Somewhere behind the clouds on the morning of February 12, the sun rose to open the Lord’s Day in Yuba City. As we neared the midpoint of the shortest month, my pastoral internship year at St. Isidore the Farmer Parish was looking like it would finish out as a normal year of gaining experience in a Catholic parish. Then, while I was serving as an acolyte at the Sunday evening Mass, the parish received word that the Oroville Dam was expecting an imminent collapse, and that an evacuation had been ordered in neighboring Marysville (home to the Diocese’ first cathedral).
We interrupted the homily to inform parishioners, and within the hour my indefatigable Nissan Sentra had joined the stream of Yuba City evacuees in bumper-to-bumper traffic that clogged Highway 99. The parish had been safely closed down, and so had the possibility of a ‘normal’ pastoral year experience.
We are all grateful that God has so far protected the areas downstream of Lake Oroville. And I am personally grateful for the opportunity to serve in a parish facing an unexpected emergency—not every seminarian has a local emergency as part of his formation! Sharing with the parish of St. Isidore in their (or rather, our) anxieties and uncertainties during the week that followed the evacuation order was a genuine gift, and increased my solidarity with Christians who persevere in the Faith amid uncertainties and persecutions around the world.
And now, with life restored to ‘normalcy,’ it was a special joy to serve Bishop Soto in the parish’s Confirmation Mass. Having survived the storm, a host of 170 young people were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit on a sunny St. Patrick’s Day. God has not abandoned His parishes in California, and I doubt not that He will continue to bless our young confirmandes with the graces needed to survive both the difficulties of this present world and the dangers of the sins that could keep them from Heaven. May His peace be with us, and may our thanks be to God!
The following is revised from an article published in the Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish Newsletter:
Even though our Diocese of Sacramento is the largest by area in California, it isn’t often that I’ve had the chance to visit the vast swaths of territory in the north of the state. The formation of a seminarian for the priesthood includes a lot, but adventuresome treks through the mountains (or for that matter, the cities) are not mandatory. Boredom is permissible, if not altogether appealing. And so Father Ronald Torres’ invitation to hospitality and a guided tour of his mountainous, river-pierced, and tree-nestled Parish of Sacred Heart (Fort Jones) and Saint Joseph (Yreka) for the weekend of January 7-8 was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
The visit could not have occurred on a more exciting weekend, meteorologically speaking; a huge winter storm was in its final hours as I nosed my borrowed Subaru into the rectory driveway late Friday night. The next morning Father and I awoke to the beauty of four inches of fresh snow—God’s answer to many Californians’ earnest prayers. Although the snow made it impossible to visit the church communities of Etna and Happy Valley, I got a taste of what life is like in the higher elevations. Father and I patiently waited for the evening Mass in St. Joseph’s, visiting the parish hall to see the volunteers and visitors to the Saturday lunch effort. I was impressed at the dedication of parishioners who braved the snow to feed those who depended on the parish for a hot meal.
Seminarians often have the privilege of altar serving in many churches, and it was with gusto that I donned my cassock and surplice (the black and white altar server attire) to help with the weekend Masses. Father gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to the parish, and it was a joy to thank so many faithful Catholics for their prayers and sacrifices that support priestly and religious vocations. We seminarians depend on your prayers and courageous support—including the willingness to invite others to consider whether Jesus is calling him/her to follow Him in the priesthood or a religious vocation.
It was with some chagrin that I said goodbye to Father Ronald—and to the intrepid Deacon Chuck and Dortje Werner—after Sunday brunch. The parishes of the north are blessed with a beauty and community that I refuse to envy (that’s a sin!), but fully intend to visit again. May God richly bless the parish and families of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph’s. Amen.
The new year is upon us, classes are starting, and resolutions are being made. For many seminarians, including those in Sacramento, this time of year has a different meaning as well: retreat season. Across the country, many seminaries, including Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon and Saint Patrick’s in Menlo Park, the two seminaries utilized by the Diocese of Sacramento, hold an annual retreat, often in silence, in order to provide some time for prayer, reflection, and finding God’s will in one’s life. Even those who are on their pastoral internship, a year long period of learning and living in a parish, return to their seminaries, as I returned to Mount Angel this past week. While a week-long retreat, especially in silence, is not always easy, if one allows it to be, it is fruitful and brings many blessings.
Silence and time for prayer is just as important for seminarians and priests as it is for anyone else, especially for those who are discerning a call to religious life. To hear God’s call, we should take some time to step back and simply “be” with God. This might mean attending a formal discernment retreat, which can be found by contacting your local Diocese (such as Sacramento’s Office of Vocations), going on a personal retreat at a local monastery or retreat house (such as the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Northern California), or if neither of those options are available to you now, then simply spending some time away from the constant bombardment of modern life, whether it be a hiking or camping trip, or some other experience in which you can spend some good quality time reflecting and praying, listening for the Lord. As one priest recently told me: look for quality over quantity. In other words, you don’t have to spend 14 days in total silence to hear God’s will, but you do have to make an honest effort, with the guidance of a good spiritual director, and then make a decision and move forward based on what you discern.
If you are discerning the priesthood or religious life, take that next step and spend some time away with God. Find a good spiritual director who can help you on the journey, and when the time comes, with good discernment, move forward towards the next phase.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for the ConsiderPriesthood team! Fr. Jovito, Vocations Director for the Diocese of Sacramento, and some seminarians will be visiting St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo and Crito Rey High School in Sacramento over the coming weeks.
Please continue to pray for all your Sacramento seminarians, and know that you remain in ours as well!
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