When I began discerning a call to the priesthood I was fascinated and intrigued by religious life. I was particularly attracted and drawn to the radical commitment of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (the CFRs). Their life of prayer, fraternity, and evangelization spoke to my heart. However, as time went on I began to feel more called to the diocesan seminary and to become a parish priest. The journey includes a variety of details but one experience in prayer was very influential in my discernment.
I was praying about the identity of the priesthood, in particular that of the priestly office. The ministerial priesthood always includes the sharing in the priestly office of Jesus Christ and so all three aspects, Priest, Prophet and King are included. In my limited experience with the CFRs, I saw their vocation as emphasizing the “prophetic” aspect of priestly ministry. Of course, all three aspects are present in the life of the CFRs, but it seemed to me that this call to be a prophet manifested in beautiful ways in their way of life.
Then the Holy Spirit gave me the word “pastor” or “Shepherd”. The Lord increased my desire to be a “pastor” of a flock, to be with the people of God in the parish, day in and day out, from the marriages and baptisms, first communions, religious education, confirmations all the way to the life of discipleship, confessions and spiritual direction ending finally in dying and death. This is not to say those in religious life do not pastor their sheep but in the case of the Friars of Renewal their primary responsibility is to their horarium (life of prayer) and community life (where they live out their evangelical counsels). Much of their evangelization is done in a “prophetic” style whereas the diocesan pastor gets to know his people over longer periods of times and in a variety of circumstances, something that spoke to my heart in particular.
As this word grew in my heart I asked to join the seminary for the Archdiocese of Newark. Now as a Deacon I look back and see how the Lord continued to cultivate this desire, and still continues to do so. The Holy Spirit, through formation and discernment has helped me grow in the identity of the priest as beloved son, chaste spouse, spiritual father, and Shepherd/pastor. I hope to enter more deeply into this mystery as I prepare for Holy Orders this upcoming May and be conformed to the image of the Good Shepherd!
**My reflections on the Friars of the Renewal are based on personal observations and reflections. They are simplified for the sake of brevity. Moreover, their friendship, holy example, and support have been a great influence and encouragement in my vocation to the priesthood.