Seminary follows an academic calendar, so I had the past month from school. Despite already graduating college, I still get to enjoy the wonders of Christmas and Summer break. The general rule throughout the formation process is that Christmas break is free while summer break involves a diocesan assignment. I learned from undergrad to take advantage of these long breaks, so I have some great experiences I want to share. The whole break was an opportunity to learn about my new identity as Seminarian and how to balance my prayer obligations (meditation, daily mass, morning/evening/night prayer) with rest, ministry, and fun.
College Station – Whoop!
Immediately after I finished class at UD, I traveled down to College Station. St. Mary’s is my sponsoring parish in the diocese, so it’s great to spend time there when I can. Throughout the week I served at masses, helped out in the office, and got to catch up with lots of friends. It brings me so much joy to hear about the way God continues to move through the people and ministries here. I stayed at the rectory, which was a surreal experience. 4 years ago I looked at the building with wonder and awe, and now I have the invitation to stay there. Weird.
Austin – Party
We had a Seminarian Christmas party at the Bishop’s residence. This is one of two times each year that all the Seminarians come together, so it was great to catch up with all the guys I hadn’t seen since summer. I have become great friends with the 8 guys at HTS with me, but there are 37 other men in formation at 5 other seminaries that I am slowly getting to know. It was a joyous occasion of stories and fellowship.
San Antonio – Family
I spent the weeks around Christmas at home with family. This was a great time to relax and enjoy everyone’s company. I gave a talk to a large group of high school/college kids at the parish I grew up in (another surreal experience). It was great for me to reflect on the things I had learned first semester and share some of the fruit of my study and prayer.
Lost Maples – Nature
I went backpacking with my brother at Lost Maples. The trip was great until it started raining ice on the third morning. We decided it was time to leave when ice started collecting in my beard.
Dripping Springs – Church
I headed to Dripping Springs to spend time at St. Martin de Porres Parish. The Dominican Sisters were a highlight, but the rest of the week was just as blessed. Fr Charlie allowed me to shadow him and integrate into the parish life. I altar served at the weekend and weekday masses, observed a marriage prep meeting, was taken to lots of meals, shared wonderful conversations with parishioners, and spent time shadowing each staff member. After growing up at a massive parish (~3500 families) and recently coming from St Mary’s (~4000 at mass each weekend), it was great to see the vibrant and tight-knit life of a smaller (~600 families) parish. The love and support shown to me by the people of the parish was overwhelming and humbling. I pray I never grow desensitized to hearing “Thank you for responding to this call. I pray for you every day.“
San Angelo – Silence
I moved back to Dallas, then loaded a bus to San Angelo for a 5 day silent retreat. Outside of Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and a visit with Bishop Mike Sis, I did not talk for 60 hours. Fr Joshua Whitfield (a priest from Dallas) lead the retreat and gave a series of incredible reflections on the world, the Church, Christ’s Priesthood, and the way that we will eventually share in that Priesthood. I slept a lot, read a lot, wrote, exercised, explored outside, climbed trees, and spent lots of time in prayer. The most remarkable thing to me was how normal the experience seemed. I didn’t have any profound experiences, but that’s the bulk of our prayer lives.
Waco – DCYC
We came back to Dallas, and then the Austin seminarians drove down to Waco for the annual Diocesan Catholic Youth Conference (DCYC). I spent my birthday with 2700 of my newest high school friends. We did not have any real job, other than talk to teens and provide a visual of what a seminarian looks like. I had to opportunity to put on my Covecrest hat and intentionally seek out teens to talk to. I had a series of graced conversations and was reminded how much I enjoy that form of ministry.
The highlight of the weekend was after Mass when Fr Jonathan (our Vocation Director) stood up and lead a “vocation altar call.” He invited, up to the front, those teens who felt that Christ might be calling them to serve as a priest or religious, so that Bishop Vasquez could pray over them. About 50 men and 50 women came forward and the crowd erupted in applause! This is exactly what a “vocation culture” looks like – men and women responding generously to God’s call and the surrounding community enthusiastically supporting and encouraging that decision. I had goosebumps (and some tears) as I remembered myself responding to a similar call 4 years ago. What a glorious journey it has been.
Irving – Home
Finally I came back to Irving, got some sleep, and started up class again. My experiences over the break brought great refreshment and joy that will hopefully sustain me throughout another semester of academic work.
I still stop sometimes and marvel at what God is doing with my life. If anyone ever tells you Catholicism is boring, please charitably respond that they are profoundly mistaken. The call to follow Christ is one of daily surrender but remarkable adventure. My break from class was a fantastic reminder that our moments of prayer and ongoing conversion should to propel us into service of others. I was born for this… and you were too!
Incline my heart according to your will, O God
Currently listening to: Zach Winters