One of my favorite parts of being on break from the seminary and back in my home diocese is the opportunity to visit parishes and schools to talk about vocations and the universal call to holiness. As their future priest, these encounters are invaluable and the beautiful witness of these people gives me more encouragement and hope than I could ever hope to provide in return.
In my diocese, every seminarian is assigned 3-4 parishes to visit and promote vocations during the weekend Masses. In addition to this, the seminarians are asked to visit the seven Catholic high schools in our diocese. Over my five years as a seminarian, these visits have helped build beautiful working and prayerful relationships with teachers, students, pastors, and parishes all over the great Diocese of Joliet.
Last week I visited Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, IL, which is run by the Order of St. Augustine. Above the main entrance, there is a sign that reads, “Let it be known to all who enter here that Jesus Christ is the reason for this school.” What more needs to be said? The school has long been known for its academic rigor and athletic excellence, but it is also deeply rooted in the Gospel; Jesus Christ is the reason for its existence.
In his homily on the first day of class, Father Vincent Bataille, a cam priest and formation advisor at Mundelein, ended his homily with an echo to the sign above Providence’s door. He said, “Unless Jesus Christ is at the center of our hearts, nothing we do here makes sense.” Without Jesus, the great High Priest, nothing we do at Mundelein makes any sense. In the darkness of winter and the difficulty of another semester of classes, it’s easy to forget what we’re doing and who we are.
On January 11, we began a new semester at Mundelein. Spring semester always offers unique challenges. This week, the third year men will leave for the Holy Land pilgrimage and at the beginning of February the second theologians leave for internships in their own dioceses. It is cold, seemingly always dark outside, and the work piles up quickly. It is easy for us to lose focus not only about what we are doing and why we are doing it, but also to lose sight of Whose sons we are and to stop listening for the voice of the One who called us here.
The Church, in her wisdom, gets that. It’s no coincidence, then, that the gospel reading for the first day of class, which was also the first Monday in Ordinary time, was the calling of Peter and Andrew with the simplest phrase of all: “Follow me.” Indeed, this is the message at the heart of all we do and is the starting point for conversion and transformation, not just for a bunch of almost-priests in the heart of Lake County, but for every man and woman who has ever and will ever live. “Follow me,” Jesus says, “put me at the center, let me be your way and your truth and your life; let me sustain you and carry you forward forever.” Without this call, without Emmanuel – God with us – nothing we do makes sense.
To my brother seminarians – at Mundelein and everywhere – let’s live this new semester inside the heart of Jesus Christ, inside the heart of the one who called us here and urges us on; may the witness we give and the work we do be itself a sign which states with boldness, “Let it be known that Jesus Christ is the reason!”