My Vocation Story by Fr Jason Smith

Holy eucharist


“God our Father, send us holy priests, all for the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus all for the Immaculate Heart of Mary in union with St Joseph. Amen.”

Prayers don’t get much more Catholic than that one. With its talk of eucharistic and immaculate hearts, it’s enough to confuse the average protestant for days. 

My rosary group prays this particular prayer every time we get together. We also pray by name for all the priests in our archdiocese. We know, as all Catholics do, that our Church is built around the sacrament of Holy Orders. The graces of God rain down on us Catholics in a free and easy way, like a gentle spring shower, when we partake of the sacraments such as the eucharist and confession. 

Jesus instituted the priesthood as a mechanism of transmission of these graces. It is meant to be reliable and available. Freely given, freely received. Priests are conduits of God’s grace.

As such, they are an essential component to living the life in Christ in this difficult and challenging age with its destructive secularism and intolerance of genuine Christianity. 

We need priests. We need holy priests who are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to give their lives in the service of Christ’s Church. 

This is the story of Father Jason Smith’s vocation. Fr Smith blogs at Biltrix. He has given me permission to reproduce his story in full. 

 

My Vocation Story 

Fr Jason Smith

If not for a hockey game, I wouldn’t be a Legionary priest today.As a good Minnesotan, I naturally considered hockey as divinely inspired, a sign of God’s love for us. But it’s what happened after the game that took me by surprise and lead me to know my priestly vocation.

During my first year at college, I often went to the rink at the University of Minnesota with my friends. After one such event —ending in a double overtime victory for the Golden Gophers, and a long celebration— I returned home in the wee hours of the morning, too tired to get out of bed until Sunday afternoon.

Stumbling upstairs for something to eat, I found my Dad sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Opening the fridge, I heard from over my shoulder: “Jason, did you go to Mass this morning?” I swallowed hard. I hadn’t. Quickly I tried to think up the perfect excuse. None came. Trying to hide behind the refrigerator door, I quipped “No, I didn’t go”. Without looking up Dad replied solemnly, “Go tomorrow then.”

It was my first Monday morning Mass ever. I was struck by how quiet the Church was, and how empty. I sat about halfway up and waited. Little by little people began to filter in. Then an attractive girl sat down a few pews behind me. How is it I find a girl like this now and not last Saturday evening? It must be God’s providence! I decided the sign of peace was the perfect time to introduce myself. When the moment came I turned around and, to my surprise, she passed me a note. I put it in my pocket pretending it happened all the time.

When I got home I opened the note. It read something like this: “It’s good to see someone young attending daily Mass. You must really love your faith! I want to let you know about a group of young people who pray and study scripture Wednesday evenings. If you would like to come, here is my number.” I decided I could find time in my packed schedule to go.

That’s when it occurred to me I hadn’t seriously looked into my Catholic faith since Confirmation. What would I say? What would I pray? Where was my Rosary? I found it stuffed in the bottom dresser drawer along with a pamphlet of prayers. As to what I would say, I went to my Dad’s study and checked out his library. It had books on music, history, politics —but the largest section was religion. I found one book called, “True Devotion to Mary”. It seemed like a good place to start since it was short.

I never read beyond the introduction, but the book changed my life. It explained how St Louis de Montfort, a priest who tirelessly preached the Gospel and underwent extraordinary trials, spread devotion to Mary throughout France. It was my first encounter with the life of a saint. I marveled how someone could dedicate himself entirely to Christ, even to the point of heroism. It was precisely then that I renewed the resolution I had made a two years earlier to pray and sincerely live my faith.

A few months later I went on a retreat with the youth group. It was the first time the priesthood entered my mind. During the consecration, as I gazed at the elevated host, I thought to myself —in words that were my own, but which carried a resonance I will never forget— if there is one thing I should do it’s that. It was the defining moment of my calling. I was taken entirely by surprise. I knew I had to look into the priesthood, but I didn’t know how or where.

To make a long story short, the same girl who gave me the note in church then gave me a brochure on the Legionaries of Christ. It had testimonies of the young men who entered the year before. I read it and was convinced. I called and asked for an application. A Legionary came to visit. I went to candidacy. I joined. My younger brother followed the next year.

Since then the years have passed by like a whirlwind. There is much more I could write, but the essential is simple: Christ crossed my path, called, and by his grace —definitely not my own strength— I found the courage to drop everything and follow him. I have never looked back. Our Lord’s presence and the needs of the Church have captivated my attention ever since.

Now only a few days away from priestly ordination, in my conversations with Christ, I continually thank him for the many gifts he has given me: my faith, my wonderful parents and brother, my Legionary vocation, and above all, his presence and friendship throughout my life.

I can hardly believe I have arrived at the foot of the altar. It seems almost a dream; that I’ll wake up, finding myself back in Minnesota, late for a hockey game. But it’s true. God’s plans are far beyond, and far better, then my own.

Princes, Human Beings and Doing the Things We Hate

 

John Corapi shook people’s faith.

