Over the past eight weeks all 175 of the seminarians enrolled in the I.P.F. summer program have been assigned to do volunteer work in the greater Omaha area. Some guys have been sent to hospitals and nursing homes, while others have been at schools, parishes and even Boystown. I was lucky with my placement and joined nine other guys volunteering at an assisted living complex. Actually the building itself is a fourteen story high rise for the elderly.
Last night the activities director, Judy, invited the seminarians assigned to the tower to her home for dinner. Along with several coworkers, she served us a gourmet feast fit for a king. After gobbling down all of the wonderful home cooked food, we gathered in her living room to share stories. One by one Judy had us go around the circle and share what led us to enter the seminary. As we went around it was amazing to hear the different lives each of us lived before deciding to follow God's call.
The stories ranged from the simple to the profound. Some of the seminarians knew since high school, the others in college and beyond. The single most prominent theme that they all shared, was this gnawing away feeling in the back of the mind. Each of the guys spoke of there hearts causing them to wonder, but their minds pushing it away. There was no sense of certainty in the call, only in the need to respond and discover where God truly wants us to be. As each young man spoke, they shared the same story of being scared, nervous and afraid to say anything. The hardest part for all us was mustering the courage to begin the conversation.
One thing that has always struck me about vocations is precisely this, the nervousness with which we approach this all too important concept. I am remember in my own life, despite preaching to my students about vocations, being afraid to begin any real conversations about it. I was the God guy, yet even I was nervous about what to say, what people might think, and the possibility that I might be crazy for even considering it. Thankfully, along my journey, I had good friends who I could trust and who supported me. In particular my brother, Brian Flaherty and some good friends really pushed me to look deep inside, to get off the sidelines and to follow where God was leading my heart. Had they never pushed me, I likely would have been too afraid to act, and instead remained still wondering and unsure to this day.
The most interesting story of the night was from an El Salvadoran who shared his story of coming to this country. As a child his mother was forced to raise seven children (6 boys, 1 girl) alone, as her husband was in America sending back money so they could survive. As the evening progressed, the seminarian told his story of coming to America. In order to enter the country he had to sneak across the border three times, being arrested on several occasions. Once in America with his family, he encountered many struggles, eventually becoming mixed up in gangs, sin, etc... As he continued his story he told us of a profound moment of conversion which he experienced while on a retreat. He spoke vividly and beautifully of encountering God in pray before the Eucharist, something that forever changed his life. Asked how he ended up on a retreat when he was away from God, his faith, etc... He answered, a friend asked me to go. Adding, "I didn't want to go but I told him I would, so I did."
As I heard the moving story I was moved by the fact that the young man's entire life was saved and because a friend had the courage to speak up. Looking back on my own life I am struck by the number of times I have chosen not to speak, not to invite someone who has fallen away to Mass, to Church, to pray, to encounter God. How easy it has been to be stuck within my own comfort zone, but how important it is that I step outside of it. As I type this post tonight (actually morning, it is 1:17am) I can think of many good people who have wandered away from God's loving arms and desperately waiting for someone to invite them back. I know that God's calls them, but I also know that sometimes we can ignore his voice, I did. Sometimes, God speaks loudest through others. I think it may be just about time for God to start making some calls from my cell phone and yours.
So I leave with three resources:
1. An Internet site that invites those who have fallen away from the church to come back
2. An Internet source on discovering one's vocation
3. My email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also- Be sure to click on the video link on the top left of the page