Bishop Bambera during interview for priestly formation program: “What are you most excited about and most nervous about going into the seminary?”
Me: “To be honest, the answer is the same for both of your questions…leaving home.”
I offer to you this short exchange between Bishop Bambera and myself during my interview process because it highlights well my journey towards my decision to seek acceptance into the Priestly Formation Program for the Diocese of Scranton. Timid, anxious, afraid, unwilling, discomforted; these are just a few words to describe how I felt when I was first invited to consider priestly ministry. But, while God’s graces and invitations challenge us to grow beyond what we thought was our potential, so too the Good Shepherd is always there to lead us. Whenever I am asked to offer a reflection on my story, I usually commit to discussing two main points: First, my high school view of reality and, second, the realization of the new and better reality that encompasses myself, others, and God as I moved into college.
What was my perception of reality in high school? The simple answer; “not much.” I was very much concerned with pursuing a career or passion that I could call my own. I wanted to be the best of the best at whatever it was (i.e. Basketball player, car mechanic, cook, etc.). Mind you, these can be very necessary professions which one can have a passion for doing. However, they were not my passion. They were not my vocation. They were not ways in which God was asking me to partake in His reign.
What was my perception of reality as I moved into college? The simple answer; “much more!” After being invited to consider a priestly vocation, I sought to “try it out” almost like I did in high school. However, the difference was what I now prioritized. I gave more attention to God in a more focused prayer life, experience of the sacraments, conversations with others discerning, retreats, and much more. I gave more attention to the poor and suffering in my midst by getting involved in service trips with King’s College or simply having more sincere conversations. I even gave better attention to myself through intellectual pursuits in theology and philosophy, which I can now say are some of my true passions. Reality was opening up to me. Discernment of the priesthood became more than just a consideration. Through intimacy with God, conversations with others about my struggles and concerns, and pushing myself to step outside my comfort zone, I was able to better know the next step God was asking me to take. So, I applied to the Diocese of Scranton to enter seminary.
The anxiety and discomfort arising within me as I realized what would be asked of me in a priestly vocation was subtly and quietly being calmed by God’s grace. As Father Don Williams, the vocation director for the Diocese always says, “Michael, you are moving from fear to faith”. Indeed, I was. Through the experience of a more authentic sense of self, a self-less image of others, and a soulful relationship with God, I was able to have the confidence to say, “Yes”.
Having all these experiences in my past, led me to responding to the Bishop in the way mentioned in the above quote. The challenges are still present. However, the call is more compelling and real than ever. I could confidently say that when I was discussing my story with the interview team and the Bishop I was a changed man; no longer being driven by fear or self-interest, but rather being drawn towards the very will of God Himself. Yet, as always, there remains the potential for growth. And only by God’s grace will I be able to continue to do so. Am I still nervous to leave home? Of course! But, my new passion for myself, others, and God drives me forward.