“So have you thought about becoming a priest?” As an altar server in my parish, many a priest (and well-meaning parishioner) would ask me this question as we were preparing for the celebration of Holy Mass. Even though this would stem from a casual conversation about my life, I was always somewhat taken aback by the harmless question put to me in that sacristy before I would automatically answer back to the smiling celebrant, “If God wills it!” To be honest, however, I felt lost. Some days I would think that being a priest was my calling, others that having a family was. In my life I would see hints of my calling everywhere— a Bible verse (i.e. Matthew 9:37) would tell me to be a priest while a smiling baby (and the occasional girl) would inspire me to be a dad. These mixed signals distressed me: despite my prayers, it seemed as if I would never get a firm answer to the life-changing question of what God wanted of me.
While I consider Saint Joseph my go-to-man for guidance on paternity, I look to Saint John Vianney, the patron of priests, for all matters concerning the Roman collar. The so-called “Curé of Ars” is an especially good model of strong will for both those preparing for the priesthood and anyone discerning God’s calling. From his youth he was filled with a great desire to “win souls for the good of God” by being a priest, though the turmoil of the French Revolution, having difficulty learning and memorizing in school, his father’s reluctance to not having him assist in the fields, being drafted into the military, suffering sickness, living amidst the government’s anti-Catholic persecution, and even being dismissed from the seminary in Lyon all stood in between the French man and his calling. At the age of 29, however, John Vianney was finally ordained, and he began to tend to the priestly and pastoral work in his parish. The same perseverance that enabled him to become a priest was now applied to the preparation of sermons, reflection on the works of spiritual writers and theologians, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Philomena, self-mortification, and ministering through Eucharistic Adoration and the sacrament of Reconciliation. What an example of courage for those who today experience the grace of being called to the priesthood!
With my own discernment process ongoing, I must remember that, despite the mixed signals I’m receiving as to what I am being called for, my vocation is not a problem to be solved! Rather, it is a personal call to holiness, one of joy and love. To worry excessively over this is to not allow God to work freely in my life nor trust that He will never lead me down the wrong path! Of course, the priesthood is not for everyone— fervent discernment will help determine if God is in fact calling a man to be consecrated in this way. Entering into a seminary is itself not a final decision but the best way to discover the authenticity of one’s vocation. Of course, the discernment process can also be started by simply conversing with a priest!
In the Catholic Church, the role of the priest is vital. Tasked with the spiritual welfare of his flock, a priest is responsible for, but not limited to, celebrating daily Mass, administering the sacraments, offering counsel and comfort, leading retreats, catechizing, volunteering, and helping to run the parish community. He must be sensitive to the needs of his assignment while remaining obedient to the Church hierarchy. In addition, being a priest requires a 24/7 commitment with very little financial compensation;however, the reward for doing so— which is similarly offered to us all— is infinitely more fulfilling than a paycheck.
In short, the priest is the mediator between God and His people. Just as Christ was sent by the Father, He in turn sent the Apostles into the world, so that “through them and their successors, the Bishops, He might continue to exercise His office of Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd… they are called to the service of the people of God” (Pope Francis’ homily given on Good Shepherd Sunday 2013, c.f. John 20:21-23). John Vianney similarly recognized the significant of the priesthood: “Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in Heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love.” Through the priest, we can glimpse the immense Love and grandeur of God: it is through him that Christ forgives our sins and through him that we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.
As I continue to discern my calling, I am reminded of all the priests God has placed in my life. These brave, holy, good, and faithful men of God have inspired me greatly with their joy, goodwill, patience, humility, and generosity in passing on the teachings of the Faith and caring for others. Like their patron, they trust in God to help them persevere through times of hardship and distress. They have readily answered God’s call of “Whom shall I send?” (Isaiah 6:8) and dedicated themselves to serving us through the example of Christ. They continuously pray for us; we must do the same for them! We are here today thanks to them.
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
One late evening on a camping trip in 3rd grade, my dad and a family friend, Mr. Stroude, took my Girl Scout troop out on a nature walk. We weaved along the path through the woods, giggling with our flashlights dancing around the dirt and moss and trees, until the adults stopped us and asked us to turn off our flashlights. As our eyes adjusted, we realized that we had neared the beginning of a long floating bridge across a large marsh. I say “the beginning” because the length of the crossing and the darkness of the Indiana country meant that, even with my 20/20 vision, I could only see to about the middle of the bridge.
