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MILTON — “How do you know if God’s calling you?”a high school student asked Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley after this year’s first St. Andrew’s Dinner, held at St. Elizabeth Parish in Milton Nov. 9. Seventeen teenagers attended the dinner —named after one of the first apostles who heard Jesus’call and responded —for high school students considering a vocation to the priesthood.
“If it is your vocation, it’s going to be something that energizes you, and the sacrifices it implies aren’t going to be great obstacles because there’s going to be a motivation and a joy,”the archbishop replied. “It’s a process and certainly the inclination, the attraction, that one feels for a vocation is a sign, the encouragement of others, our own personal gifts.”
“There’s a lot of time given to the discernment of a vocation even before someone goes to the seminary. But when you go to the seminary, you’re not ordained the day that you come in. You have years of study and formation,”he added. “We always say that the final sign of the vocation is when the Church actually calls you to orders.”
Archbishop O’Malley encouraged the young men to explore the priesthood through spiritual direction. He then spoke about the importance of the priesthood and the responsibility of each Catholic to determine what God is calling him or her to do. All Catholics should pray for vocations, encourage the vocations of others and determine where God is leading them, he said.
“We ask kids, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’We have to ask ourselves, ‘What does God expect of me? What is the special service that I can give to God and to the world and to the community with my life?’”the archbishop said.
The archbishop added that when he was young, students who attended Catholic schools were taught by nuns and priests who encouraged young people to discern their calling.
“Those religious sisters and priests that taught us were constantly inviting us to consider priesthood or a religious vocation. In their own lives they modeled for us what a life of consecration is about,”he said. “Today the world is much different.”
Archbishop O’Malley also shared the story of his own vocation with the young men. One day he and his father dropped his older brother off at a Capuchin monastery and they spoke with an “old German friar”who was hoeing a field in the hot sun.
“We had a long conversation with him, and it wasn’t about anything in particular, but afterwards I got in the car and we’re driving home, and my dad said, ‘You know, son, that was the happiest man in the world.’Immediately I realized my dad was right,”said the archbishop. “He exuded a happiness and joy and peace that was palpable, and I said in my heart, ‘Gee, I’d like to be happy like that someday,’and I began to think about the possibility of a vocation, and many years later I went back and joined that same monastery and that old priest became my confessor.”
Father Michael Harrington, assistant vocation director for the archdiocese, shared the story of his vocation as well.
“There was never a time where I can recall where someone seriously approached me and said, ‘Have you ever considered a vocation of being a priest?’So I followed the road that many of my classmates were doing in high school where I went off to college,”he said.
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in business, Father Harrington began to work at a financial institution in downtown Boston but felt a call to deepen his faith.
“I felt this deep, interior desire to grow in my relationship with Jesus,”he said.
He became involved with a young adult group, went on a pilgrimage, attended World Youth Day in Rome and participated in several retreats.
“Little by little I started to feel interiorly that God might be calling me to be a priest. At first, I kind of pushed this idea back. I had a different sense earlier on in my life of where God might be leading me,”he said. “But every time I jumped back into prayer this kept resurfacing.”
At one of the retreats he attended, a priest asked young people who were considering a religious vocation to come forward.
“I had told my friend on that retreat that I was just thinking about the possibility that God might be calling me to the priesthood, and when the priest said that, I remember my friend nudging me,”he said.
Father Harrington recalled that at first he did not want to go forward, but when he saw many other young people getting up from their places, he joined them.
“As I moved forward, something in me changed. I said to myself as I was moving forward, ‘If I can physically move forward toward this stage and say that God might be calling me to be a priest, then I’ve got to look at this seriously,”he said “If I felt in my heart that God wanted me to be an accountant, I wouldn’t study what it takes to be a fireman. If I felt in my heart that I was called to be a lawyer, I wouldn’t enter medical school.”
God, who understands us better than we understand ourselves, calls us to the place where we will be most fulfilled and happy, he added.
“Every single one of us has a call. God has a dream. He had a dream for me. He has a dream for each and every one of us. But it begins by just opening up our hearts and inviting God in that He might begin to share or let that dream unfold in our lives,”Father Harrington said.
“I’m so happy to be a priest,”he added. “I believe truly this is what God has called me to be.”
Father Daniel Hennessey, director of the Vocation Office, said St. Andrew’s Dinners are held nationwide and the first three in the Archdiocese of Boston were held last year. The next dinner is planned for sometime in January. “It’s a time for the high school students to be together in a group of young men who are all considering a vocation to the priesthood,”he said.
Jimmy, 16, who attends St. Sebastian School in Needham, said the dinner provided him with the “unique experience”of hearing insights and beliefs about the priesthood from priests and the archbishop.
Another St. Sebastian’s student Mike, 14, said Archbishop O’Malley’s words made him realize that one’s spiritual journey is not about oneself but about God. It is not up to the individual to decide but to discern, he said.
“I hadn’t really thought about it that way before,”he added.