Baseball is not only our national pastime, it's also a great source of American English idioms. Was your parish priest's homily both instructive and memorable? You might say he "hit a home run." Did your church generously contribute to the special collection at Mass this week? Then you and your fellow parishioners really "stepped up to the plate."

I can use another baseball idiom to describe my vocation journey: Recently, I was thrown a curve ball.

I've suffered from constant headaches for over the past three years. The treatment protocol my doctors in Philadelphia prescribed would have necessitated me missing too much time during my first semester at seminary. I was forced to take medical leave.

After months of preparation, this was a huge letdown for me. For about two weeks, I was just going through the motions of life. I felt aimless and numb.

Then, unexpectedly, a thought occurred to me: This, too, is part of God's plan for my life.

My prayers became more focused. I was able to better understand my own suffering by offering up my pain -- physical and psychological -- to Christ. I especially took spiritual refuge in the mysteries of the Rosary, knowing that my headaches were but a fraction of what my Lord endured when His persecutors crowned Him with thorns.

During this difficult time in my life, I knew Jesus was there to sustain me. So was the Albany Diocese. A contingency plan was crafted and, beginning in January, I will be serving an eight-month pastoral assignment at the parish of Mater Christi in Albany, prior to entering Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., next fall.

I am excited for this opportunity to learn more about parish life and serving the people of God, and I'm extremely grateful for my Diocese's support.

As I write this column, it is National Vocation Awareness Week (Nov. 6-12). I specifically want to address older guys like myself who have thought of pursuing the priesthood, but who have health conditions or something else they feel is holding them back.

To them, I say: If you know the Lord is calling you, answer His call! Commit your way to the Lord; trust God will act (Psalm 37:5).

My own vocation has proved that chronic pain need not be a disqualifier. The first step is always the toughest, but I can assure you that this will be a worthwhile journey. Remember, with God, anything is possible.

Need proof? Just ask the Chicago Cubs!

(Mr. McHale is a native of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson. To learn more about second-career vocations, contact Rev. Anthony Ligato, diocesan vicar for vocations, at frligato@nycap.rr.com.)