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There is More Joy in Serving than Receiving (Teaching Parish Reflection)

by Daniel Villalobos on March 26, 2018

It is well known that Jesus Christ prepared himself before the beginning of his ministry. Forty days of fasting and praying plus the temptations from the devil were part of the “desert experience” that transformed Jesus’ way of seeing the world. It is the same experience that all Christians have been called to live during the Lenten season.

I was speaking about the Lenten season with the children in my First Communion class at my teaching parish, but it was not easy to explain why Jesus went to the desert. I realized the best way to speak about it was by expressing our struggles, because those help us to understand that Jesus was truly a human being like every one of us. When we pray with our own struggles, we see the same light and company of God that Jesus experienced during those forty days. It was not until I prayed this passage of the Gospel that I could understand why Jesus had this “springtime” before beginning his mission.

And here I am Lord, again, teaching catechesis for kids in another country, in a different culture, and in a foreign language for me. I am a seminarian originally from Colombia, studying for the Archdiocese of Chicago. It has not been a long time since I came to the United States, but it has been a blessed time and I have been feeling happy with my formation and studies. Being at Mundelein seminary has given me a growing opportunity to learn and practice what I receive as a student in the classroom and in formation for priesthood.

One of the most influential experiences that I have had is the assignment to St. Emily Parish. I did not even know where the parish was or who the famous pastor (Fr. James Presta, former Vice Rector at Mundelein) was even though almost everyone at the seminary knew him. That was the beginning of a new journey for me.

Once I arrived at St. Emily, Fr. Presta was more than welcoming, but his news was not what I was expecting. I thought that my ministry would be with RCIA instead of fifth grade Religious Education. This year of working with this group of kids has been a learning process not only for them, but also for me. I appreciate how they challenge me to do a better job each time that we gather.

On my first day in the classroom, I did not even know how to pronounce their names correctly, so I decided that everyone would do his/her own introduction. Throughout this journey of faith with the children, I have learned more about how they experience their Church, and their belief in Jesus.  They teach me new ways of conveying my knowledge and making it understandable for them in contemporary culture. I realize that teaching Religious Education is more than a simple catechesis, but a process of discovering Jesus’ face in our daily questions about life — and kids always have questions.

I should acknowledge that this parish has a very well-organized Religious Education Program, and this is thanks to the catechists that commit their time and skills for the formation of their children. I have learned more than I teach because there is always something new in this exciting program:  new material, new ideas, new questions about how to improve our work and always with a clear purpose of teaching who Jesus is.

The Teaching Parish Program is essential for anyone who is in formation to be a priest. It is important for my formation because it lets me explore my knowledge and skills in real pastoral life. Through interaction and working with people, I learn how to be a pastor, a counselor, a father, “a priest.” Being a priest is not about me, it is about the people of God.

Seminarian Ryan McMillan, Deacon Kyle Sladek, Fr. James Presta, Cardinal Blase Cupich, Seminarian Daniel Villalobos, and Fr. Rafal Stecz gather at St. Emily parish.