Vocation reflections -- Part III

On Priesthood Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, dozens of seminarians of the Archdiocese of Boston went out two-by-two to share vocation stories at parishes and campus ministries throughout the archdiocese. In collaboration with the Office for Vocations, The Pilot is reprinting the text of a number of their talks.

The following talk was delivered by seminarian William Sexton at St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, adjacent to the campus of Boston College.

My name is Will Sexton, and I am a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Boston. Though I am not studying to be a Jesuit, nor did I attend B.C., it was an old Jesuit living in my parish who first inspired me to consider the priesthood, and it is St. Ignatius' name, which I chose 12 years ago when I was confirmed, to be that saint whom I call upon often to help me as I travel down the path of life.

I am here today with my classmate, Steve Battey of the Diocese of Providence, to speak to you briefly about vocations. I think that the term "vocation" gets thrown around a lot and is misused. Today, we hear about vocational schools or programs. We hear people talk about their career as their vocation -- "it's my vocation to be a nurse," "it's my vocation to be a teacher" -- and in some cases, it very well may be so. But as Christians, as children of God, we all have one primary vocation. That is, to live our lives in that way in which Christ has called us to, that in doing so, we might achieve our salvation.

We live in a world filled with moral relativism. We live in a world that tells us daily, "do what you want, as long as it makes you happy." We live in a world that denies absolute truth. But there is absolute truth. The truth is, that God has a plan for each one of our lives, and it is in doing our best to figure out what that plan is and responding accordingly, that we find ultimate and true happiness.

We hear St. Paul say in today's second reading that he has, "competed well" and "finished the race." If I may pose a few questions to you all, ones that I myself am not exempt from answering and ones which I try to answer daily: How are you competing? How do you see yourself finishing? Are you running so as to win, or simply just running?

In my own life, it has been both cases. I first started considering the priesthood when I was quite young in elementary school. Though that feeling never really left, it is one that I ran from. When I was a junior in high school I began dating a girl from my youth group. Even though I was considering the priesthood and, she, herself, was considering religious life. It was nice being in a relationship where both of us were on the same page. And though the thought of priesthood was still on my mind, I was convicted that being in the relationship with her was where God wanted me at that time.

Well, like many high school relationships, ours ended when we went off to college. I had decided to attend Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and started serving Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine. Many of the other men I met through serving were themselves discerning, and so the feeling started to creep up in me again. In October 2004, I began applying for college seminary for the archdiocese. I was accepted and began my college seminary studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia that next fall.

I was only there for a year and a half when I discerned that it was not the right fit for me at the time. Shortly after I left, I began dating a different girl, and had stopped actively discerning. I was happy in my relationship with her, or so I thought. Even after that relationship ended, though the thought of priesthood and seminary was still in my mind, I was not open to it.

Again I found myself running away. I did not even wish to consider the seminary again. I began living my life how I wanted to, how the world and society told me to. I finished school at UMass Boston and began teaching. I enjoyed what I was doing, and on some level I felt like God wanted me there, but seminary was still on my mind. Being content with where I was in life, I now found myself simply running -- not away, just running with no purpose. Finally God's call became too strong to ignore and I gave in. In 2011 I once again began applying for seminary studies. I was accepted and began at St. John's in the fall of 2012, six years after I left the seminary the first time. Six years of running. Six years of putting my own will, my own self-interest above that of God and thinking that I knew what was best for me.

When's the last time you really examined yourselves and prayed truly for what God wanted for your life? Every day the first prayer I pray before Morning Prayer begins, every night, the last prayer I pray before I offer my Night Prayer, and every afternoon before we eat lunch we pray as a community, the "Suscipe" prayer of St. Ignatius ... "take Lord, receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will ..." but if we're being honest, myself included, how often do we pray it and actually mean it and how often do we pray it, but it's conditional, "take Lord, and receive only what I wish to give you" or, "give me only your love and your grace, in as much as it coincides with what I want, even if it's not what you want for me?" If we're being honest, probably more often than we'd like to admit.

But I encourage you today to start truly praying for what God's plan in your life is. As I look around this packed church, I see beautiful examples of those vocations to which God could be calling each of us: the beautiful witness to the family -- I see so many young families here tonight. You have two beautiful sisters' in your choir who are witnessing to that great call to give yourself to God as a woman religious, and of course the witness to the priesthood here in Father VerEecke and Deacon Sam.

We all know people who are unhappy with what they are doing in life. I am convinced that it is because they chose to follow their own will over God's will. I know for myself right now that I feel I am doing what God has truly called me to, and it is a happiness and peace that came only when I stopped following Will's will, and started following God's will. So I ask you again, how are you running the race? Run so as to win.