Listen in for more of the story.
Growing up, I always had intellectual knowledge that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. And actually at the Mass, when I received my First Holy Communion — I have it on tape — there’s a part during the homily where the priest goes into the pews and he asks us, “Why are we here today? What's going to happen today? What is Holy Communion?” I remember answering that question. I said, “It's the body and blood of Jesus.” I had the intellectual knowledge of it, but it really didn't sink in much more.
That all really changed when I was 17. I needed to encounter Jesus as a person and that’s exactly what happened. That year during Holy Week, I went to Holy Thursday Mass because I was working on Good Friday. I didn’t really know what to expect during the Mass, but I knew it had something to do with the Last Supper. I figured we would have Scripture readings about the significance of it in the life of Jesus as he draws near to Mount Calvary. But I never put the pieces together that when Jesus gave us the Eucharist at the Last Supper, he also gave us the priesthood. At the end of the Gospel reading, where Jesus says, “I've given you a model to follow so that just as I have done for you, you should also do,” it all kind of clicked for me.
It still remained an intellectual focus, but as we drew on in the Mass, I remember just contemplating the reality that Jesus gave us this gift and it's still here today. I noticed there's a point in the Eucharistic prayer on Holy Thursday where the priest is about to elevate the Holy Eucharist and says, “On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all that is today, he took bread in his own hands, etc.” But I just remember hearing that and being overwhelmed. I thought, “Wow, okay. It’s today and it's right here. It's right now, right in front of us. This is Jesus.”
Intellectual knowledge can only get you so far in relationship with the Lord. There needs to be an experiential dimension to that relationship. I had the intellectual framework, if you will, but then through an encounter with him, now I know he's there. I know it not just because I know that this is what the Church teaches, but because I've actually experienced him. I know that he's there because he's shown me that he's there.
Looking back on it now, I would say that I could always have recourse to Jesus in the Eucharist. Before seminary, during my junior year at Michigan State, the student parish started offering Adoration and Confession before daily Mass. I started going to daily Mass and I worked two blocks away from the student church. Sometimes I would get out of work an hour before Mass and I'd go over there. And in the silence with Jesus I knew that I could let everything else go for a little while — not in an irresponsible way, but just knowing this is what matters more than anything else right now. The Lord is here. He wants me to be with him and to give my heart to him. And he wants me to relate to him — every difficulty I'm experiencing right now, every stress. It was such a grace to begin going to adoration any chance I could get.
It was during my sophomore year at Michigan State when I started thinking about the priesthood more seriously. That experience at Holy Thursday Mass when I was 17 was still pervading my memory. But at the time, when I was 17, I had no idea how to respond to it. I had a lot of fears about the priesthood, feeling like, “Am I really up to a task like this? I don't know if I can do this.” Looking back on it, in retrospect, being in front of the Eucharist, in front of Jesus for as long as I was helped me to really see that this was the direction that my life was going in. This was the direction that the Lord wanted me to go in. He was giving me grace to overcome my fears of the priesthood and seminary and just really showing me, “This is what I want you to do, and you can do it, because I'm with you.”
I still go to adoration any chance I can. Here at the seminary, we have the Eucharist exposed for two hours every single day and we make a holy hour during one of those hours. It's become such an integral part of my life now. I would say that that's kind of how God works. He'll get us to realize that we're dependent on him and then he will, in his mercy and in his love, keep us that way. He'll show us his will and give us the grace to follow it. Adoration is still a huge part of my life, and I go as often as possible, just realizing that Jesus is here, he is the source of all of my strength, and the source of every virtue that I have.
Experience it for Yourself
Jesus is truly present. Jesus is always with you. Sit in his presence and open yourself up to his voice.