This week is National Vocation Awareness Week in the diocese. I would like to take this opportunity this week to share with you a personal story of my journey to the priesthood. In 1974, I was finishing my fourth year of priestly studies at Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo. I had already been in the seminary for eight years, having started as a freshman in high school at St. Francis Seminary in Victoria, Kan.
I enjoyed my years in the seminary. However, I felt I was on a bit of a treadmill and did not want to presume I was at the pinnacle of my formation. At this same time, I was feeling a call to deepening my prayer life and felt compelled to enhance my methods of praying and meditation. I had heard about a Trappist monastery in southern Missouri, Our Lady of the Assumption Monastery in Ava, Mo., and decided to visit it on an academic break. I thought that if I wanted to learn to pray, I should go to the experts. Trappist monks spend their entire day praying and working in praise of God while also committing to a vow of silence.
I took a bold step and asked the Abbot if he would be open to my coming for an entire school year in which I would offer to work for my keep
while learning to pray. Surprisingly, he was quite open to my request, as long as my bishop would give me permission. My bishop, where I grew up, Most Rev. Marion Forst, Bishop of Dodge City, Kan., was a bit puzzled by my request. However, he graciously granted me permission. Today, I am still so very grateful to him and to Abbot Robert of Ava for listening and granting my unconventional request as a young seminarian in my formation to become a better man of prayer.
During the academic year of 1974-75, I lived the life of a monk, praying several times a day in the choir stalls with the monks. It was with them that I learned to use silence to cultivate my interior relationship with our Lord, acquiring even a greater love of the Psalms and the Scriptures through lectio divina, and to savor the prayers of the Mass. I also learned the value of manual labor, having assisted the monks in their concrete and cinder block factory. This was a very critical, pivotal year in my journey to the priesthood and has supported my spiritual life all of these years.
Several years after my time at Our Lady of the Assumption Monastery, some dioceses around the country began what they called, “The Spirituality Year,” or rather, a “novitiate” for diocesan seminarians. Today there are still a few of these programs around the country and they are doing well.
I ask you this week to please remember to pray regularly for our seminarians who are currently receiving very good formation in the seminary and also in the Integrated Priestly Formation program (IPF), which is a summer program of spiritual formation held in Omaha, Neb. Spiritual formation is key to becoming a good priest.
I wanted to share this experience with you during National Vocation Awareness Week because I think many young people are being called to take a step back and learn to pray more deeply. Not everyone needs to go to a monastery to learn, but we all need to pay attention to the many invitations that Jesus places upon our hearts to spend more time with him in prayer. Learning to pray is worth it and I hope that many young people from this diocese take advantage of the various offerings that are available to make a retreat, visit Catholic Youth Expeditions, pray at a chapel, get involved in campus ministry, or take interest in a religious order. Investing time now will bring greater joy in the future!”
Thank you so much for your prayers for vocations, for our seminarians and for your generosity in providing them the very best in their formation!