A Personal Invitation Changed My Life

A personal invitation 24 years ago changed my life.

A colleague at work, Paul Carswell, invited me to go to lunch with him. He was a deeply committed evangelical Protestant familiar with the Bible, and he knew I was a Catholic. I was a little apprehensive because I thought that he was going to ask me why I believed in those
particularly Catholic beliefs such as the pope, Mary, the saints, sacraments, etc. and I didn’t have a good biblical answer.

In the two weeks before the lunch, I actively searched the internet and discovered to my amazement the writings of Scott Hahn, a staunchly anti-Catholic evangelical Protestant pastor and biblical scholar who, after a considerable period of intense study of the early Church Fathers and Scripture, converted to Catholicism. I stayed up late each night eagerly reading Hahn’s writings and learned, to my relief, that what the Catholic Church teaches is deeply rooted in Scripture. One example is that the closest possible personal relationship we can have with Jesus is to become spiritually and physically united with him in His flesh, the Eucharist (John 6:52-57)—the “most profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:32)—in the liturgical community of the Church where the new covenant of Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20) makes Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and his resurrected body truly sacramentally present at Mass, a covenantal fulfillment alluded to in many books of the Old and New Testaments.

Father Jim's First Mass

This “opening of the Scripture”—like Jesus did for the disciples on the road to Emmaus—was life-changing for me. It began a 24-year fascinating journey (which continues today) of discovery of Catholic teaching preserved in Scripture and Tradition by the Church for 2000
years. It was life-changing for Paul too: as I shared with him what I was learning, he undertook several years of concentrated study of the early Church and Scripture and converted to Catholicism.

The Lord worked mightily through Paul in a way that neither he nor I could have imagined. And it all started with an invitation.

I never cease to be amazed at the great grace and love God pours into our hearts (Rom 5:5) when we, like Paul, participate in the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion by reaching out to others and inviting them to encounter Christ. Personal invitations—such as inviting someone to join you at Mass or Eucharistic Adoration or a parish event or ministry you’re enthusiastic about, or to a meal to mutually share your faith—stretch us, keep us on our knees pleading for God’s grace, and bear much fruit because it’s the Holy Spirit who’s at work in us as His instruments. I’ve experienced this hundreds of times talking with fellow travelers on the airplane, some of which resulted in conversions to Christ and others who decided to return to practicing their Catholic faith. Jesus sent his disciples “to every town and place where he himself intended to go” (Luke 10:1), and calls us to do the same: to prepare the hearts and minds of those we know so that Jesus can enter their lives (Rev 3:20).

When we do this—when we go “out on a limb” like Zacchaeus—and invite others directly or indirectly to encounter Christ, the Holy Spirit moves hearts. I’m reminded of the “3 in 1” initiatives that I’ve introduced in three parishes where hundreds of parishioners signed up to the challenge of praying and personally inviting “3 people in 1 year” to parish events, Mass, etc. which resulted in family members returning to the Church for Mass and the sacraments, friends coming to Bible studies or faith sharing groups, and in some cases conversions to Catholicism.

Paul Carswell’s personal invitation changed my life, or, rather, the Holy Spirit changed my life through Paul Carswell. Jesus is ready and waiting to send you and me to those he himself intends to visit, which is every person He has brought into your life and mine. Do we pray to hear His invitation?

Father Jim Bors graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD in May 2022 and was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ on June 18, 2022 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. His home parish is St. Andrew by the Bay near Annapolis, and he has been
assigned as Associate Pastor to the Pastorate of Our Lady of the Chesapeake in Pasadena and St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Riviera Beach effective July 1. Please pray for Father Jim Bors.

Do not be afraid of your love for the people of God

We recently had an evening of recollection at St. Mary’s Seminary & University, led by Fr. Carter Griffin, the rector of the St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, D.C. These evenings and days of recollection in the seminary are great opportunities to retreat with Jesus into the wilderness to pray and commune with our Heavenly Father. I especially enjoy these days because they are another chance for me to intentionally enter into deeper prayer and recharge my spiritual batteries, drawing from the source of life and love Himself.

