June 2, 2012
St. John’s Boston
Immaculate Conception, Holyoke, MA
My parents are both from Puerto Rico and moved to Hartford, CT, the city I was born in, after they were married. When I was three years old my family moved to Westfield, MA and I grew up and went to school there. My parish church growing up was Saint Mary’s in Westfield. I am the oldest of 5 siblings—two brothers and two sisters, and have a large extended family.
The Catholic faith has always been an important part of my life. Ever since I can remember our family went to Sunday Mass and was involved with the Church. It wasn’t until college at UMass, Amherst that I really had to decide to make the faith my parents brought me up in my own. And it was mostly in college that I started to deepen my understanding of my faith. I was by no means a perfect or model catholic but at some point in those first years of freedom and independence I made the choice to live my catholic faith as best as I could. That meant going to confession frequently, because I often didn’t live up to way of life Jesus Christ was calling me to live. It also meant making Sunday Mass a priority. I tried to find other Catholics my age, who were striving to live their faith to provide relationships that were mutually supporting. No one can live the Christian life in isolation. These choices helped me to become a man of prayer and devotion so that even in my weakness and struggles I knew that I could always turn to God for help.
I remember thinking about the priesthood as a possible calling for me when I was in middle school and high school. People would say things to me like, “You would make a good priest.” or ask me, “You’re going to be a priest aren’t you?” I tried to ignore most of those comments and brush them aside with a little humor. However, they made an impression on me because on some level I really did recognize the voice of Jesus calling me to the priesthood. Things got more serious when I was in my junior year of College studying Horticulture and Business and realized that’s not what I wanted to do with my life. So I withdrew from the program and went back home to work for a few years. I was kind of lost and unsure what the future had in store for me. My life seemed to have no direction. That is when I started to get a stronger sense that God was calling me to something more significant than the odd jobs I had been working. The clergy sex abuse scandal erupted and the Church was constantly being criticized and shamed publicly and I was angry. I saw the image of the priesthood take on the persona of a villain rather than a hero, even within the Church. I thought to myself, “We need good priests.” I thought of how important priests had been in my life, how much I loved the Eucharist and the sacrament to Reconciliation, how much I loved the priesthood itself. How truly important the priesthood is to me. “We need good priests! What is going on?” I kept asking myself in frustration. And in the back of my mind and the depths of my heart I heard an interior voice answer, “Why not you?”
Celebrating the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation are the most humbling and yet joy-bringing things I get to do as a priest. Every challenge seems to come with corresponding joy. I also love just being a priest and sharing that gift with my parishioners, family, friends and other priests in various ways. There is a great joy when you can provide guidance and peace to a person’s soul and then realize that the hand of God was directing it all.
My advice for young men discerning their vocations: Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you. Go to Mass and confession frequently, don’t be afraid. Talk to a holy priest about it, someone who will be able to give you sound advice. Don’t keep your calling a secret. If you really think God is calling you to the priesthood, contact the vocation director, because discernment can’t happen without the guidance of the Church.