. I choose to call him baby Jude, after the heavenly patron who prayed for his life, and I pray for him as often as I can.

 

Fast forward, to two years later, I found myself leaving a town during a pilgrimage in Poland. This time, I had an encounter that solidified all that had happened: being adopted, and helping to ensure life for another child.  A kind lady walked up to me. She introduced herself and she said that she was from Romania. In addition, she had found out that I was born in Romania. In fact, unbeknownst to both of us, the same part of Romania that I was born in, was the very part she was from.

In her hand she had a gift for me, a traveler she had never met. She told me when she heard that a seminarian from America, who was born in Romania, was visiting, she had to give him a gift. She said that she ran home, and since she had nothing else to give, she pulled this gift off of her mantle.

I opened it and it amazed me. It was a rock, but not any rock. It was a rock from the area where she was from, and where I was born. It was a piece of where I came from. On it was painted a beautiful image of Christ. That rock took me back to two days. First, it took me to the day I was adopted. Seeing this icon filled me with amazing gratitude at the providence of God. Later, however, this rock took me to the day God saved the life of baby “Jude” in my very midst.

IMG_1767.JPG

What a wonderful Father we have, who has created a plan for each of us. He has already foreseen every detail of our being, and further, he has sent his own Son to save us from our sinfulness. He has a plan for us, “a plan to prosper us,” Jerimiah says. But it is up to us to say yes. We were made for “greatness”, though the world offers “comfort,” Pope Benedict said. May these words echo in the depths of our heart as we hear the Father say to the Son, and pray God, to each of us, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”


Michael Schultz

Micheal Schultz is a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Louisville and is a member of the class of 2020.

Advertisements

The Audacity of God

This audacity of God who entrusts Himself to human beings-
Who, conscious of our weakness, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being. Present in His stead- this audacity of God is the True grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood”
– Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI

One of the great gifts of being in seminary is the opportunity for daily Mass and participating in the Liturgy of the Hours in community, as well as the availability to frequent the sacrament of reconciliation. It is through these liturgies and sacraments that we begin to gain knowledge of Christ and can better conform our lives to His and continue to foster that relationship with Him. Likewise, through our participation in these sacraments as well as our encounters with one another, we gain greater knowledge of self. Along with that knowledge of self, we also come to recognize our sinfulness along with other qualities that we may say make us unfit to be a priest. This can lead us to the temptation to eliminate ourselves from the possibility of the priesthood. However, despite our sinfulness, failings, and shortcoming, the Lord calls and we must respond.
During my first semester at Bishop Simon Bruté in the fall 2015, we got the opportunity to participate as volunteers at NCYC. Our role as seminarians was to help with the reconciliation line and serve for Masses. During that weekend I decided to go to confession and afterward, a priest gave me a card with the quote listed above on one side and an image of Jesus calling the apostles from the fishing boats to follow him on the other. It was beautiful to reflect later on that in the moment in which I was able to recognize my sins and through God’s grace turn away from them and toward Him. God extends His mercy and calls us toward something much greater than ourselves through the sacrament. This is true of all Christians in our universal call to holiness, but in a particular way for those men that, despite their sinfulness, God calls to serve at His altar and entrusts them to take His place on Earth and make Him present through the Mass, and allow for his grace to flow from them in the sacraments. Through this encounter early on in seminary I began to grow in appreciation for the sacrament of the priesthood and the great gift that it is truly. Not just for the man that receives it, but rather for the whole Church. Since like all gifts from God they are not for the individual to keep but rather for the individual to give freely for the greater glory of God.
This recognition of the grandeur of the sacrament of Holy Orders ought not to discourage one from considering a vocation to the priesthood, but rather, should bring one to humble recognition that it is not through merits of their own that God works miracles, but rather it is through His grace that he does such things. What he asks of us is simply our willingness to be open to that possibility and to remain faithful to His will. Perhaps one may encounter moments in which he feels that he cannot respond to such a call because his sin is much too great or he feels that he will be unable to endure a task that a priest may have to take on and due to this is tempted to abandon all possibility of a priestly vocation. However, it is in these moments that one must allow himself to be guided by the grace of God, and not one’s own sinfulness. It is in these moments that one must remember as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “the priest is not a mere office-holder, but sacrament,” and thus God will work through His priest despite the priest’s sinfulness and unworthiness.
So as we continue to gain greater knowledge of ourselves while in seminary and may even begin to question our worthiness of such a call, we must not become discouraged for the reality is that no one is worthy of being a priest. Rather, it is God that invites us to share in His priesthood and we must respond with faith and trust. Two things that will take a lifetime to perfect and even then we will still fail at times but the important thing is to not give in to our sin but rather to continue to seek God and His will throughout our lives day after day. This I have come to realize more and more throughout my years in seminary. Although I’ve always known that seminary- while preparing us to God-willing become priests someday- will not answer all our questions nor will we leave being perfect, I have come to a greater realization of this throughout the past three years. Faith is truly a life-long journey and we must continue to persevere in it and never give up despite our sinfulness and we must remain open to the grace of God so that it may work in and through us.

