I often get asked how I heard God’s call in my life to be a priest.The answer to that question is not simple nor is it short, and I won’t spend hours telling you my story today, as I’m sure many of you will be thankful for. So, today, I’m going to share a few of the highlights of my story since my story not only relates to the scripture readings we just heard proclaimed today but also to each and every one of us gathered here at Mass.
As many of you already know, I grew up on a ranch in northeastern Wyoming.I grew up a cradle Catholic and my family went to Mass every Saturday evening. I was consistently an altar server during those years and was faithful to Mass because my parents made me (even if I didn’t want to go, which I am incredibly grateful for now, even though I wasn’t then!). I graduated high school from a little town called Moorcroft and headed off to college to study computer science at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City, SD. I spent three years studying there and got active in the Cathedral Parish in Rapid City and at the Newman Center. After going on numerous youth retreats and discernment retreats both in Wyoming and in the Dakotas, I came to realize that the “successful” job in computer science making a lot of money that I was aiming at in college wasn’t the key to true happiness in my life. I found more joy in going to Mass and serving the people in the parish than I did in the academics that I lived day in and day out and I came to realize in order to be truly happy, to experience true joy in my life, in my vocation, the Lord was asking me to give everything to him by being His priest, not by being a computer scientist. I finally chose to let go of that path in my life and after three years in Rapid City I left and entered seminary. I went to Conception Seminary College in Missouri for two years and now, here I am, in my fourth and final year here at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary looking forward to my priestly ordination on May 20 of next year, so mark your calendars to pray for me on that day!
Now I’m sure you’re all wondering, “How in the world is my story related to the two widows we heard in Scripture today?” Well, let’s take a few moments to look at the example of the two widows and I’ll tell you. Two kinds of attitudes are played out for us, the first is of both widows and the other is of the scribes which we heard in the Gospel. First let’s talk about the widow in the Gospel as she is contrasted with the scribes. Jesus, in teaching his disciples, warns them to beware of the attitude of the scribes, which is selfishness. Not that places of honor in the synagogues and banquets and being greeted in the marketplace are bad things. They are bad when the attitude behind them is selfish, as was the scribes. The scribes devour the houses of widows, which referred to the Scribes mismanaging the widows’ estate and charging them excessive legal fees in order to steal from them. Their attitude is fundamentally selfish and Jesus warns that they will be condemned for that. The widow, on the other hand, shows us what true generosity and selflessness looks like. She gave two coins to the Temple treasury amounting to just a few cents and this amount was all she had. She gave, quite literally, her whole life to the Lord by her contribution to the Temple treasury. Interestingly, what we don’t hear is the rest of her story. What happened to her after she gave her whole livelihood to the Lord? What was she thinking? What was she feeling? Did she expect to be able to support herself after she gave everything? How was her trust in the Lord so great that she gave her whole livelihood without hesitation? These are questions that would make most of us hesitate to do the same act and yet this widow gives it all without hesitating. Her attitude was one of complete faith and trust which led to her incredible generosity. How did she have this trust?
Looking at the widow in the first reading provides an answer to understanding this incredible act of faith. The widow whom Elijah meets is about to make her last meal for herself and her son. She believed that the meal she was to make would be her last and then she and her son would die because they had nothing more, and Elijah has the guts to ask her for her last meal! But, because he is a prophet, he tells her, “Be not afraid!” and promises that the Lord will not allow her flour to go empty or her oil to run out until the Lord gives rain to provide for them again. This widow, too, makes an act of faith and shows true generosity to God through Elijah. She makes Elijah a meal and God keeps his promise and provides for her needs; she and her son did not die of starvation like she assumed would happen. This trust and true generosity to the Lord, in giving everything to the Lord, was received by the Lord and the Lord, in turn, provided for all the needs of this widow and her son. This trust that the Lord would provide for everything is the same attitude that the widow in the Gospel had, she gave her whole livelihood to the Lord with the trust that the Lord would provide for her afterwards. She gave without knowing exactly how the Lord would do this, but she gave everything to the Lord regardless. How many of us have that same attitude? It’s tough! And yet each and every day we must strive to make that same act of faith and trust in the Lord that these widows did. It’s the same act that I’m making in giving my life to God as His future priest and yet each day I, just as much as each of us here, have to deepen my trust and faith in the Lord to make this act one of true generosity and not one of selfishness. Sometimes when we hear the Lord asking us to give everything to Him we feel like that first widow when Elijah asks her for food. We try to complain to God by saying, “Lord, I have nothing left to give. All I have is a little and as soon as I give that, I will have nothing and will die.” It is in those exact moments that the Lord is asking each of us to make that act of faith and trust Him, just like these widows. Even though we may not know how the Lord will continue to sustain us, we know that He will. He will not let us die if we truly give our all to Him.
So how does that look in our daily lives? It means living out the vocation the Lord calls you to with true generosity. This could mean living out the priesthood like I will do (or Fr. Doug is already doing), or serving God as a religious sister like the Dominican Sisters, or being a father or mother to a beautiful and loving family. It could mean giving everything you have away to become a missionary to a third world country or it could mean giving your time to be a missionary here to your fellow parishioners and friends, who also need a deeper encounter with the Lord. The key point within all of this is that the example of the widows shows us that we are called to live out of faith and trust by giving our whole life to the Lord within the vocation He calls us to. It’s less important what we give, although that is an important aspect for sure, but it’s more about the attitude of heart within our giving.
This generosity and trust in the Lord is lived out by us as a parish here at St. Vincent de Paul in many ways. One way in particular is the support that the parish gives to the Seminaries here in Denver that form future priests like myself. The two seminaries here in Denver, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary have roughly 120 men in formation to be priests from over 14 different dioceses throughout the country. It costs roughly $60,000 per year per seminarian to study here in Denver and the financial support comes from the generosity of the parishioners both here in the Archdiocese of Denver but also from our dioceses back home. As a concrete act of generosity, St. Vincent de Paul parish has given the Seminaries a check for $10,000 to support us in our journey to the priesthood. Thank you so much! I speak for all the seminarians who minister here at St. Vincent de Paul when I say that we couldn’t do what we do without the support and prayers from the wonderful people here at St. Vincent’s. Thank you. Because of your support future priests are being formed for the next generations.
In addition to supporting the seminary financially, we, as a parish, also support the future of vocations by encouraging vocations from within the parish, whether that is to priesthood or religious life. Perhaps a key role in all of my own discernment to the priesthood and many, many others is the role that the community plays in encouraging young people. My vocation story is filled with examples of parishioners back home telling me they thought I’d be a good priest when I was an altar server. In college I had a family that told me specifically they thought I should be in seminary because they saw in me the qualities of a priest. It was after that encounter when I formally made the decision to enter the seminary. The role that the community plays in fostering and encouraging vocations for our future is crucial for our young people. Don’t be afraid to ask a young person if they’ve considered that God is calling them to a religious vocation! God uses just those kinds of encounters to call forth men and women to their vocations. Just as the widows placed their complete trust in the Lord and gave their all to him in generosity, so too must we strive to do the same in each one of the vocations that the Lord has called us to live and to encourage our young people to do the same.