Good Shepherd Sunday
On Sunday, we will hear about Jesus, the Good Shepherd in the Gospel. That's why we call it Good Shepherd Sunday. It's also World Day of Prayer for Vocations. So, I thought I would share a few pieces to my vocation story as well as an article from our bishop (
After the example of my father, I chose to pursue the vocation of marriage. One day a mother recommended that I ask her daughter out on a date. So, I invited her to dinner and then the young adult meeting at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri at St. Francis Xavier Church by the Philadelphia Art Museum. She wanted to remain friends afterward. I invited another woman to join me for Mass at Sts. Peter & Paul Cathedral in Philadelphia (my father's and grandfather's home parish), for lunch, and then watch the St. Patrick's Day parade. She would have said yes to a second date, but I felt too much like a father figure.
Slowly, I heard the Lord calling me to be one of his priests. Among those He inspired was our first pastor in modern times, Fr. Philip Matera. He had retired but was called back into action to serve as temporary administrator out in Whiting. Fr. Matera hired me to shovel snow when I was 15. The new pastor, Msgr. Shenrock, invited me to help him with a history book for the Diocese of Trenton when I was between 19 and 21. Working on that project helped me learn a lot about the Church here in our diocese.
It wasn't until several years later when I was 28 that I was reluctantly open to the possibility that God might be calling me to the priesthood. So, I actively pursued the Lord's will for my life. I had already met with two different priests twice each for spiritual direction (including one from the Oratory). This time, I met with a third priest once a month for six months and really wanted to know which vocation God was calling me to.
In January 2001, I was struck by two "commercials" on EWTN radio while driving to and from Irish ceili dancing lessons in Glenside, Pennsylvania (an activity with Irish Catholic women). In one commercial, a married woman was discerning whether or not to pursue pregnancy. She talked with her husband, her doctor, and her priest. The issue was her partial paralysis. She only reached 80% certainty that God wanted her to be a mother. So, she made a deal with the Lord. She and her husband would try to get pregnant. If it was God's will, then He would make it happen. She became pregnant within a couple months.
In the second EWTN commercial, a priest encouraged young men, "If you have an inkling for the vocation to the priesthood, then pursue it. If God is not calling you, He will let you know."
These two commercials corresponded to where I was at in my discernment. So, I made a deal with God. "Lord, I think you're calling me to apply to the seminary. If not, have them reject my application. If I somehow get accepted to the seminary, then have them kick me out." Well, I was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Trenton and at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary outside Philadelphia. Because of a multitude of family tragedies while in seminary, all of my formators bet I would drop out to take care of them. They did not tell me this until much later. I persevered and over the course of four years in the seminary became convinced that God was indeed calling me to the priesthood and pouring His grace upon me.
There are many more chapters to my vocation story. I've shared these as an example of how God often gradually reveals His will to us.
I also chose Philadelphia based stories to address the idea of being in exile. For me, the center of the universe is my father's home parish, Sts. Peter & Paul Cathedral. Jesus resides there in the tabernacle (as He does in every Catholic church). Most of my people got off the boat at Philadelphia. I was born just outside of Philadelphia. I sometimes say that I'm experiencing a triple exile. First, I'm in exile from the land of my birth, Pennsylvania. Second, I'm in exile from my ancestral homeland, Ireland. Third, all of us here on Earth are in exile from our true homeland, Heaven. Among the greetings we will likely hear when we get to Heaven is "Welcome, home!" Heaven will feel more like home than any home on Earth. When we participate in Mass, we're getting a taste of Heaven, a taste of home. Until that great and glorious day when we get to see Jesus face to face, we long for home; we long for the Lord.
If you are a young, single man, I challenge you to ask God if He is calling you to the great adventure of priesthood. If you know such a man that God may be calling, ask God how you can let him know and how to encourage him. I experienced so many interventions. Fortunately, God was very patient with me. He patiently awaits each and every one of us to say yes to Him.
God love you,
Fr. Jim O'Neill
on Friday, April 23 at 1:18PM