Internship is one of the most anticipated programs of seminary formation. The men who return from internship in the fall are so full of energy and joy as they share their experiences of working in the Lord’s vineyard, bringing Jesus to people and people to Jesus. You see a difference in the men after internship — a greater maturity and acceptance of “what it looks like” to be a priest.
Having witnessed so many of my own friends fall more in love with Christ and their vocation on their internship, it was something I had looked forward to for years. Excitement built up over many semesters as I prepared to be sent out like the disciples were.
Then, COVID-19 hit. Expectations and assumptions thought reliable suddenly became questionable. I was concerned about what my internship would be like. Will my class have internship at all? If we do, what will we miss out on? Will our experience be good enough? The devil seized on many uncertainties in my heart, seeking to discourage me in the months leading up to the start of internship in late January. It was in these moments when I could only offer the desperate prayer of my soul, the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: Lord, may your will be done!
To say that our Lord Jesus provided everything to me during internship is an understatement. God the Father was generous, and he lavishly poured forth his generosity upon me during those three months. Ample opportunities for teaching, listening, leading and praying abounded.
“To say that our Lord Jesus provided everything to me during internship is an understatement. God the Father was generous, and He lavishly poured forth His generosity upon me during those three months. Ample opportunities for teaching, listening, leading and praying abounded.”
When I arrived at St. Damian Parish in Oak Forest, Illinois, the priests quickly immersed me in the daily life of their incredibly vibrant community. I found myself teaching the faith in the school classrooms, leading catechetical small groups of parishioners and school teachers, and answering parishioners’ questions about the faith. Despite religious education being mostly online, these sessions were still weekly opportunities to gather, laugh, and learn together. Both in the parish and the school, I saw the priests and staff work creatively to bring parishioners together as much as possible.
Liturgically, I saw how hungry the parishioners were to be led in prayer and fed with the Eucharist during such difficult times. Livestreamed daily Mass, Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet were all heavily attended, both in-person and virtually. Funerals and weddings were also frequent, giving us precious moments of human affection and sympathy — even if socially distanced and covered by facemasks.
As an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and an occasional preacher, it was mesmerizing to see the people of God respond to our ministry with gratitude and joy. You could see what the parish was to them: a refuge, a home, where God’s presence in word and sacrament was ready to nourish them.
There was so much to pray with at the end of each day. Questions, concerns and fears were still present, but I was slowly realizing how God was answering my prayers. It is enough. Even in abnormal times, God is still present and working! What was also beautiful to behold was God continuously drawing His people together despite circumstances and limitations. COVID-19 may have taken away many in-person gatherings from the parishioners, but not the Holy Spirit.
We pray in the Our Father, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is exactly what God does! I was privileged to witness this each day on internship. Worrying about what would happen in the future took me out of the current moment, where God was already present and working. Each day at Mass, we ask him to give us what we need, just for that day. When has He not done so? He has promised his faithfulness always, and will not allow sin — or a virus — to stop Him from working in our hearts. He takes His love for us with absolute seriousness. Therefore, the only thing to be concerned with is this moment, this person, this situation right in front of me, because here and now is where God is present.
Speaking on behalf of all my classmates returning from internship, we are grateful for the prayers and support we received during such a joyful, challenging, and intense time of formation. The harvest is indeed abundant, and we are privileged to be Christ’s laborers. May the Holy Spirit stir up the hearts of many more men to join us in this great labor of love!