July 8, 2012
It is hard to believe that I have completed my first year of Pre-Theology at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. This has been a year of transition and the word that best captures the essence of this transition is humility. The day I said yes to Fr. Gerard’s offer to enter the process of discernment and spiritual direction, God began to reveal His perfect will for my life. I have learned that the Holy Spirit can make His will known by working through our feelings, thoughts, and the people in our lives. I recall an incident that took place shortly before I began formal discernment. I was at a parish gathering and was introduced to the then Vocations Director for San Gabriel Valley, Fr. Francis Ilano. I made an off-hand comment that I was hesitant about even becoming a Eucharistic Minister. I said, “I just don’t feel worthy.” And immediately Fr. Francis said, “None of us is worthy!” Needless to say I was startled and felt corrected. But he made an excellent point and helped me to re-orient the way I see myself to the way that God sees me. Fr. Francis continued that we are all earthen vessels: it is God who makes us worthy.
My first day at St. John’s Seminary, I felt like it was my first day in Kindergarten. Fr. Gerard, Fr. Joe, my parents, and even my boss at the time came to drop me off. I had just said goodbye to twenty years as an elementary school teacher and assistant principal. I had said goodbye to my house, my dog, my family and friends. When the seminary rector announced that it was time for family and friends to depart, saying goodbye was emotionally overwhelming. I felt that I was dying to my old life, my old identity, and beginning anew as a seminarian.
I realized almost immediately after everyone left that first day, that I was being received into the very caring and competent arms of the seminary community. “Formation” is what I have entered into as a seminarian. The four pillars of St. John’s priestly formation program are: Human, Spiritual, Academic and Pastoral. Each day is scheduled to include all of these aspects of the formation program, with the bulk of the day dedicated to class attendance and homework. Morning and Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, and daily Mass make up the spiritual activities. Daily physical exercise and fellowship with other seminarians make up human formation. Each of us is given a dorm room and three meals per day. As a former educator, I love school and I love learning. However, it was this last semester, when I was given my first pastoral field education experience at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, that I felt truly outside my comfort zone.
Two of us were assigned to serve as Catholic Chaplain Assistants at the correctional facility where we would visit individual inmates in the high security section and also led a sacraments class to about six youth. Our Chaplain supervisor showed us what to do and what to say, but quickly trusted us to go it alone. During the four months of weekly visits, I was able to establish a rapport with the youth. I had never been in a prison nor had I ever met any gang members. To say that I was very nervous in the beginning would be an understatement. Once I became accustomed to the security routines, protocols, and culture of prison, I started to recognize in the youth, the same spirit of wonder and curiosity that I had seen in my elementary school students. As the weeks progressed, these youth started to share how God was starting to answer their prayers and how God was becoming more real to them in their daily lives. On the last day of sacraments class, we had the youth share what they had learned from one another these last four months. In January, we were lucky to get two word answers to questions, but by May, these young men were pouring out their hearts to one another in gratitude for the caring and the friendship that had grown among them. One young man started to play a guitar while another youth joined him in a freestyle rap about how God had picked him up out of the mud and had given him a new life in Jesus Christ! My ministry partner, my supervisor, and I just looked at each other and realized that the Holy Spirit had clearly taken over, and to step aside and get out of the way.
Today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians states,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Even though I felt completely unworthy, unskilled, and inexperienced, God sent the Holy Spirit to be with me, to be His presence to these youth through me. The Holy Spirit ministered to me through the youth and showed me Christ in each of their faces. I do not know what crimes they may have committed, but I do know that they have been forgiven and, like all of us, are being redeemed.
I have a deep sense of peace and joy in my life that I have never felt before. I believe that it is because God has me where He wants me. Seminary continues to be a place of discernment of God’s will for my life, please pray for me that I would continue to heed His call wherever He may lead me.
Looking back on my first year at St. John’s Seminary, I am deeply grateful to the Assumption parish community for taking me in, supporting me and encouraging me on my new journey as a seminarian. I am very happy and proud to call Assumption my home. Thank you and I love you!