This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under "specials" at www.evangelist.org. (Kate Blain photo)
This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under "specials" at www.evangelist.org. (Kate Blain photo)
Twelve years ago this February, I was driving along Route 32 out to Mechanicville. I was nervous, excited, worried and eager all at the same time: I was about to begin my student teaching internship at Mechanicville High School.

After years of studying to be a teacher, I was finally going to be teaching. I didn't know what to expect. Was teaching even the right job for me? As I wound along the curves of that road, parallel to the Hudson River, all sorts of thoughts and questions went through my mind.

It turned out to be a great experience that confirmed my love of teaching.

Exactly 12 years later, I find myself driving along the same road, seeing the same sights and thinking about the same things. This time, I am beginning my pastoral year: As part of our formation, seminarians spend a year in a parish, learning about parish life and experiencing all that goes on.

You can imagine my surprise, joy and nostalgia when I was told that my pastoral year would be at All Saints on the Hudson parish in Mechanicville/Stillwater.

We are all on a journey in life, and God is with us on that journey. Sometimes, we get so busy and so caught up in what we are doing that we don't even recognize God's presence, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

The two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem to the city of Emmaus when Jesus joins them and walks and talks with them. Jesus explains the meaning of the Scriptures, and the whole time, they do not even recognize Him. The Gospel says they only recognized Him when He "took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them."

My journey has followed a winding path full of unexpected twists and turns, ups and downs, and even traffic jams. There were a lot of things -- painful and joyful -- that I never expected.

I never expected this journey in the first place. I never expected the things that God would lead me through. I never expected to be away from seminary on a pastoral year. Unexpected circumstances led me to a pastoral year. And, 12 years ago, I never would have expected to be back in Mechanicville as a seminarian.

I am learning to follow the example of a great priest, friend and inspiration, Rev. Marc Touchette. He taught me that, whenever the journey leads someplace painful, unexpected or coincidental, we should always ask, "What is God trying to teach us?"

This question is challenging, because it means that we have something to learn, and we have to change. Sometimes, God is leading us outside of ourselves and our narrow world and showing us what we never expected or even thought possible.

That is how it has been for me. Although unexpected, so far my pastoral year has been incredible. I have met great people, participated in wonderful events and witnessed extraordinary devotion.

I have come to recognize Jesus on my journey. In this pastoral year, I have seen teenagers preparing for confirmation and living out their faith in the midst of an aggressively secular culture that promotes only the pursuit of pleasure and self-interest. Jesus is present with those young people.

I witnessed a couple in their 90s struggling with illness and lack of mobility, still passionately in love with each other and thoroughly devoted to God after decades of marriage. Jesus is present in their embrace.

I have seen people of every age give their time and use their gifts to serve others in the parish, expecting nothing in return and inviting no recognition. Jesus is present among them.

And every time I go to confession and gather in communion with the parish for Mass, Jesus is present in that communion.

We are all on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus is there walking with us and teaching us. Once we recognize Him, like the disciples, we are changed. Their outlook changes and they head back to Jerusalem in the opposite direction. I, too, have experienced God's presence, and I am forever changed.

(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.)