Mr. Stroude proceeded to walk out onto the bridge and soon melted away into the darkness at its center. My dad then explained to us that if we wanted to continue, we would have to walk across the bridge individually, without our flashlight, and meet Mr. Stroude on the other side.
“WHAT?!?” More than a little terrifying, Dad!
I wasn’t alone in that sentiment. All of us were frightened of the potentially infinite (but definitely creaking) bridge and the murky water beneath it, but no one really wanted to turn back when others might go on without her and see wonderful sights. Eventually, I mustered my courage and stepped out over the marsh into the darkness.
I am about to step out onto another bridge, the end of which is covered in darkness. I will soon finish my two years in the Echo program through Notre Dame, and I cannot yet see where God is asking me to go. I cannot see whether I will pass the comprehensive exams for my master’s degree at the end of the summer. I cannot see whether I will have a job come the fall, or even what kind of job may present itself. I cannot see where marriage fits into my future. I cannot see how my relationships will hold up when I move to a new city and leave this community behind.
As I pondered all these unknowns, this story from my memory and this prayer from Thomas Merton kept coming forward:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following
your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
The process of crossing these bridges was and will be a matter of trust. I trusted that my dad would not have asked me to walk a bridge that would not hold me, and I had to recall that trust with each ominous creak. I will trust that Christ is doing the same. I trusted that Mr. Stroude had walked the bridge before me and had already confronted the fears inherent in doing so, and was waiting on the other side, even if I could not see him. I will trust that Christ is doing the same.
Of course, I found that each time I reached the darkest part of the bridge, it was no longer completely dark, and there were at least a few more steps to see - enough to allow me to keep walking. I will trust that Christ will show me enough of what’s next to let me keep moving towards Him.
Laura Berlage serves as an Echo Faith Formation Apprentice in the Diocese of Camden, NJ... for now.
Pope Gelasius (d. AD 496) said of St. George that he is one of the saints "whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God." Little can be verified about the life of St. George. He is remembered as a martyr for the faith, and claimed as a patron by thirteen European countries. His intercession is sought constantly on behalf of soldiers and farm workers (and those suffering from the plague, though luckily with less frequency as of late).
St. George is best remembered for his defeating a dragon to rescue the fair maiden (which naturally makes him a favorite of this fairy-tale loving girl). The beast attacked a quiet little kingdom, and his hunger demanded hefty payment, leading up to the necessary sacrifice of the king’s own daughter. Just as the dragon is about to devour the princess, St. George rides by, conveniently enough, and after making the sign of the cross and proclaiming the name of Jesus, he defeats the dragon. In thanks, the entire kingdom is baptized. The end. 
But clearly it's not the end, because this myth has been a favorite for 1500 years.
So what can a 3rd century saint, whose life and deeds are wrapped in myth and legend, tell us about being a Christian in the 21st century? Like in so many other tales and stories, the facts are less important than the message they bring. In this case, we learn that dragons are indeed real. Sometimes they are obvious and obtrusive, demanding immediate attention, like road rage or constantly breaking into conversations with “Well, in my opinion.” Often, however, they emerge in the form of redundancy, mediocrity, boredom, or the benign. What do we do about these sneaky, shadow dragons which creep into our lives in the form of a snooze button or accidental rude comments? These dragons grow slowly in the secret and dark where nobody can see them and think poorly of me.
This tale also reminds us that courage takes many forms. Often, courage is speaking out in defense of the faith in the face of blatant injustice, as is still seen in too many places in the world. For my life today, courage takes the form of remaining steadfast in seemingly benign moments, like laundry and emails. My challenge is to remain dutiful and prayerful while I wait. For this twenty-something, courage is taking the waiting as seriously as what I am waiting for. I wait to finish my Masters; wait until I get married; wait to move closer to my family; wait for a job. Lately I have been praying for a heart like Mary's, courageous in all matters, great and small. She allowed God to break into her quiet life, and then she waited for her Son to be born, waited to find him in the Temple, waited for the Resurrection. As the psalmist says, “Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).
