Sunday, January 07, 2007

Feast of the Epiphany - homily

Today begins National Vocations Awareness Week. In praying over this Gospel for the Feast of the Epiphany, I thought it was fitting to briefly tell my own vocations story. There are similarities between the three wise men and myself (not about being wise, though). They saw a star which led them to Christ. It has to be night –has to be dark- in order to see the stars. So, we understand that these men were in darkness when they saw the light that leads to Christ, their Messiah and King.

In spiritual terms, for the first twenty years of my life, I lived in darkness. I knew ABOUT Jesus, but I didn’t know Him. I grew up in a good, Catholic home…a home of love. For whatever reason, and it was my own fault, I didn’t really listen to the Gospel…I didn’t listen to the teachings. So, especially in high school and college, I made choice that were very sinful. I have been a great sinner. I remember being 20 years old on a college campus, and thinking, ‘I’m in darkness’. We hear in the first reading that “darkness covers the earth”. It’s talking about sin, and how we are all sinners. I realized that my sin led me to darkness, and I was looking for the light. I didn’t know that Christ was the light.

A year later, I transferred to the University of Maryland, and began to help out with the youth group at St. Mark’s Church in Hyattsville. That’s when my life of faith began to change. I remember one conversation, in particular with my good friend, Fr. Wells (the pastor at St Mark’s at that time). Fr. Wells was a ton of fun! He and I would go out and play golf together, and talk about everything under the sun. He joked about almost everything, except for the Eucharist. We were talking about the Eucharist one day in his office, and I said, “well, you know, Father, the Eucharist is a symbol”. He said, “What?” “It’s uh, a symbol?”, I said. He said, “Greg, this is my body means this is my body”. I thought to myself, “really? We really believe that as Catholics?”

So, I began to go to daily Mass at St. Mark’s. I went to hear the words I had heard hundreds of times before, and to see the actions of the priest. I realized that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus at each Mass. This was my epiphany – the light went on…finally! God became real to me; He is present on Earth, especially in the Eucharist.

At that time, St. Mark’s had what’s called Perpetual Adoration. They exposed the Eucharist 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a chapel. People visited the chapel all during the day and night and prayed in the presence of the Lord. I signed up for the 6-7 am hour on Thursdays. That was early! When I first started going, I had no clue what I was doing – I had never done Adoration before. I remember in those first few weeks, as I was alone with Jesus, looking at the Eucharist, and saying, “Jesus, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. All those years I thought it was just a symbol, just a piece of bread. All those times I went to Mass without having the proper respect and reverence I should have. While I was filled with regret and sorrow, I was also filled with great joy and peace. We hear that the wise men were “overjoyed” in their epiphany experience. As I was coming into the light, I, too, was filled with tremendous joy.

In time, I would start praying about my vocation in Adoration. I started to say to the Lord, “Lord, I’ll do whatever you want me to do with my life. Whatever you’re calling me to, I’ll do”. I have to admit that I added, “except be a priest. Other than that, I’m all yours”. (But, the Lord took that little opening and began to show me that he was calling me to be a priest.) It was mainly that, “Lord, you gave me your life. Let me give you my life”. I felt that there were some rumblings going on about a vocation to the priesthood, so I entered the seminary right after college at the age of 23.

As I’ve told you before, seminary was a challenge for me. I enjoyed it over all, but I struggled. It was all so new. To give up your whole life for something…and all of the sacrifices that went along with priesthood. I left the seminary twice which is not normal. It took me 12 years to finish when it normally takes six! But, during that time, I realized that a) priesthood is my vocation, and b) it is a great gift. I’ve said before that it’s a great gift to be here with you, to be a part of your lives, your families, and your kids’ lives. Since being ordained in May, I have found my fulfillment, my happiness.

Every person in this Church, in this parish, in the world has a vocation. Each of us is called either to 1) marriage (which most people are called to), 2) religious life, or 3) single life. Our job is to go to Christ and ask him what is our vocation…what is the Father’s will for us? When we find our vocation, we find the reason we are here on this earth. We find our happiness, we find our fulfillment.

People will ask, ‘what can I do to support vocations’. Two things especially: 1) Pray for vocations. Every day. Pray that young men and women will hear the call and answer it. God is calling men and women from this parish to serve as priests and nuns. Guarantee. 2) We can increase our devotion to the Eucharist. It is proven that parishes that have Perpetual Adoration have men in the seminaries and women in convents. We have Adoration here Friday nights from 7-8 pm. You can join us and pray for vocations. Each vocation starts with the Eucharist. Fr. Wells once said: “As long as we are a community that is centered on the Eucharist, there will never be a shortage of men and women who give their lives in service to the Church”. We pray that men and women will hear the call and answer it. It is a call to love, service, and sacrifice. It is a call to be a light those in darkness.

I close with a quote from St. Augustine which is how I feel about all of you. “For my own sake, I was baptized. For your sake, I was ordained”.

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