5/28/2015 9:00:00 AM SEMINARIAN'S DIARY Fear vs. a vocation
BY DEACON BRIAN KELLY
(Editor's note: This column was written just before Brian Kelly was ordained a transitional deacon May 23 at Albany's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, along with transitional deacons Steve Matthews and Patrick Rice and permanent deacon Frank Garceau. The transitional deacons will continue formation for the priesthood and should be ordained next year.)
I am overwhelmed with peace and joy as I approach ordination to the diaconate. I have been working toward this moment for what feels like a lifetime and, now that it's here, I still can't believe it.
I look back on moments in my life with endless gratitude for the family and friends who have raised and guided me to become the man I am today, and reflecting on the many encounters with bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful who have taught me so much about myself and the priesthood.
Each of their witnesses of faith has influenced me in ways that have helped me to reach this point. The conversations, daily encounters and especially being there with them in times of happiness and sadness have solidified my feeling called to the priesthood.
Prior to applying to the Albany Diocese's formation program, I was hesitant about considering the day-to-day life of a priest. What was it that people saw in me that I didn't see in myself, leading them to say I should consider the priesthood? Would I really be able to do all that priests do each day, with the joy and peace that so many bring to their ministerial role in the Church?
I was anxious about being a public person who is expected to stand tall and be a "rock" for families in life's hardest moments. Could I really be that person who is expected to always be present or to have the right words to say to comfort another in need?
These fears about being a perfect or model priest haunted me in my discernment. I found myself endlessly praying to God to show me a way out, letting these "what-if" scenarios be at the forefront of my discernment and wanting to avoid facing them altogether.
I remember the very first discernment meeting I attended with Rev. James Walsh, at St. Pius X Church in Loudonville with about 10 other men. He displayed Caravaggio's painting "The Calling of Saint Matthew" for us to reflect upon as we prayed in the chapel.
During our discussion afterward, Father Walsh opened up the floor for thoughts that came to mind, and we got on the topic of fear. My very first discernment meeting, five years ago, and I completely missed the message. I could have saved myself so much time.
"Fear is the number-one vocation killer for guys discerning the priesthood," he said.
I heard it - obviously; I remember it, looking back now - but I didn't understand it. I should have had that statement tattooed on my arm so I could look at it each time I went into the chapel to pray.
Walking through fear with the Lord, recognizing its crippling effect and facing it head-on, however, is what has brought me to this point of peace and joy. Overcoming that hurdle is what drove me to see in myself all that they had seen in me.
Fear became an obstacle that now drives me to want to be present in those difficult moments. Fear, that "vocation killer," is the very means by which so many others have reached the point of truly saying "yes" to the Lord's call. A tool of the devil, meant to be a hindrance for anyone discerning a vocation, becomes the means by which we can truly give our lives over to God, to His Church and His people.
To anyone who may ask me today about their reservations in pursuit of a potential vocation, whatever it may be, I say, "Embrace it. Use it to fuel your discernment. Own it. Whether it be fear, obedience, celibacy, simplicity of life, loneliness, that is the mountain that stands between you and the grace, peace and joy that the Lord will surely bring to you as you move forward in your discernment toward ordination.
"This will leave you feeling as I do today: willing and ready to be ordained, to be that rock for families in need and to be the one who is truly open to allowing God to speak those perfect words through you to those you will serve."
(Deacon Kelly is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. A native of Newtonville, he was formerly business manager at Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes.)