Fr. Michael

The first time I felt the call to the priesthood, I was about nine, but I kept resisting it. I went out and got caught up in a partying lifestyle. 

Then I came into the seminary later after getting clean and sober and coming back to the church. I came into the seminary when I was about 42.

My father, every five years or so over the course of about 20 years, he would say, “You know, there’s always the priesthood.” He had been in the seminary for a semester and then left. He had met my mom before that. He was apparently writing love letters to her the whole time he was in seminary. Finally, her father said it was time to do something or get off the pot. So he chose. 

He was one of the people I talked to when I was thinking about it. He said, “If this is what you’re supposed to be doing, there’s always going to be something in the back of your head, a voice saying you should be doing this. I didn’t have that after I married your mom.”

I resisted the call. I think I always knew it was there, but I just pushed back on it. 

I’ve done many, many things. I was a landscaper. I worked in factories. I worked doing medical billing. The last couple years before I was a priest, I was a teacher. 

Since I’ve been a priest, I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. 

Right before I went into seminary, I was unemployed. I was going to graduate school, and my plan had been to get my master’s degree and then my PhD in English Lit and teach English at a college level. I’m glad it didn’t happen. I don’t think I would have flourished there. I did eventually get my master’s degree in English. I was happy to do that, but this is where I’m meant to be.

I just celebrated five years in July. I’m in my sixth year. It’s been a learning curve. There’s only so much they can teach you in seminary about dealing with people. In my mind, the priesthood is really being with people. That’s been reinforced since I’ve been here in Medjugorje. 

I heard one priest say that coming here will refresh or renew your priesthood. It’s because of all the people who are here and all the people who want the grace that comes through the sacraments. 

We’re just instruments. We’re the spatula. God makes the whole omelet. We only serve that purpose, nothing more. It’s Christ who does everything. That’s also been reinforced since I’ve been here. It’s through Christ and His Blessed Mother that the graces come to us. We’re conduits, but maybe more just instruments. 

In a parish, a priest is the hub and the spokes are all the groups and ministries that they’re involved in but other people are making them happen. The priest is the one who is supposed to be there to keep them in communication with each other and keep them on track with their primary purpose, to bring people to Christ. 

I’m going home with an excitement about the faith. It’s something I’ve known but kind of lost over the last couple years, especially since the lockdown. Something happened to a lot of priests, myself especially. I switched parishes in the middle of it so for a year and a half, I couldn’t get to know any of my parishioners. Suddenly our whole ministry, our whole priesthood, was essentially shut down as well. I did some things to try to make things better. I started doing Compline night prayer online as a way to be with my parishioners without being able to be with them. I still do it a couple days a week.

Coming here reminded me that our faith is really supposed to be a love affair with God. I’ve heard a lot in confessions today and over the last couple of days. People talk about, “I did what the church tells me,” but when you’re in love, you don’t think about the rules. Even if there are guidelines—you don’t mess around with somebody else, you’re not rude—but you don’t think about it, you just do them. It’s not something you dwell on because when you’re in love, you want to please the other person. You want to shout it from the roofs.

An Irish Dominican preached the other day about evangelizing, about not being afraid to say the Gospel. That’s one thing I’ve learned since I’ve been a priest. For many priests, especially in the generation of priests before me, seemed almost embarrassed of their priesthood, and definitely seemed embarrassed by their Catholicism. We have nothing to be embarrassed about. There are individual priests and individual Catholics who have done embarrassing and shameful things, but our faith is not something to be ashamed of. We have a 2,000 year old faith given to us by Christ Himself. Our Blessed Mother really wants us to know that. That we’re not to be proud of ourselves, but we can be proud of our faith.

I was shocked when Mirjana was serving us lunch. I read her book on the way over here. The parts she talked about when she was a teenager and the police picking her up and all the things that happened to her. I’m just a little bit younger than her, and I was thinking, when she was going through that, I was busy being self-indulgent and partying and being rebellious against my parents, being a poor son and really a poor Catholic. Here is this young woman, only a couple years older than me, who was taking such risks for the faith, for Christ, and for Our Blessed Mother. That has been a real example to me, the willingness to be a servant leader. 

I grew up in a time, in the 70s and 80s, when Marian devotion was really kind of tamped down. In the late 90s and early 2000s when I began to come back to the church, it was the Rosary and especially after my mom passed, the story of Saint Catherine Labouré. Her mom died, she went to the funeral, and when she came back, she took down a statue of the Blessed Mother, kissed it, and said, “Now you will be my Mother.” We all have a mother, even if we’ve lost our mother. 

She’s the Mother of our mothers. It’s not like we’re taking something away from our biological mothers. 

That’s really kicked it into high gear, knowing that I always have a mom, a mom who will look out for me and who really does love me in a way that my mother loved me. My mom was there in some of the worst, most heart-breaking moments of my life. I know now that Mary was there with both of us. 

When I was in my twenties, I flip-flopped a lot. I was moving in and out of the house. Part of my mom’s motherhood and part of my dad’s fatherhood was a willingness to draw a line. I see a lot of parents now who want to be their kid’s friend. I didn’t need a buddy. I needed a parent, and they were willing to do that. When I was about 23, I’d hit the skids again and was moving back into my house, and my mom said to me, “This is the last time.” 

About a year later, I got in some trouble and had to go to court. I was angry. I remember my mom turned to me and said, “How much longer are you going to sabotage yourself?” She was crying when she said it. That stuck in my heart. I think the Blessed Mother was speaking through her in that moment. I knew it broke her heart to see me hurting herself. That was a watershed moment. I was already sober at that time, but I knew I had to change the way I lived my life. 

I was very close to my mother. She died two weeks before I was ordained. She saw my diaconate ordination the year before, and she was there when my brothers and sisters got me a chalice. She saw that then she died a couple days later. She died on the 100th anniversary of Fatima. 

She wasn’t particularly Marian; neither was my dad. I don’t remember them ever praying the Rosary. I had to teach myself the Rosary. But she shared that love of motherhood. My mom was one of my greatest examples of love. She was willing to pour herself out for her children the way Our Blessed Mother does.