The bishops who repeatedly transferred child-abusing priests shook people’s faith.

I tremble to think of it, but I imagine that if I fell into some deep disgrace, that would shake a few people’s faith.

I can’t speak for other people, but I want everyone who knows me to understand that I fall flat on my spiritual face on a pretty regular basis. Don’t look to me for salvation, or even a good example. If you look to me for anything, it should be proof that God’s love is greater than all our sins and weaknesses, that the only thing we have to fear is living by our own understanding rather than His.

Despite the love and forgiveness God has showered on me, I still sin. I will always sin until I go home to Him.

St Paul said it best: “I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate.”  

That’s one of the greatest saints talking. If he couldn’t manage to live sinlessly, why should I expect that of myself? How can I expect it of anyone else?

I am not asking anyone to “forgive” these failed priests and bishops. I am offering an admonition, a plea, for people to stop confusing them with Christ the Lord.

“Do not put your faith in princes and human beings, who cannot save.” the Psalmist tells us.

Do not worship your spiritual leaders or expect them to be more than the fallen human beings they are. Priests and bishops are our spiritual leaders. They are our teachers. They are men who have consented to be conduits of God’s grace by way of the sacraments. They bring us Jesus in the Eucharist, which makes them precious to us. God can and does reach through them and into us to deliver healing and help.

But they are also made of dust, just like the rest of us. They can and will betray you and hurt you and, yes, betray and dishonor the vows they’ve taken and the trust people place in them. They can do this. And they will. They will, because that is our common human fate as co-inheritors of original sin. Yes, we are also co-inheritors of eternal life in Christ. Yes, we are forgiven this blight on our souls, washed clean of its eternal smear by the blood of Calvary. But so long as we live in this fallen world and eat of its fruits we will be subject to our own fallen natures.

“I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate.”  

That’s all of us, including these fallen priests and bishops who have betrayed themselves and their own souls along with the great trust that was placed in them. That is why we should never confuse these men with the God they serve.

I try to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church because I know they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. I respect the work that priests do because I know that they, however weak they may be as men, are conduits of grace in the sacraments, and that this grace is freely available to all of us through them. But I do not worship them or expect them to be anything other than the ordinary people they are.

When they fail, I do not doubt Christ because of it for the simple reason that they are not Christ. I know whom I have believed, and He is not them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me,” Jesus told us.

Trust in me,” He said.

Not John Corapi. Not any bishop or priest.

Do not forfeit your eternal salvation over the weaknesses of other fallen human beings, no matter how exalted they have become in your eyes. Trust in Jesus and Him alone and no matter how you fail, or how others fail you, you will never lose your way.

 

Confession: Medicine for the Soul

Confession is part of the conversion process in much the same way that taking medicine is part of the healing process.

The season of Advent requires us to examine our consciences and then to take the sins we find there to the confessional. This process of honest self-appraisal and equally honest confession results in an interior cleansing that I don’t think can happen in any other way.

I always mentally draw a line under my past misdeeds after confession and just simply forget them. They are done. Forgiven. Confession peels off the clingy guilts and scrubs away the stubborn stains of what I’ve done and turns me toward a better future.

I’ve also found that if I go to confession often and confess, as I usually do, the same sins over and over, I begin to change. Confession confers grace, including the grace of self-awareness. The desire to keep on committing these sins weakens with repeated confession and I gradually, without even noticing it, do them less and less.

It’s not an act of the will. It’s not even a conscious thing. It just happens.

I’m not a great theologian, so I can’t give you a treatise on why confession works, or even all its merits. I can only tell you that it does work. It is difficult to confess your sins. It can even be painful. But even if the priest in question is not a good confessor for you (and not all of them are good for everyone; we are, after all, individuals) the cleansing, the liberation and the grace of conversion still happen.

Confession, like all the sacraments, does not depend on the personality or even the sanctity of the individual priest. The graces of confession come from God and they are more a function of your honesty and willingness to accept what God offers you than anything else.

The Church guards the sacraments and preserves them from one generation, one historical challenge, to the next. It then makes them freely available to us. These sacraments, each of them, are an opportunity to meet God in this life in a dependable, simple, non-intellectual way. Everyone, from the youngest child to the most erudite intellectual, experiences the same taste of heaven in the sacraments.

The sacraments do not depend on our working ourselves up into an emotional state. They do not require us to understand deep theology. They don’t even require us to be good or holy. All we need to do is be honest about ourselves before God and willing to receive the gift He freely offers us through His Church.

Confession follows self-examination. It is the second step in the three-step dance of conversion. First, we look at ourselves honestly. Then, we ask forgiveness for our sins.

Through the gift of confession, we have the privilege of saying our sins out loud in front of another person. We are given the gift of hearing that we are absolved. And, finally, we can know without doubt that these things we have done are behind us. They are finished, over and through.

We can draw a line under our sins after confession and forget them, safe in the knowledge that God has forgiven us and these sad little sins are no more.


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