On this occasion, a phrase that Fr. Griffin offered us to reflect upon stuck with me. He said, “Brothers, do not be afraid of your love for the people of God.” This was a reminder that what we are doing in the seminary (studying theology and being formed into good and holy men in ministry) is important work, but there are people for whom this formation is geared toward: service to and love for God and His Church.

Reflecting on this powerful line from our evening of recollection, I couldn’t help but think back on the many moments in which my love for God and His people has grown. One of the first moments that came to mind was from an experience over my pastoral year at St. Joseph Parish in Cockeysville.

I was asked by the pastor to bring the Eucharist to a couple who were homebound during the pandemic. This couple was unable to come back to church because the wife had been diagnosed with late-stage amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. By the time I met this couple, the wife was already bedbound, but she still had some mobility from the neck up and could still speak. She was overcome with joy and excitement every time I came to visit, and especially when preparing to receive our Lord in the Eucharist.

Over my months of visiting, I witnessed this woman deteriorate so quickly that my visits changed from conversations to simply being present with her and her husband. I learned soon enough that I was not just ministering to her but to her family as well. In all of this, I was moved by her husband in a powerful way. For all those months, I observed how he took such careful and tender care of his wife, from repositioning her for a comfortable view out the window and holding her hand as he read the Scriptures of the day to her. And he stayed so very strong for her. Every move he made and every word he spoke had a tenderness that can only have come from his profound love for her. She persevered until she was called home by the Lord in April 2021. To this day, I continue to keep in touch with the husband, and I continue to be amazed by his faith in God.

My visits with this couple awoke a desire deep within me for this same kind of love for God’s people. I have a profound yearning to give of myself for the sake of my future bride, the Church. Fr. Griffin’s words during that evening of recollection could not ring truer: “Do not be afraid of your love for the people of God.” They will teach you in so many countless ways.

Javier preaching.

Javier Fuentes is in 3rd Theology at Saint Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD and, please God, will be ordained a deacon
on May 21, 2022. Javier’s home parish is St.John’s in Frederick. Please pray for Javier!

Wherever You’re Going, Lord

The words Quo Vadis (i.e. where are you going?) have constantly stirred a burning desire in my heart since I first came across them nine years ago. I ask myself that every morning: “Dan, where are you going today?” If discernment is a daily endeavor, then it requires a daily “yes” to our Lord. In John 13, St. Peter asked our Lord, “Where are you going?” My question was more like, “Lord, where are you leading
me?” or in other words, “Lord, where are we going?” The Lord has asked me to join him on this journey of faith, and when he asks me, “Dan, where are you going?”, I respond, “Wherever you’re going, Lord”. At this point, God-willing, He is leading me to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, where I am slated to be ordained with eight great men to the transitional diaconate on May 21.

In the summer of 2013, I participated in the first Quo Vadis Days at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. Quo Vadis Days has helped many young men discern God’s will for their life. While we would love for every young man to walk away with a desire to enter seminary, what we want more than anything else is for them to grow in love and understanding of how to follow Christ Jesus and His Church. After my experience, it was clear that our Lord wanted me to enter the seminary. I had no idea that “The Mount” would become my future home where I’d train to serve Christ’s flock as a priest.

Praying in the mountains

I had a very powerful experience at that first Quo Vadis. My favorite aspect of those days was the fraternity I shared with my future diocesan brothers, most of whom are now priests. That was probably the most powerful moment of Quo Vadis for me: God gifting me with diocesan brothers to accompany me on the spiritual journey. They gave me excellent advice that helped me on my own discernment journey, especially the essential component of being patient with oneself! We are often much harder on ourselves than God is with us. Discernment takes one step at a time, one day at a time. When we fall, we get back up and run straight to God, Who gives us the grace to move forward. It was at those same Quo Vadis Days that I prayed my first Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Of course I lasted about ten minutes before entering into the “Gethsemane Prayer of St. Peter”! But it was a powerful moment where I learned that one hears the voice of God in the silence of prayer.