I recently stumbled upon an icon of St. George which I bought for my fiancé. It is currently hanging in his bedroom, and in less than four months will hang in ours. I love to see it when I visit, because George’s story is one I can relate to. For, as G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “Fairy tales are not important because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” St. George, pray for us that we may develop courageous hearts to maintain our faithfulness to Christ in small moments and defeat the less obvious dragons in our lives.
Abigail Craycraft is an apprentice with the Echo Program through the University of Notre Dame where she is currently serving at Bl. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Collingswood, NJ.
 The tale is found in the book The Golden Legend, a compilation of saints’ fantastic deeds, published in 1483..
“For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
–1 Corinthians 9:16
In a changing world, the Gospel does not change. The Good News always remains the same. Our vocation to be its bearers and our responsibility are always current. “The core of the proclamation always remains the same: the Kerygma of Christ who died and rose for the world’s salvation, the Kerygma of God's absolute and total love for every man and every woman” (Benedict XVI, Message for World Mission Day 2012).
I ask myself, what do we, sons and daughters of St. Vincent Pallotti, need in this era of the New Evangelisation?
Like everyone in the Church today, I need to re-examine, with courage and humility, my way of being an apostle, sent to evangelise, I need to understand the profound sense of insufficiency of my proclamation and my witness; otherwise, how can I explain the fact that so many people around me do not know God and live as if God did not exist?
“God created human beings in time only in order to lead them happily to eternity. His desire is to see all of them saved, enlightened by his graces and by the exercise of his Providence. For this reason, St. Dionysiusthe Areopagite says that the most holy, most noble, most august, most divine work of all of the Divine, august, noble and holy works is to cooperate with the merciful plans, wishes and desires of God for the salvation of human beings” (OOCC IV, 124).
At some point in the past, each one of us met Jesus, each one replied with love and courage, ‘Yes, send me’, to his invitation, ‘Follow me’. Each person lives out in their own state of life as mother, father, sister, brother, priest, young, sick etc., day after day, their being an apostle, sent by Jesus. All of us have the same desire, implanted in our hearts by our Creator, to be happy. As good Christians, we must desire the same happiness also for our brothers and sisters. We find the fullness of our happiness in Jesus Christ who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.
Without the renewing breath of the Holy Spirit there can be no New Evangelisation. Without a deep desire for the Holy Spirit on my part, “the new man, the new woman”, true witness of God, cannot be born in me. I already realize from my life experience how risky and unpredictable it is to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit and his action within us
But if we open our hearts and minds to the fire of the Holy Spirit who acted in the life and missionary activity of the first apostles, of St. Paul, of the saints of all times, including our holy Founder, we can experience unexpected change. Like the disciples of Emmaus, like the disciples who left the Cenacle after Pentecost transformed from simple chroniclers into passionate witnesses of the Risen One, from frightened apostles into courageous bearers of the Gospel to the very ends of the earth. It is the Holy Spirit who impels us to proclaim the great works of God.
I really find the need to be changed into an ardent witness of the Risen Jesus from whom life springs for me and for the whole world. Not to be simply a chronicler of facts, of events immortalised in the pages of the Gospel, but to believe strongly in the extraordinary power, and feel the life, which the Gospel possesses. The most difficult thing today for each of us, for every Christian, I think, is to take seriously the Gospel which we have in our hands, to try to translate into practise what Jesus says to us about simplicity of spirit. But this is precisely what is being asked of us with great insistence in today. The Good News of the Gospel is always the love of God for each human person; we are expected to give concrete form to this message and it is only then that those close to us will be able to understand the message of love and hope. A “theology of the face”, meaning meeting and welcoming the other in a personalised way, seems more relevant and necessary. It is very much needed today in human relationships. The most effective way to share the Good News with others is to communicate it heart to heart. Every person wants to feel themselves to be worthy of our attention, our interest, our love, and many want to see in us people of God.
This is a selection from an article titled, "The Year of Faith, The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, and the 50th Anniversary of the Canonisation of St. Vincent Pallotti" by Sr. M. Bozena Olszewska, S.A.C., who is a member of the General Council of the Pallottine Missionary Sisters