There are a few questions that every seminarian will be asked at least a dozen times during his time in seminary. One of them is, “Isn’t it wonderful living in Rome?”, and another is, “What made you decide to go to seminary?”.
While the answer to the first question changes depending on how close to exams the seminarians are, or how hot the Eternal City is in June, the answer to the second question never really changes.
I grew up in a Catholic family. My brother and I were never given the opportunity to think about whether going to Mass was a good thing – our parents decided that for us. Every week, whether we liked it or not, we would head to the church and sit in the back pews (like all good Catholics do). Like many boys, I became an altar server after I had received my First Holy Communion, and from that time I was always involved in some way or another. I wouldn’t say that the local church was a ‘home from home’, but I knew growing up that the Church would always be a part of my life. In fact, my plan was always to graduate from university, get married, move to Hong Kong, raise a family and become a deacon. I left High School with good grades and got into University, studying a Master’s Degree in Naval Architecture with Ocean Engineering. The plan was coming together nicely.
I should mention here that I had never believed in the idea of ‘the call’. As far as I was concerned, the
many good and holy priests whom I had met had all decided to become priests in much the same way as I had decided not to become one.
That changed in 2011. During my second year at university, I travelled to South Africa with my parish priest and some other young parishioners. We went with the intention of establishing a relationship between our own parish and poorer parishes there. To do so effectively, we decided to stay with two priests in a small rural town near Johannesburg. Basically, we shadowed these men as they ministered to four different communities in the surrounding area. I returned from South Africa having had an amazing and humbling experience. Fairly quickly, I began to resent the idea of going to university every day.
Eventually, I was aware that I was very unhappy. My ‘work’ as a DJ and radio presenter had never been better, and my social life was fairly typical of someone who had all the money of a university student who lived at home. However, something was missing.
I had a nagging feeling. The best way that I can describe what others refer to as ‘the call’ is to say that eventually the nagging feeling became so obvious that I felt that I would have been actively ignoring it if I hadn’t done something about it.
I spoke to my parish priest about the feeling that I might want to become a priest. He referred me to the diocesan Vocations Director, who helped me in the applicants’ process. I was able to keep working, but I had become certain that my future was not as a naval architect. I left university, which was not easy, and continued to pray about what God was calling me to be. I was accepted for seminary in early 2013, and three years, later I could not be happier (even if sometimes my family and friends have to listen to my complaining about the exams and the Roman heat).
Although there were many factors in my vocation story, including my trip to South Africa and my upbringing in a good home, above all the most important was prayer. I never used to pray much, but it is essential to become comfortable with praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. How can we know what God is saying to us if we won’t talk or listen to Him?
Ryan Black – Theology I