My family was blessed with the many gifts of our parish priests throughout my life. These priests accompanied us on our faith journey.

Our daughter developed an upper respiratory infection at four weeks of age. One morning, she was unable to utter a cry. I baptized her with water and my tears just before going to the hospital. Immediately afterward, I was in touch with the priest who was new to our parish to let him know what had occurred.

A few weeks later, we formalized the baptism. It was a joyous occasion! Shortly thereafter, I was home with two very small babies when there was a knock at our door. I was surprised to find it was this same priest, who had come to pay a visit to our family. He wanted to get to know us.

This outreach on his behalf made me realize how vital it was for my family to know our parish priest. My hair was in disarray; the babies were disheveled - but none of that mattered to him. We invited him into our home and shared a meal, such as it was!

We got to know him and cherished that relationship. He wanted to get to know every one of his families and to be embraced by the community. We were honored that he came to our home.

There was also a desert time in my life during which I had put God on the outside. My children were very young and my husband and I were struggling to make ends meet. My husband had two jobs, and we worked together on one job in a restaurant.

One evening, this wonderful priest came in to eat. I was feeling guilty about not having been to church in quite some time, so I made my apologies. His answer was welcoming, not condemning: "You will return when the time is right for you." That time did come.

Another instance in which a priest enriched our lives was during Lent. My aunt, who was disabled, lived in an apartment on the second floor and was unable to go out on a regular basis. She wanted to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Father suggested we make it a family reconciliation.

There were four adults and our three children, one of whom would be unable to receive the sacrament, as he had not been formally catechized yet - but he asked Father if it might be possible for him to receive this sacrament.

Father spoke with Billy and realized that this young boy had a deep sense of faith already, and was truly aware of right and wrong. Also, Billy was troubled with regret for something he had done. Father listened to Billy's confession; afterward, Billy came to me and told me what had been weighing on his mind so heavily for months.

This communal reconciliation so touched our family. My aunt was blessed to have us share in this service, and it was one of the last sacraments she would receive.

Another time, one of our parish priests had died. At his funeral, my son was the altar server. In the reception line, the priest's mother grabbed my son and said, "I want to talk to you." She was wearing a ring, and she gave it to him . Now, I realize she wanted to encourage him to seek faith and possibly think of a vocation.

Billy is currently finishing his criminal justice degree. Who knows where life will lead him? I do know that he has a deep sense of God and what God will do for him and all of us, if we ask.

I have been privileged to know and work with some wonderful priests - priests who want to share God's message with us, to help us develop a more personal relationship with God, to celebrate the sacraments alongside us, to counsel us and to bring us to peace with ourselves.

A priest not only gives of himself, but also receives so much in return. Reach out to your parish priest and get to know him better. There is much more to him than just our Sunday obligation.

The "Called by Name" program is an appeal to think of men who might make good priests. This appeal is for our children and our children's children, who might not have the experiences that we have if we do not encourage more young men to come forward.

God asks us to learn a lesson from the fig tree: to branch out and sprout leaves. Consider as a community how we can encourage and embrace men for the vocation of priesthood. This is a new beginning for us all.

(Mrs. Carlozzi is admininistrative assistant for St. James Church, North Creek; and St. Isaac Jogues, Chestertown/Hague. She gave this talk during a "Called by Name" vocations promotion weekend.)