One of the most prominent books for helping young men discern the priesthood and to get a sense of what seminary life is like is Fr. Brett Brannen’s “To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide to Discerning a Vocation Diocesan Priesthood.” In one of the early chapters, he offers a series of stories which illustrate the life of a priest with the tagline “this is just what priests do.” It got me thinking, I am a priest…what do I do? Granted, I have only been a priest for 2 years, 5 months, and 24 days (but who’s counting), and I have recently transitioned from working in Campus Ministry at a Catholic college to working in our Vocations Office, but I want to give you a sense of what my life as a priest has looked like after my transition.
You would think that someone whose primary work is vocations would have a limited range of experiences, but my last few weeks have been anything but that. To a normal existence, the last few weeks of my life would easily be classified as a whirlwind – to me, it was just what this young priest does!
It all began with the death of a friend. I was driving back from visiting a high school in Indianapolis and I received a phone call telling me that Fr. Tom Halkovic, C.S.C. – a coworker in Campus Ministry at Stonehill College, a mentor in how to be a compassionate priest, and a friend – had died. It was not totally unexpected, but it was still sad. I was very glad to be able to go and be present for his funeral. While I was there, I got word that my uncle Jerry had passed away. His death was unexpected, but I was again glad that I was able to go and preside over his funeral and burial. In the span of a week, I went from South Bend, to Boston, to South Bend, and then to San Francisco. You would think that all this travel for funerals would be depressing at best, but there is a deep peace that is represented by funerals. They are sad for us who remain, but they are celebrations of the mystery of heaven and the truth that we have a future – a future bought and paid for by Jesus our Savior. As I returned home from my uncle’s funeral, I prepared for my next venture, my niece’s Baptism…in Texas! It was almost poetic, this movement from death in the world to death to the world. It was also poetic how I was able to cover north, south, east, and west of our country in the span of two weeks, all in the name of serving Christ and his people.
At the completion of my journeys, I returned to my home at Notre Dame to celebrate Mass with the men of Fisher Hall (the residence hall that I call home). But right around the corner is another powerful journey – a pilgrimage to Montreal with a group of students from Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross College to see the Church in Canada, especially the life and ministry of Saint André Bessette, C.S.C. As you can see, my move into the Vocations Office has not limited my experiences in the slightest. The key for this is that my life is the life of a priest, the work we do (regardless of what it is) calls us “beyond borders of all sorts” – we go where we are called and we are privileged to share in the work of Jesus. This is what priests do. This is what this priest has done lately!