Dear Friends in Christ,
I am excited to share with you the latest news from the vocation office. September is the month when our the seminarians have all returned to seminary. This month, we are pleased to introduce our five new seminarians to you.
It is also around this time each year that the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors holds its annual convention, which this year was moved to a virtual conference. In the two years I have attended, I have found it to be immensely helpful. Talks vary each year, covering everything from improving social media presence to running a summer camp for high school students, from helping seminarians who have major student loans from college prepare to enter seminary. The big topic this year, as it was last year, was the new edition of the Program of Priestly Formation, which will update guidelines for seminaries in the formation of priests The convention is always wrapped in prayer, as each day begins with a period of prayer and reflection sponsored by the Institute of Priestly Formation. When we meet in person, members of the Serra Club of that diocese are in Eucharistic adoration the entire time the convention meets.
One of the major themes that I sensed coming through in a number of talks, presentations, and meditations was the topic of spiritual fatherhood. The temptation in our time is to see priests as business managers, with the parish as a small business he runs. In areas affected by a shortage of priestly vocations, the priest might be turned into a sacramental functionary, running from one small parish to another in a cluster, doing a sacrament here and then a sacrament there. Or maybe the priest is turned into the local religious education expert, speaking to this class in the school, then the confirmation class on Sunday, then the parents at baptism prep, then the couples at marriage prep, and it goes on and on. It would be possible to take any one thing a priest does and treat that as his defining characteristic. Priesthood is all of this, but yet none of that captures it fully.
Since becoming vocation director, people also ask me from time to time what it is like to be a priest whose task now is mostly administrative. This is news to me about what I do, as if the men I work with who are in formation or who are discerning are not individual and unique people with spiritual needs, concerns, questions, and talents. In fact, a priest is not defined by
what he does but by who he is.
When a young high school student first contacts my office and asks, "I think I might be called, but what exactly does a priest do all day?" the temptation is to say, "That cannot be answered easily because every day is so different." In fact, the answer is really rather simple.
The line spoken by Jesus, “I have called you friends” is spoken to the first priests, the Apostles. The priest is, to use a Biblical image, the friend of the Bridegroom. This was Augustine’s preferred image for the priest, and one Pope Benedict used often. In the same way that the Church uses the image “bride of Christ” for the religious sister, it is friend of the bridegroom that is used for the priest. The opening chant we sang for the common of religious sisters in seminary was, “Come, bride of Christ, receive the everlasting crown that the Lord has prepared for you.” Ever sister, whether a teacher, a contemplative, a social worker, or a secretary, is a bride of Christ. That is the core. Likewise, the priest’s core identity (who he is, not what he does) is friend of the Bridegroom, who has been placed in charge of his Master's household until he returns. In fact, at Mass when we celebrate the feast day of a pastor, the Communion antiphon is, "This is the steward, faithful and prudent, whom the Lord set over his household, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time." When asked, "Father, what does a priest do all day," I could reply, "Care for the people of God." That sums it up. Somedays that means funerals. Somedays it means weddings. Somedays it means shooting hoops with the youth group. Somedays it means getting estimates on a new roof. Somedays it means teaching seven year olds preparing for first Holy Communion. Somedays it means teachings men studying to be priests.
For all the people of God, what this means is that the the priest is a spiritual father. Whatever the spiritual needs of those entrusted to his care, he shows them the love of the Father. In order to be a good father, he has to do all the things Jesus asks him to do. In order to be a father, the priest must know himself as loved by the one Father of all so that he can communicate this love to others. This means that a priest must be firm yet gentle, to speak challenging truths while still communicating that the person is of infinite value and loved.
This identity cuts across every type of priesthood, whether it is the Benedictine monk or the Dominican friar or the diocesan priest. Sometimes men remark to me, "I am thinking of being a monk because I am not interested in the business side of parish life." That might be a sign that he is not called to diocesan priesthood, but what if he, as a monk, becomes the one in the community whose job is to be financially responsible for the abbey? It seems just as likely that man is precisely called to be a diocesan priest and that the financial things will be a small cross for him. Instead, I would ask him, "God does not call a man to a religious order to run away from a parish, but He places within the man the true charism of the order. What is drawing you?" The real question is, "How does God want to expand your heart to love, and how does he want you to be a father?" We run towards something, not away from it.
Every single man who walks into my office, either as a seminarian or someone in only the initial stages of inquiry, has a history, has struggles, has sins. Part of my work of spiritual accompaniment is to help the man understand God's love for him and help him realize how it is that God is inviting him to respond, either as a priest or in some other way. A vocation director who fails to realize his primary identity is as friend of the Bridegroom and his task is that of spiritual father, who sees only the bills to be paid and the evaluations and applications to be read, without seeing the man behind that evaluation, behind that application, has lost perspective.
I look forward to sharing with you more reflections from this year's conference and the more "practical" talks in future issues.
May God Bless you.
