This article is also published here.
I first felt the call to be a priest when I was 7. I was obsessed with the priesthood and with the Church. I used to tell people that I would be the first pope from the United States and was often found “celebrating” Mass in my living room – complete with Oreos and apple juice. My dad even built me a little altar and my mom helped me make vestments.
Growing up in the suburbs and far from a Catholic high school, I went to public schools my entire life. I wouldn’t change that experience for anything, however I will say that it is incredibly difficult to discern one’s vocation in a public high school. “I want to be a teacher!” some would say; or, “I want to be a policeman!” said others. “I’d like to become a politician or a businessman!” Then, there’s me: “I want to be a celibate!!!!”
Crickets. Laughter. Confusion. Silence.
Fast forward 5 years to my first year of college when the call to the priesthood (which I had ignored to become a high school English teacher) began to resurface. After a very powerful experience of grace during midnight Mass, I contacted the vocation director for the Diocese of Joliet and began attending discernment group meetings with about 20 other young men. I have nothing but gratitude for this time in my life; gratitude for the friendships – many of the men in that group are with me now at Mundelein – and gratitude for a safe place to discuss this life and this strange call I was feeling in my heart.
The thing, or, rather, the person for which I find myself most grateful is Jesus, specifically Jesus in the Eucharist. Before my first discernment meeting on January 16, 2011 I had never heard of Eucharistic Adoration, much less ever prayed a holy hour. I remember saying to myself, “An entire hour in prayer!? Are you kidding me?” Things got even weirder when I walked into the chapel and saw a tall gold thing on the altar with a round white thing in the middle with a bunch of 20-something dudes kneeling in front of it. “What is this? Are my friends right? Do Catholics worship gold stuff?”
Silly Ryan, that’s no idol: it’s the King of the Universe!
From that day until now, I have been in love with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The Mass is the highest form of prayer that the Church can offer us, and the best means of evangelization. But, in my opinion, there is no better way to meet the Lord and to fall in love with him than by spending time – lots and lots of time – with him in the Blessed Sacrament. Many people, even Catholics, are skeptical about or downright deny the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; but these are the people who have likely never spent an hour with him in silence, listening to the tiniest whispers of love from the heart of the King.
The language of God is silence, and in order to really hear him speak one must go through a kind of “language immersion” during which the mind is settled, the heart is soothed, and the person learns what it is to be truly at peace. To be at peace in the presence of the King is one of the greatest gifts Jesus gives to his Church. What a joy to meet him, as the woman at the well did, and to say with her, “Come and see a man who told me all I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” What an even greater joy to hear him say, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26, 29)
I do not know a seminarian who is not madly in love with the Eucharistic Jesus and who does not draw his strength from him. I urge you to use this Lent as a time to make a real commitment to regular visits to this fount of love and mercy. We are pilgrims here; this place is not our true home. Let us become best friends with the Holy One, the “morning star” who leads us to himself and, ultimately, home.