Saying Yes to the Calling

The sights, sounds, words and emotions experienced at this year’s June 10th ordination liturgy are even more meaningful when one considers what the experience means for a Jesuit himself—someone who, after a decade or more of preparation, will live a lifetime of service as a priest, sharing the sacraments with God’s people.

Ordination is a major milestone for a J esuit scholastic, an event replete with all the beauty and warmth of a wedding, but which symbolizes life and hope for the Church, the ongoing proclamation of the Gospel, and humble and loving service of God’s people.

“When a Jesuit is ordained a priest, he stands before God and before the whole Church, and before the community of his family, friends and brother Jesuits, to publicly offer a resounding yes to the call from the Church to be ordained,” said Fr. Michael Boughton, SJ, who this summer completed five years as assistant for formation for the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces. “His yes is a response to God’s call to him, to the years of study, ministry, prayer and Ignatian discernment with his superiors in the Society that have preceded this moment, and to the love and support that his family, friends, and brother Jesuits have given him in this long and wonderful process of Jesuit formation.”

This year’s new priests—Fr. Rudy Casals, SJ, Fr. Daniel Corrou, SJ, Fr. Brett McLaughlin, SJ, and Fr. Angelo (AJ) Rizzo, SJ—were asked to share one instance of saying, “yes,” that had special significance during his discernment to the priesthood and Jesuit formation.

JESUITS Magazine asked each new priest to share one memorable instance of saying “yes” that had special significance during his discernment to the priesthood and Jesuit formation.

Fr. Rudy Casals, SJ

When the letter arrived in the mail, I opened it with caution. The Department of Defense envelope looked the same as the one the year before, however, this time, I had been accepted to the Naval Academy. First there was surprise, then elation, and then relief. Then, there came a strange sadness as I realized that I would not be a priest.

As a teenager, the idea of priesthood had been in the back of my mind. God felt close, but it was easy to convince myself that being a naval officer was my vocation.

I could not have imagined that 15 years later I would be opening another letter, this one from Fr. Provincial Gerald Chojnacki, SJ, telling me I had been admitted to the Jesuit novitiate. I started out not knowing what to make of the 13- year military career I had left behind. I had served as a Naval officer with the same sense of commitment required of a priest, which made resigning even more painful. In the military, I found the strength and courage to respond generously to God’s call, but I also worried I might have kept God waiting. It would take many years as a Jesuit to realize that these concerns were not God’s concerns. God’s call is not a static, one-time event; vocations grow and change.

During my ministries as a Jesuit, Jesus has not stopped inviting me to move past my fears and to meet him in different and intimate ways. I have learned to take seriously what feels close, always wondering if this is a new invitation. Some yeses are easy to say, especially when feeling free and ready to go, while others threaten to unsettle every thing around us, yet they all come with the grace to respond.

Fr. John Cecero, SJ, USA Northeast Province provincial; Fr. Daniel Corrou, SJ; Fr. Brett McLaughlin, SJ; Bishop George Murry, SJ, of Youngstown, Ohio; Fr. Angelo (AJ) Rizzo, SJ; Fr. Rodolfo Casals, SJ; and Fr. Robert Hussey, SJ, Maryland Province provincial.

Fr. Daniel Corrou, SJ

The final years before ordination were difficult years for me as a Jesuit. I struggled upon returning from the Middle East, to the life of a graduate student in the United States. At times, I even confused these struggles with doubts about my Jesuit vocation. Saying “yes” again to the call to be a Jesuit and a priest was a wonderfully life-giving process for me.

This “yes” was made most clear during an immersion trip to El Salvador with some of my lay classmates from the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. As we prayed in the chapel where Archbishop Romero was martyred, I was reminded of the call of the suffering Jesus to stand in the middle of the messiness of human reality. My life as a Jesuit and a priest must be a call to enter the suffering of the world more deliberately. Sitting with the tortured Jesus, I realized that I must put away my fears and worries and sit with the One who sits with me.

Fr. Brett McLaughlin, SJ

Before the summer of 2003, I had been discerning the priesthood for many years. I had been inspired by several different priest-mentors at the College of the Holy Cross, and, that spring, I received the great blessing of being accepted into the Lilly Foundation’s summer internship in a religious order at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Storrs, Conn. Three Jesuits led the parish, and over those months I was deeply moved by the dynamic Christ and the charism of the Society of Jesus. At the same time, I witnessed the intelligent, compassionate ministry of Fr. Paul Holland, SJ. It was in this context of comprehending and seeing how Companions of Jesus cared for the people of God that made me say, “yes,” to the call to be a Jesuit.

Over the course of regular prayer and diligent studies, we each come to know Christ and His offer to heal, revitalize, and shepherd humanity. During my formation studies, I took Contemporary Christology as a course at three different colleges. Each exploration into a theologian’s articulation of Jesus’ ministry seemed to give me more energy to declare Jesus’ salvation in an inventive new way.

As Kierkegaard says, “It is the task of every generation to realize Jesus contemporaneously.” As Jesuits, we notice the wounds of God’s people, and as Edward Schillebeeckx says, it is Jesus’ unlimited desire to attend to troubles of His people. Daily prayer with my image of Jesus by Titian sustains me. Through this process of reading, writing, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and Christ as innovative savior, I have also said “yes.”

During their priestly ordination, the four Jesuits lie prostrate in the aisle of the church as a sign of dependence upon God and on the prayers of the Christian community.

Fr. Angelo (AJ) Rizzo, SJ

When I moved back to Scranton for regency in 2011, I knew I was returning to a home of sorts—I went to college there from 1999-2003, and I did a lot of learning and loving during my four years there. When I arrived at Scranton Prep, the Prep family embraced me with open arms, welcoming me into their lives and their homes. From my first days there, I knew that God had sent me to Prep, and that God had sent Prep into my life and my vocation, to be a part of my formation and my life story.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis gave a talk about the importance of true friendships in the lives of seminarians and priests. He said we become friends only if “our encounter with another person is more than something outward or formal. “True friendship,” he said, “involves sharing in the life of another person, an experience of compassion, a relationship that involves giving ourselves for others.” The students, their families, and the faculty and staff of Scranton Prep were those kinds of friends to me.

I learned so much about being a Jesuit and a priest from my students at Prep—things that you can’t learn in a theology textbook. But perhaps the most important, most enduring mark on my life from my time at Prep is the phrase Jesus speaks over and over to His disciples: “Don’t be afraid.” When life is hard and you feel alone or discouraged, look for signs of God’s presence in your life—because they are all around us—if only we have eyes to see. The Scranton Prep family was proof of that for me.

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