Finding My Vocation on the March for Life

Photo, above: Outside the Supreme Court building with fellow seminarian Chris Green (right).
 

WASHINGTON, DC – Just for fun, I am writing an article at the March for Life!  I am currently at Verizon Center, watching the youth rally which precedes the “#Mass4Life” and the March itself.  It’s a great time, as always!  Thousands of vibrant young Catholics are here to stand up for the most important political issue of our time:  the right to life of all human beings.

(The view, as people continue to trickle in)

(The view, as people continue to trickle in)

I am sitting in a folding chair on the second level of the arena, near the confession lines.  As I’m sitting here in a cassock praying my breviary and blogging, people keep walking past and giving me friendly pats on the arm and smiling as if they know me!  A few probably take me for a priest (I’m wearing a collar), but hopefully most of them realize that I am just a seminarian.  Either way, I definitely feel the love as these kind-hearted people take a few seconds to confirm me in my vocation.

I love the March for Life for what it is – for what we are standing for and hope to accomplish – but I also love simply being at the March for Life.  For me, it’s not a sacrifice.  This is where the people of God are.  This is where the young Church is – my future bride as a priest.  She is joyful, and she is beautiful.

Each year I am happier to be a seminarian, and more excited to become a priest as ordination draws steadily nearer.  The March for Life annually punctuates this experience, not only because I get to take a stand for the truth that God loves each and every person, but because I always feel the love of the young Church for me as a “future priest” in a profound way.  It’s incredibly encouraging!

When I first came on the March for life as a brand new seminarian three years ago, I had an amazing experience of this during the Vigil Mass held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Catholic University.

First, a little back-story is appropriate.  The weekend before I left for seminary – about three weeks before the 2012 March for Life – the pastor at my home parish had announced to the entire congregation at the end of Mass that I was becoming a seminarian.  Quite to everyone’s surprise, I felt mortified!  I just didn’t feel ready for all the attention that I knew would come with being a seminarian.  Scary crowds of doting “church ladies” aside, I scarcely even felt spiritually ready for the responsibility of discerning a priestly vocation.  I literally snuck out the side door after Mass and hid behind a car in the parking lot so that nobody would see me or tell me they were proud of me or anything like that.  I just didn’t want to hear it; I knew that I wasn’t worthy, and wasn’t ready, to hear their praise and promises of prayers for my discernment.  I guess I just wasn’t ready to receive that gift.

But at the March for Life, just a few weeks later, I did receive it.  During the Vigil Mass, I saw an incredible thing:  the largest body of Catholics I had ever seen in a church, most of them about my age.  Joined together in worship, they had come to D.C. for one purpose: to love, defend, and protect every human life.

(Click to visit Students for Life of America)

(Click to visit Students for Life of America)

Amidst this enormous congregation, I and more than one hundred other seminarians processed two-by-two to the sanctuary during the opening hymn of the Mass.  As my jaw literally hung open with awe at seeing so many brave and holy young souls, it seemed to me that I had found my vocation after those sixty seconds.  I had come into the Basilica feeling bewildered and overwhelmed by the chronic anxiety that we tend to equate with “discernment”; but by the time I had reached the altar, my soul was floating on a wave of wonder and a peace that surpassed my understanding (Phil 4:7).  I knew that I wasn’t going to be a priest for myself, but for others.  No one’s vocation is just for him or herself.  God works through us, so that we can strengthen one another in faith, hope, and love every day.  We are called to this by virtue of our baptism, but also through our specific vocation.  The priesthood is a life of sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice with an orientation:  the love of God and the good of his Church.  On the March for Life, I see what is best in the Church – one might even say the next generation of the Church.  Although each year I am further removed by age and experience from the crowds of high-schoolers, I am also gradually growing toward spiritual fatherhood.  It is still intimidating, yes, but I know that God is with me, and I know that the Church is with me.

Among the hundreds of thousands who march for life each year, I have seldom met an angry person.  This “protest” to overturn Roe v. Wade is not about anger, or judgment, or politics; it is an affirmation of that which is most beautiful and most sacred: the gift of life.  It also is a celebration of who we are as a human family, and as a family of faith, the Body of Christ.

PCJ seminarians after the march.  (Not pictured: me, the photographer!)

PCJ seminarians after the march. (Not pictured: me, the photographer!)

For me, the March for Life – along with the Masses that precede it – is the most beautiful annual event in America.  Like Pope Francis, I want a Church who stands up for the helpless, and who is not afraid of getting “bruised” and “dirty” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 41) while spreading the joy of the Gospel.  This is the Church whom I find at the March for Life, and who looked on me with smiling eyes and prayerful hearts as I walked down the aisle of the Basilica as a fledgeling seminarian just three years ago.  Soon, by the grace of God, I hope to meet her at the altar again on my ordination day.  As always, I thank you for your prayers – and for standing up for life!

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