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My parents gave to me a great gift: sharing the faith that was shared with them and sacrificing more than I know to send me and my brother to Catholic schools. When people learn that I am a priest, they immediately think of an idealized version of Catholicism—which is beautiful!. They might think about a family gathered around dad’s chair every night praying the Rosary or reading the bible. While this wasn’t the reality for my family, the importance of faith and the Holy Eucharist was modeled in the priority that was given to our weekly attendance at Mass.
Contrary to popular belief, priests don’t fall from Heaven. As a boy, I remember really disliking going to Mass. I was THAT KID at church—purposefully loud and obnoxious and always plotting how I could embarrass my parents during Mass so that they would think twice the next time the Saturday vigil Mass came around. I distinctly remember one Sunday being in the middle aisle of the church on all fours, my dad flush with anger and embarrassment, and me having a meltdown as Mass was beginning. There are several other examples I could give, but I wouldn’t want you to think less of me!
As I grew older, I eventually found my place at Church. I went from being the kid screaming in the aisle to the one singing in the choir and assisting the priest at Mass as an altar server—and I loved it! I just thought I was being helpful and doing things that I liked to do to pass the time, but God was doing something different. He was inviting me, little by little, into a deeper relationship with him and his Church.
Time passed and as I matured, the more God’s desire for my priesthood was made known. Although I never talked about it, I knew in high school that it was what both he and I wanted. When I wasn’t playing soccer, I was at Church and becoming more involved in the music ministry as well as the youth group. Up until this time, I had never been exposed to Eucharistic adoration. At Our Lady of the Woods in Woodhaven, there was a small adoration chapel where people would make visits throughout the day. This intrigued me, and I began making short visits whenever I was there visiting my youth minister or taking part in some other event. There was something different about that small room and it had everything to do with the One who was there waiting. I also remember having a profound experience in front of the Blessed Sacrament at a Steubenville Youth Conference. I was overwhelmed with the faith of all those other teenagers present, and as the monstrance was processed throughout the field house, I recall desperately wanting to be close to him. In that moment, I knew he was real and that he wanted to be close to me, too.
My feet dragged, and even got cold, but these moments with the Lord brought me to the seminary and into the priestly formation program. In the Summer of 2012, after my third year of seminary, my classmates and I spent 30 days on pilgrimage to the holy sites of Europe. After we returned home, we had a week or two off, and then we headed to Irene, South Dakota, for a thirty-day (yes, 30!) silent retreat. During this retreat, I was expected to pray five holy hours a day. It was tough, especially when my prayer was dry and I felt as though nothing was happening. One afternoon I made my way to the little white chapel on the hill for my time of prayer. To my surprise, no one else was there—just me and a church mouse. I sat down in front of the tabernacle, looked up at the crucifix, and heard Jesus whisper to my heart, “Why don’t you let me be more for you?” I was taken aback and really had to pray with this. “What did he mean?”
He revealed that he desired a deeper relationship with me and that he wanted me to know him better. Even after that experience of Jesus in the field house, I was still living at a distance from him, and he was now asking for more. I don’t remember the rest of the many hours I prayed that summer, but I will always remember that one. When I’m tempted to go back to my old way of living—thinking of Jesus as someone who loves me but is far away—I take myself back to the grace experienced that day and remind myself that his very presence is just a few steps away.
It was in front of the Blessed Sacrament where a lot of debating, deal-making, and experiences of love (and frustration) with Jesus took place. It was my time in front of the Blessed Sacrament that kept me moving forward in the seminary and it is my time in front of the Blessed Sacrament that sustains me today as a priest.
The little boy who wanted to stay as far away from Church as possible is now the man who can’t imagine his life without it or the Eucharist. It’s all God’s work—it’s all grace.
Experience it for Yourself
Jesus is truly present. Jesus is always with you. Sit in his presence and open yourself up to his voice.