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New priorities for one seminarian

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I thought, "Fifth floor? They're probably with the media. On the elevator ride, I'll mention to them that I used to work for ESPN.

Pope Francis' 2015 visit to the United States was a thrilling time to be a seminarian in our nation's capital.

My seminary is directly across the street from where the Holy Father would celebrate Mass for tens of thousands of people, making our building an ideal place for news crews to film their shows or file their stories. Media personnel were buzzing around the seminary busily preparing for the pope's arrival, and the atmosphere was electric.

Yet at the same time, I was sad.

I was kneeling in our chapel, trying to pray but found myself more interested in the chatter of the journalists. Their conversation took me back to my life working in the media before I entered the seminary: being on location, flashing credentials, the nerves and exhilaration before the "Big Event."

"Would my life ever be that exciting again? Lord, I am happy to serve you as a priest if that's your will for me -- so why do I feel this way?"

The sense of longing was too much for that moment so as I stepped out of the chapel, I repeated my "Yes" to the Lord even with a bit of heaviness over what might have been. "Thy will, not my will, be done."

I made my way to the first floor. More action, more excitement. I saw our seminary facilities manager dealing with the concerns of the visitors in the building. He looked like he could use a hand.

"Hey Tim -- anything I can do for you?" I asked.

"Yeah, actually. There are some guests who need to be escorted to the fifth floor. Could you take them up there?"

I agreed and as Tim led me to meet them, my heart started brimming with excitement. I thought, "Fifth floor? They're probably with the media. On the elevator ride, I'll mention to them that I used to work for ESPN. I used to be one of them."

Tim opened the doors and my eyes landed on the guests for whom I was now responsible. They were not reporters or journalists. Before me stood a tired young mother and her daughter, the latter confined to a wheelchair and coping with severe impairments.

I was puzzled for an instant, but then an explosion of joy lit up my spirit. I felt the voice of the Lord, wordless and unmistakable, say, "These are the ones closest to my heart. To be my priest, they must also be the closest to yours."

As I introduced myself and chatted on the short elevator ride, I felt the sense of loss being replaced with a firm new sense of purpose. A moment of shifting priorities. The end of one way of thinking and the beginning of another.

I could not stop smiling at them because in those two beautiful souls I glimpsed my future. My priorities would no longer include seeking distinction and accolades, no longer involve trying to be associated with -- or become one of -- the famous and powerful. Rather, after the example of Pope Francis, my priorities were to be the opposite.

That experience in the elevator is a summary of what seminary formation has been for me. This radical realignment of priorities is what it means to prepare for the priesthood. God willing, my new agenda as a priest will be to seek out the lost, lonely, miserable and forgotten to prioritize them and to manifest the intimate concern of Jesus for them.

As the church focuses on vocational discernment in preparation for the next synod, re-examining our own priorities in light of the Gospel seems like a fitting place for all of us to start.

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Anthony Federico is a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, in his fifth year of formation for the priesthood at Theological College in Washington, D.C. He is a guest columnist for the Catholic News Service column "In Light of Faith."

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