If you would have asked me in my senior year of high school if I wanted to be a priest, I would have said no. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved being raised in the faith by my parents. I was active in my parish youth group and had been an altar server since fourth grade. I wanted my Christian faith to be an enduring part of my life. With that said, being a priest — that wasn’t my plan. But it was God’s plan, and he would continue to call.
Like most students leaving high school for college, I loved the idea of being able to study whatever I wanted. Some of my favorite subjects were physics and mathematics —even if I wasn’t great at them. So, I applied to a few local universities and was accepted. I had narrowed it down to majoring in physics and just as I was finalizing my plan, I got a call. And no, it wasn’t a “sky opening up and God’s voice calling me” kind of call. It was a phone call from my parish. There was an evening dinner for altar servers down at the seminary and I was asked if I wanted to go. It wasn’t my plan initially but I was easily convinced with a tour and free food.
Somehow the fact that it was a priestly vocations event never occurred to me until I actually arrived, but that was okay. I already had my plan so it wasn’t a big deal. That is until the seminarian at our table shared his vocation story. He told us that he had gone to college, graduated with a degree in physics, and afterwards still felt called to the priesthood. If there was any moment in my life up to that point where God wanted to get my attention, he now had all of it. It was as if the Lord said, “I see your plan Benjamin, and I’m still calling you.”
Needless to say, after this I was quite shook-up. The idea of being a priest kept coming back to me as the weeks went on. I realized what every follower of Christ throughout history has realized. That we must leave behind ourselves and follow him. As the prophet Jeremiah says: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). The Lord had a plan for me and was inviting me to something great. He had called me. The only question now: what was I going to do?
My immediate answer was to attend the seminary, but being stubborn, I didn’t apply to be a seminarian right away. If someone asked me if I was discerning the priesthood, I would still say no. But every once in a while, I would speculate what it would be like to be a priest before shaking it off.
It wasn’t until I learned about the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola that I realized what was happening. While recovering from surgery, Ignatius would go back and forth between wanting to be a valiant knight and wanting to be a priest. The thoughts of being a priest would linger longer and gave him deeper consolation than those of being a chivalrous knight. Once I realized that I had also been doing this for the past year and a half, I suddenly had no problem applying to be a seminarian. God had been calling me, and I finally said yes. I had no idea what the future would hold or what my life might be like, but I was at peace. It was a peace that came from knowing I was following the Lord and there was no cause for concern. Not that everything from that moment would be easy, but with Christ all things are possible.
My years in the seminary so far have been a tremendous blessing. I’ve had opportunities I never thought I would have. And especially at a seminary dedicated to Jesus’ heart, I’ve grown closer to that source of infinite love every day. To remain close to Jesus’ heart is the goal not just of every priest but also every Christian. His is a heart that has loved us so much. It is from Jesus’ heart that he says, “Father not my will, but thine be done.”