It is my hope that Quo Vadis Days continues to have a powerful effect on the young men of this archdiocese as it had on me. I encourage any young man who might be reading this to be bold and to seriously consider attending Quo Vadis Days, just so you can hear Jesus ask you the same question He asked me back in 2013: Where are we going?

Dan Acquard is in 3rd Theology at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD and, please God, will be ordained a deacon on May 21, 2022. Dan’s home parish is St. Francis of Assisi in Fulton. Please pray for Dan!

Learning to Pray Well

When I entered seminary five months ago, as a requirement I had to start making a daily holy hour, the concept of which had been completely unfamiliar to me. I had spent time in Adoration in the past, but very infrequently, allowing me to ignore the fact that I am prone to an extremely distracted prayer life. As classes warmed up and papers became more frequent, these afternoon holy hours became time in which I would struggle to stay awake and stress about when I would finish my present mountain of assignments. Oftentimes I would drift into planning when I’d be able to pray next, living days in the future just in order to stay on top of my responsibilities. I was able to take notice of this with the help of my spiritual director, and soon fell into a frustrating loop of becoming angry at myself for getting distracted, and then being distracted by my anger. As a result, I rarely spent any of my prayer time in prayer.

On a particular Friday afternoon on a week when there was not as much schoolwork, I found myself unusually free from distractions in my holy hour, and took time to just ask the Lord in prayer, “what is Adoration?” I was completely floored not only by the clarity of His response, but also its simplicity: “Adoration is a great and special love. A love in which the greatest desire is to be united, to be at one with the beloved.”

My heart was set ablaze by the sudden realization that God had chosen me, in the back right of our chapel at 5:20 p.m. on a November Friday, surrounded by His sons, my 48 brother seminarians, to adore Him. I was seized by a joyful unworthiness, not unworthiness that seeks to reject the graces that God has chosen specifically for me, but an unworthiness that joyfully acknowledges my desperate need of Him. To my even greater surprise, the Lord then told me that He desires to adore each of us in the Eucharist, to be fully in communion with His creation through His presence on the altar and in our hearts, that when we welcome Him, He comes forth from the altar into our hearts in adoration.

Altar with Monstrance

While it always stays easy to forget how much the Lord desires to be united to me, even when I look upon the cross every single day of my life, this revelation has forever changed my prayer: this single experience taught me that the desire to be united to God is what creates fruitful prayer. St. Faustina wrote that “an hour of the driest possible prayer is greater than a lifetime of worldly consolations because even in the greatest desolation, the desire to do God’s will is what will sanctify us.” I’m not any less prone to distraction because of this great grace, but now feel a sense of peace knowing that wanting to serve God and offering my life to Him is enough. I am not expected to be perfect; I am in need of a savior. All that is expected of me is to be willing.

Jordan Damewood is in 1st College at St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, DC. Jordan’s home parish is St. Louis in Clarksville. Please pray for Jordan!

The Joy of Distributing Communion

Greetings my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. I have the privilege of being a member of the Church family, where I am embraced by your love and the love of God. I want to share with you how happy I am as a disciple of Christ. When I receive Christ in the Eucharist, I am inspired and reminded of my duty to bring Him and His love to my brothers and sisters after Mass.

During one of my parish summer assignments, I had the opportunity to do just this by bringing Communion to the home bound and the sick. Like Mary who, with the baby Jesus in her womb, went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth, I also brought Jesus to my brothers and sisters who were no longer able to attend church.

