One of my real joys as bishop — and I am blessed with so many — is celebrating the sacrament of confirmation. Just a few weeks ago, I finished my schedule of spring confirmations. It is a wonderful moment of grace and also a wonderful time to be with the people of God and celebrate together the Church of Pittsburgh.
At one confirmation at the end of May, I was talking with the principal of the Catholic school. He was so excited to tell me that he was getting married very soon. His spouse-to-be is a teacher at one of our high schools.
Curious, I then asked him how he and his intended wife met. “We are both joggers,” he said. “We met when we each took a lap around the lake!” What an incredible blessing for both of them.
It is a reminder once again how God puts gifts in our lives — people, places, talents and even lakes and jogging — and uses these gifts in leading us to our vocation. What we do and who we are can never be accidental in God’s eyes. Always providential! Always designed by God to get us to our final destination of heaven.
Just last weekend, I was blessed to ordain four transitional deacons at St. Paul Cathedral. They are now in the final stage of preparation, study and discernment before their ordination to the priesthood next year. They are Brendan Dawson, Tim Deely, D.J. Egan and Mingwei Li.
Much as our school principal and teacher, these men all have their stories of what brought them to the altar last week. The night before ordaining them, I asked them the same question I asked of the soon-to-be-married principal: How did it happen? Whom did God use? What clues did God send to nudge them toward their vocation — God’s call to them? While their stories were different from the holy happenstance of a jog around a lake, God’s grace was so evident in what they said.
Brendan speaks of his mother and his maternal grandparents who “instilled in me a great love and pride in our Irish heritage and our Catholic faith. These two identities form the core of who I am.” He adds that he was blessed to know so many good priests who live their lives in service to the church.
Tim Deely is a member of St. Paul Cathedral Parish. A Catholic high school teacher in Rhode Island after graduating, he moved to study for the priesthood, saying that he was inspired “by the faith of my parents, the encouragement of friends,” and the example of so many priests he has encountered throughout his life.
D.J. Egan of Glenshaw says that he had the “stirrings of a priestly vocation earlier in my youth,” but prayer and discernment really began when he was a sophomore in college. Religious studies courses and reading and reflecting on Scripture pushed that discernment forward, and the “thought of being a priest entered into my mind and I could never really shake or dismiss the possibility.”
Mingwei Li is a member of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Pleasant Hills. He attended two years of elementary school in China before moving with his family to the United States. He graduated from Pitt with a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene. But he could not ignore the call. He was accepted into the diocesan priestly formation program. He says that his parents “have had a great influence in my vocation to the priesthood. It is through the faith that they handed down to me and my siblings, and their witness of faith, living it from day to day.”
Gifts great and small
We all have our stories. We know them, large and small. Some we know right at the very moment they take place. Others we might not understand until we look back years later and realize, yes, it was that person; it was being in that place; it was reading that story; it was hearing that song that made all the difference. They are all part of divine providence.
Our lives are not accidents. God is not only our Creator. He has taken hold of us and he makes all the difference if we allow him to move in us.
We call on God. He calls on us. He gives us what we need to find and live our vocation. As Cardinal John Henry Newman prayed: “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.”
A lap around the lake. When the principal told me that story, I thought of another lake, another time, and the discovery of vocations that changed the world. The Gospel writer tells it this way:
As (Jesus) was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him (Matthew 4:18-22).
Jesus calls us, too! He uses the moments of our lives, our gifts great and small, to reach us, to teach us, to open us up to him and to the finish line, his Father’s kingdom in heaven. He uses these so that we can become fishers, reaching out, bringing those we meet to know him, to love him and to serve him.
A lake. A jog. A young couple meet. And the world will never be the same.
Whom did God use to make you who you are? And how is he using you and me to bring others closer to him? In what way are we right there at the Sea of Galilee, coming to realize that at this very moment Jesus will step in and change our lives?
God is good. His call is as close as our own heart. All we need to do, like the two teachers taking “a lap around the lake,” or like the four new deacons, is to say “yes” with our mind, heart, soul and strength.