Now, obviously God does not call all young men to the priesthood, however, those that do have a strong attraction toward such a vocation should not become discouraged because of fear. But rather he should continuously seek the grace of God through the frequenting of the sacraments and should recognize that God will work through them despite their sins as long as they continue to lead a virtuous life and do their best to strive toward holiness. This is the audacity of God of which Pope Emeritus Benedict spoke of in which God entrusts Himself to human beings- Who, conscious of our weakness, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in His stead- this audacity of God is the True grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood.” The priesthood, in some sense is truly a mystery and if one authentically feels a call to such a vocation, he should not run from it out of fear, but should rather run toward it out of love of the one who calls, which is God.


Fermin Luna

Fermin Luna is a Seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Louisville and a member of the Class of 2018.

Christ in Our Midst

Altar serving at a funeral Mass recently left me with quite a few takeaways. All funerals are sad in nature to some extent, but this one was particularly moving given that there were only ten people present. Four of the mourners were parishioners who showed up out of devotion or simply happened to be present at the time. The other six were not family members and were not Catholic, indicated by their clear unfamiliarity with a church setting.

I remember thinking in between my prayers for the repose of the soul of the deceased how strange the whole Mass must have been to those six individuals. They walked into a church, an environment that can make just about anyone uneasy, and were attending a service for a man they could barely call a friend. I can only imagine how peculiar the sights and smells must have been to them- the formalized structure of the prayers, the young men in what appeared to be black dresses with white garments donned over them, the statues and detailed stained-glass windows depicting the saints. Yes, it is safe to say that the whole experience was a recipe for puzzlement straight out of the cookbook- a new environment mixed with a half measure of guardedness and finished off with just a pinch of curiosity.

I remember thinking to myself that the Mass could have been the only encounter that those people will ever have with Christ and his Church. What kind of an impression did it have on them? What kind of thoughts went through their mind as father elevated our Creator before their very eyes? Did what we partook in draw them closer to our Lord? Did anything lead them away from the Truth?

FullSizeRender

I think that having this perspective, reminding yourself as a person of faith that your encounter with someone might be the closest that another person ever comes to Christ, is the key to being a faithful Christian. Did not Christ himself treat people with love and compassion in every encounter? He too is fully human. He too was tired and frustrated, yet he chose to approach them with all that he had.

Perhaps the best way in which we as Christians can prepare ourselves for these encounters is by having something to say. I do not mean that we should have a set of rehearsed lines carried around on an index card in our pockets, but rather that this is a matter of voicing from our hearts and minds to another person whom we encounter what it means to be a disciple of Christ and exactly why it is the only thing worth giving all for. This then should be seen as our call.