Communion

On one of these visits to a nursing home in Edgewater, I met an elderly woman in a wheelchair and on a ventilator. I introduced myself as a seminarian and that I had come to bring her Communion. At that moment, I could not describe how delighted she was to know she was
about to receive the Eucharist. I could not even tell you how much she wanted to listen to God’s word when I read the Communion rite. Rather, we continued to be filled with joy through close conversations. I was fortunate enough to share some of my experiences as a seminarian with her, and I was privileged to listen to many happy stories noted especially with her strong, positive attitudes despite her struggles with illness.

Another time, I visited a 102-year-old elderly woman. Entering the room, I saw the frail lady lying on the bed. She did not talk or move. The Eucharistic minister and I were unsure if she would be awake and alert to receive the Eucharist. We tried to communicate with her. Eventually, we began saying the prayers of the Communion rite. It was when I touched her cheeks, clapped my hands and began singing a song that she suddenly became alert. The song I sang went like this: “Sister, open your mouth to receive Communion, receive Jesus, who gives you eternal life.” Amazingly, she opened her mouth, stuck her tongue out, and received Communion. In the moments after consuming Jesus, she smiled. Before we left her, she even told us in a clear voice that she loved us.

Week after week, on my way to a nursing home or to people's houses, I held the spotless Body of Christ in my sinful hands with a sincere heart to share Christ with others. In those moments, I thought not only about the call to Christian discipleship, but what I believe to be a more profound calling: the priestly vocation. A priest always brings Christ’s joy to everyone, for that is his mission: to proclaim the Good News to the world. Bringing Christ to others, I am blessed to share the Lord's Supper with my brothers and sisters. I am blessed to continue to help the Lord fill the hungry with good things, especially with the Body of His Only Begotten Son. As a recipient of the Eucharist, a disciple of Christ, and one journeying toward the priesthood, I rejoice in bringing Christ to others in the footsteps of Mary and the Apostles. These moments replenish my spirit and I am united with the love of God and neighbor. Pray for me as I pray for you, that you may rediscover the joy of receiving the Eucharist and follow in the footsteps of Mary to bring and share Christ with our grateful heart, saying, “My soul proclaims the goodness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior". (Luke 1:46)

Khoa Tran is in 2 nd Pre-Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. Born and raised in Vietnam, Khoa’s home parish is Immaculate Heart of Mary in Towson. Please pray for Khoa!

A Heart Burning with Intimacy

On a walk with a young man discerning a call to the priesthood, I asked him what he considers to be the thing that is holding him back from becoming a seminarian. In a response which left me at a loss for words, he responded to me, “I fear devoting my whole life to something that is intangible.” These words struck me in a very powerful way because I recognized that I had not personally come to grips with this reality. A man who is called to the priesthood forgoes the pleasure of physical intimacy with a wife. However, the man does not forgo intimacy altogether. He discovers an intimacy rooted in Christ that is founded on the surrender of his full self to Christ. He does this in eager hope and expectation of the life to come. The eternal life of Heaven.

The thought of this young man inflamed my soul. I had to find out how it can be possible for me to pursue God in a way that is perfectly tangible even though he is ultimately intangible. In speaking of intangibility, I mean transcendent realities rooted in mystery. For example, God is infinite in his goodness, love, and existence; our goodness, love and existence come from and imitate His. God is intangible not because we can never come to understand him, but because he’s so much greater than our minds can fathom. It is this infinity of God, this mystery, which inspires wonder and urges us to pursue Him. Thus, one day, we hope to see him face to face and see him as he truly is. Yet, we nevertheless desire to experience Him in this life as well. We are human after all—we make sense of reality by experiencing it in some way or another. However, this sense of experience has been warped by our modern world.

Modern man is inundated with a false approach to reality which says that the best and most real things are those that we can personally grab hold of and tangibly experience. This is why a man making a choice to surrender everything to God who is largely intangible seems so counterintuitive. How can there be fulfillment for man when he no longer has control over reality? The answer comes when we look to Christ—God made man.