Father Donato Infante
Diocese of Worcester
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Traveling Holy Hour for Vocations
Join us for the traveling holy hour for vocations on
Monday, Sept. 21 at 7 pm
at Saint Anthony of Padua, 84 Salem St., Fitchburg. All are welcome to attend and pray for vocations to priesthood and religious life in our diocese. Facemasks required.
I was raised by my single father as a Bible-believing Protestant, and attended regular Sunday services and a private evangelical grade school. At age 10, my father was remarried to my now stepmother, which proved to be a pivotal moment in my life. I did not treat her like a member of my family, and as a result, became very rebellious during the following adolescent years.
I fell away from the Protestant faith after graduation and, after a failed stint with the Army, eventually enrolled in classes at Framingham State University where I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications. I became concerned with the things of the world during these years and after experiencing the lack of fulfillment that living a worldly life offers, I returned to the Protestant place of worship I grew up attending several years prior. Only this time I soon discovered that someone was missing in the way we practiced our faith. Without any real authority, we were left searching for truth with what I'll describe as emotionalized theological individualism. While on the verge of having a complete crisis of the faith, my stepmother converted to Catholicism and I began to have conversations with her about the teachings of the Church. From there I continued to investigate the Catholic faith on my own and the more I learned about what the Church taught, the more questions I had about the faith were answered. I soon fell in love with the Church, recognizing it as the fullness of Truth, and decided to 'Cross the Tiber' in 2017, with my stepmom as my confirmation sponsor. Three and-a-half years later, I have entered into my first year of Pre-Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD.
Before moving into the House of Studies, I grew up in Middlefield, Connecticut. Although I was raised with no religious tradition, some of my family was Catholic. Their influence led me to enter the Church in the eighth grade. Thereafter, I attended Xavier High School, an all-boys Catholic school. It was here that my desire to pursue Christ by way of the priesthood became something I could not ignore. Later, I began studies at Assumption University in Worcester and spent more time with the Lord in prayer than ever before. This coupled with the influence of the FOCUS missionaries, Assumptionists, nearby priests and seminarians, and solid friendships directed me towards becoming a seminarian.
My circuitous route to seminary began in childhood with my grandfather, who encouraged each grandson to pursue priesthood. It continued while I was an altar server and pupil at my parish grade school, when a sister gave me a prayer card quoting Hebrews 7:17, “You are a priest …” While I was a lector, Eucharistic Minister, and student at the local central Catholic high school, a priest asked me to consider ministry, but I was intent on civil engineering. After attaining such a degree at Northeastern University, I had a successful career for over 30 years, first working for others, and then operating my own business for the last 16 years, as well as holding leadership positions at the regional chamber of commerce for the last 11 years. Meanwhile, throughout my career, I was caregiver to grandparents and then parents, ministering physically and spiritually. During that time, an older vocation priest invited me to follow in his footsteps, but I declined. Five years ago, after serving on my parish school building committee and while serving on the parish finance council, when my pastor of more than a quarter century retired, he encouraged me to step up my involvement. I sought out liturgies, devotions, and opportunities for faith sharing, and I began to discern a vocation. After spending over a year in formation for the permanent diaconate, I stepped aside to care for my disabled father. After his death, and after increasing unsolicited encouragement from priests and several laypeople, I discerned that God may be calling me to priesthood, leading me to Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., where I have now begun First Theology at age 52, motivated by the gospel motto of the late Bishop Timothy Harrington, whose installation Mass I attended in 1983, “not to be served, but to serve.”
Growing up, I always felt a call to serve the Lord in some special way, and this feeling became clearer during college as I became more involved in my faith and had the opportunity to learn about the spiritual life. I was homeschooled through grade school and after eighth grade went on to the Trivium School, where I graduated high school. From there I went to The Catholic University of America and graduated with a Bachelor's in Philosophy. It was very helpful during this time for me to meet the many college seminarians at Catholic University who were in quite a few of my philosophy classes, and through them I was able to get to know and appreciate seminary life, and to see the beauty of serving the Lord in such a focused way. In no particular order of preference I enjoy playing basketball and golfing, praying the rosary and the divine mercy chaplet. This past summer I finished my application to the Worcester Diocese and am now starting my first year of Pre-Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD.
Prior to beginning priestly formation, I worked as a security professional in both the private and federal sectors. I strongly discerned my vocation during Pope Francis' visit to the United States back in 2015, at which point I was working as a Homeland Security
agent in Boston. Soon after, I attended a diocesan discernment retreat, where my discernment became very clear. Having a La Salette priest as a spiritual director drew me to the charism of Our Lady of La Salette, and I entered formation shortly after. I remained with La Salette for three years as a postulant, novice and scholastic. My time at La Salette brought me to the realization that my life would bear greater fruit as a diocesan priest - back where my discernment began.
I was graciously accepted by the Diocese of Worcester and have been assigned to complete my theological studies as a first year theologian at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD.
Father Donato Infante
on Monday, September 14, 2020 at 1:33PM