Seeing God in another is difficult in our world. Society labels people by race, religion, orientation, social class (but ironically preaches individuality) and in so doing creates divisions. Pornography and the lull of a capitalist society make people out to be objects, and the undesirable are cast aside. The challenge is certainly daunting. Yet, seeing Christ in others is a choice, much like faith, to respond. Regardless of our perspective, each person that we encounter is made Imago Dei, in the image of God. Let us not forget this. It seems beneficial in the midst of a difficult situation to reach a point of awareness and in so doing to find a way to remind yourself that the person you are engaging, all persons in fact, are counting on you to be Christ in their midst- whether they realize it or not.


Owen Duckett

Owen Duckett is a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and is a member of the Class of 2019.

The Saint Who Is Just Me

There is a lot of conversation in the Church right now about discipleship. Many dioceses in the United States are really stepping up their discipleship efforts and are trying to fan the flame of the Holy Spirit that the Church received at Pentecost. It’s very exciting to see the different ways that this is manifesting itself at all levels of the Church. The Lord’s invitation to follow Him is extended to all people; men and women, children and adults, priests and lay faithful. We must continually ask the Lord how it is that He wants us to serve Him and His Church!

Blog Photo I

One of the fatal flaws that many disciples have fallen into is to see another incredible disciple and want to copy and paste their life into his or her own life. It is certainly admirable to seek to follow the examples of holy men and women in our lives, especially the saints, but I am not called to be St. Catherine of Siena, St. John Paul, or St. Juan Diego (just a few of my favorites). I am called to be St. Mark Vojas, Jr., and nobody else has received that call except me. Likewise, you have received a unique call that no one else has received. One of my favorite Christian singer/ songwriters is Danielle Rose. One of her songs is entitled, “The Saint That is Just Me.” In this song she names many beautiful saints and some of their attributes that she thought she would try to emulate in her own life, but then in the chorus, she expresses one of the deep truths of discipleship. Speaking to the Lord, she sings;

“When You hung upon the cross looking at me,

You didn’t die so I could try to be somebody else.

You died so I could be the saint that is just me.”

This beautiful reminder can be difficult for any disciple, but I think it can be especially difficult for men in the seminary. We have grown up learning about the saints, as well as receiving inspiration from great and holy priests in our lives. These great inspirations call us to great heights of holiness, but can sometimes prevent us from looking deeply at ourselves to consider how the Lord wants to use us for a unique and specific purpose. We can be tempted to say, “I want to be just like Saint So-And-So,” or “As a priest, I can’t wait to do blah-blah-blah just like Fr. Something-Or-Other always did,” which is okay, but if we stop there, we are short-changing the Lord. If we only seek to emulate the greatness that we have witnessed in others, we fail to offer the Lord the greatness that He has planted deep within us!

Many people ask why I want to be a priest. Seminarians have to get good at answering that question very quickly! It’s interesting to me to consider how my answer to this question has evolved through my two and a half years as a seminarian. My answer has evolved from a genuine, but somewhat general desire to celebrate the sacraments, to a more particular desire to use the gifts that the Lord has given me specifically to be His hands and feet in the world. The more that I come to know myself, the more effective instrument I will be for Him to reveal Himself to the People of God as well as to those who do not know Him. My favorite saint, Catherine of Siena, when writing to her friend said, “If you are who you were made to be, you will set the world ablaze!” (She actually said “you will set all of Italy ablaze,” but you get the idea.) This is what my desire to be a priest is centered on because to authentically become who I am meant to be is to become more like Christ.

I hope this last verse of “The Saint That Is Just Me” will give you the confidence to run to the Lord to become who you were made to be so you can set all of Italy the world ablaze!

“…If it weren’t for my sins and wounds and weakness,

Then you wouldn’t have married me upon the cross.

Why do I fear being seen naked and broken?

That’s why You came; cause I needed you that much.

When You hung upon the cross looking at me,

You didn’t die so I would try to be somebody else.

You died so I could be the saint that is just me.”

Let this be our prayer. Let this be your prayer for the seminarians! May we seek to be the disciples, the SAINTS, that the Lord has made us to be. He sees our weakness. He knows that we fail. He wants us anyway. Let this bring us peace.


Mark Vojas- Jr

Mark J. Vojas, Jr. is a seminarian studying for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and is a member of the Class of 2019.