In his wisdom, God chose to reveal himself to us not in spectacular and mind-boggling visions or cosmic events, but in the very flesh and blood of humanity. He chose a humble, innocent, and pure girl to reveal himself as the God-man to the world. The Blessed Virgin Mary, in her motherhood of God Himself, acts as a powerful example of the tangibility of Christ that the priest makes manifest through his ministry. From the moment of her birth, as tradition holds, Mary became a consecrated virgin. She grew up in the temple in Jerusalem and finally came back to Nazareth at the time of the Annunciation. Mary was human through and through. She desired the same tangible realities as every other human desires them. However, Mary understood that all of creation is a speaking forth of the divine nature: that the son she would bring forth into the world was an “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15-16).

So, I think Mary supplies the answer that I was seeking to give to this young man. Mary chose to pursue a life of virginity from a young age. A priest also must pursue a life of celibacy. But the priest, like Mary, recognizes that he is not giving up receiving the tangible experiences of life but rather, he immerses himself into them. Mary had hope that her living out of her virginal promise would bear fruit both here and in Heaven. This promise of virginity required of Mary a total surrender of herself to the will of God. It was in this surrender, the “fiat” of Mary, that the intangible and tangible realities of God met. At her joyful yes to the dedication of herself to the service of God, He humbled himself and became man in her. Likewise, the priest, on the day of his ordination, lays prostrate before the altar of God in a position of humble surrender of himself. In this surrender, he receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders which allows him, through his performance of the sacraments, to be an instrument of God’s continuous Incarnation on the altars throughout the world. The priest acts as a means for the tangible and intangible reality of God to meet and be revealed to his people, just as Mary was an instrument of revealing Christ to the world. In these sacraments, we meet the intangible realities of God in a tangible way. However, this urges us to look further towards realities such as eternal life in Heaven where we will experience infinite intimacy with God. We long for this above all else because it is the most tangible reality whether we recognize that or not. It is this reality of Divine Intimacy that causes my heart to burn within me.

John Anderson is in College Seminary at St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington DC. His home parish is St. Mary’s in Hagerstown. Please pray for John!

God Is With Us

During the Advent and Christmas season, we often hear the word ‘Emmanuel’ when speaking about Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew quotes Isaiah about the coming of the Savior: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). Beyond being an Old Testament reference, the word ‘Emmanuel’ sums up what His Incarnation means for us. He became man simply to be with us—to experience what we experience and to lift us out of our fallen existence. He even took on our death and He opened the possibility for us to rise to new life with Him. As St. Athanasius so succinctly said, “He became what we are that we might become what he is.” Ever since His Resurrection and Ascension, the Church has taken on the role of announcing to all the world that God is with us. It is the life work of a priest to participate in this task. The priest announces that God is with us in Jesus and that we can find Him in the Scriptures, in each other, and most of all, in the sacraments.

In the first half of my pastoral year, I have seen how a priest accompanies people with the simple but powerful message that God is with us. A priest reminds a couple coming for marriage that, as they embark on this life-long journey, God is with them and will sustain them
with His grace. He teaches children in preparation for sacraments, in the school, and in religious education that God is with them and he prays that no matter where life will take them, they will always remember that God is with them. A priest sits in the confessional so that penitents can know that God has not abandoned them and will always take them back. He visits the sick and dying to remind them that even now God has not forgotten them and remains with them. He consoles those who have lost a loved one with the hope that God is with us and has come to raise up all the dead to new life in Him. Most of all, the priest celebrates Mass each day so that God becomes present to His people in the Eucharist—the surest pledge of them all that God is with us.

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But the priest is most effective at this not by doing something, but simply by being something. And even though I am only a seminarian, I can already see how important presence is in ministry. Sometimes, I find myself being present by taking communion to someone who is homebound. Other times, it’s in teaching the 5th graders and listening and responding to their questions—whether serious or silly. And still other times, it’s as simple as helping a parishioner call an Uber so he can get home from Mass. I am discovering more each day that this vocation is really about allowing God to be present to His people through me and there really is no limit to the different ways He can ask that. I just have to be open to where the Spirit leads. God has promised to remain with His people. What a joyous message that is for us! And what a joy for me to be a seminarian and, hopefully, one day a priest called to announce that message to the world simply by being who I am.

Zachary Watson is in his Pastoral Year at St. Joseph’s in Cockeyville. Zachary normally studies Saint Mary’s Seminary and
University in Baltimore. His home parish is St. Mark’s in Fallston. Lord-willing, Zachary will be ordained a transitional
deacon in May of 2023 and a priest in Summer 2024. Please pray for Zachary!

Burning for Souls

“Hey, have you talked to any seminarians today?” This is how many of the conversations started during the Mount St. Mary’s Seminary evangelization mission trip to West Virginia University. Over thirty seminarians took a few days out of their fall break this October to go talk to college students about Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, and their faith. Some of the students that we talked to on campus were atheists, some were agnostics, many were protestant Christians, and there were even some Catholics who had fallen away from the Church. When answering the question “What specific thing makes my heart burn as I am going through my Seminary Formation?” the easiest answer for me is talking to people about their faith. I love hearing what people believe and their reasons for believing it. Often times, these college students have never heard the Gospel spoken to them and unfortunately know very little about the Catholic Church. People almost always have a desire for the truth, but have only found it in subjects such as math, science, and history. When conversations start approaching topics such as philosophy and theology, I find that people think that reaching truth in these topics is simply impossible. What I love about evangelizing and having these conversations is watching a person go from thinking God is not real, to minutes later believing that He is real and that he actually desires to have a relationship with that person through prayer. Talking with the students about the Bible and the Traditions of the Catholic Church has this amazing effect of actually giving them hope of finding the truth. Not just a relative truth, but something that is objectively true for all people at every time, and in every place.

When I was an undergrad at Towson University I remember being challenged in my faith. Because I studied psychology and philosophy, it was typical for everything to be analyzed from a materialistic perspective, or for God to be completely ignored. However, for each philosopher we covered who rejected the existence of God, the incarnation, or the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, it renewed within me a desire for the truth, and an answer for how to respond to that philosopher’s ideas. Over time, with the help of God’s grace, holy priests, knowledgeable friends, and the rich tradition of the Catholic Church, I was able to see the weaknesses and errors of philosophers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Sartre. Although they were brilliant in their own way, those philosophers could not match the intellect of the great doctors, philosophers, and theologians of the Church such as St. Thomas Aquinas.

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To conclude, let me tell you about one of the conversations that my brother seminarian Connor and I had with one of the students, who we will call Sarah for the sake of her privacy. Connor and I had just finished talking to a student inside of a coffee shop on campus. That
student got up and left for class, when Sarah almost immediately walked over and took the seat that the previous student was sitting at! Connor and I looked at each other in amazement and, with a smile, asked the standard question “have you talked to any seminarians today?” She said no, but was willing to talk to us. After explaining what we were doing on campus, I asked her “are you Catholic?” No. “Are you Christian?” She wasn’t sure, and hadn’t thought about it in a long time. “Do you believe in God?” Yeah, she believed in some type of higher power. So we started with the person of Jesus Christ. The “image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) Using C.S. Lewis’s famous “Trilemma” we walked through the three options of Jesus either being a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. After really thinking about it, she said “well, I don’t think he was crazy, or lying… so… I guess I do believe that he is the Lord! I haven’t thought or talked about this in a really long time!” We then explained that if that is the case, Jesus founded a Church, and that He desires for her to be apart of it. We gave her the information to the local parish, and thanked her for talking with us. This was just one of many conversations that we had, but with each conversation my heart burned within me. Just as Christ’s heart first burned with love for Hisdisciples.

Luke Koski is in Third Theology at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. Luke’s home parish is Immaculate
Conception in Towson, Maryland. Lord-willing, Luke will be ordained a transitional deacon in this coming May and a priest in
Summer 2023. Please pray for Luke!