My grandfather made me a recommendation that I should share my own vocation story. I thought it a good idea considering how many people have been reading the blog from around the country, most of whom know very little about me. So, here we go:
Some of you might be surprised to hear that my vocation began with all of you and the compassionate heart of Jesus. About two thousand years ago, while he was walking, teaching, preaching and healing he saw a great crowd; “At the sight of the crowds his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest”. So, here it began, my vocation, with the promise of Jesus Himself to His beloved disciples, and your response in prayer.
My story begins here, with the seed of Jesus’ promise to the world, but my story is unique. Like a seed, each vocation needs to be planted in good soil, cared for – trimmed here and there – by someone who truly knows how: and so it was for me.
I was born into a wonderful family which had a lot to do with my vocational journey. Don’t be mistaken though, as some have, that my family “chose” this life for me. To make the mistake that God’s vocation lies solely in the parents’ choices then you run the risk of underwriting God’s creative plan. Indeed, you make the mistake of saying that a vocation to the priesthood is like another occupation, and fail to admit to the very fact that God, from the very beginning, created certain men to be priests after His own Son. That said – the support of my family made discernment a great deal less difficult in today’s world.
I always felt a strong draw to the Church. I always wanted to be active in it and live within the community that fostered Christian love. Even when I was very little I knew the church was something far greater than my home parish, and I knew – almost instinctively – that God dwelled there. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was, but I was always interested in the Church.
As a family we went to Mass every Sunday. We prayed grace before every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter meal and my mom always fostered a strong catechetical education throughout my childhood. In hindsight these years were not only formative but crucially so. I count it a great grace to have learned about God at such ann early age that God was able to plant the seed of faith into my heart when I was still (pardon the expression) fresh soil. I believe that my interior convictions about God and His Church, Jesus and His redemption, and the sacramental life all began to really form my inner life, even as a young child. So, I am truly grateful!
After making my first communion, Fr. Zinno at the time, asked us all if any were willing to serve at the Mass. I remember handing in the form very excited about getting more time at church. With some of my other classmates we learned how to carry the candle, walk with the cruets and hold the book. I was very excited when my name finally came on the schedule and I was called to serve Mass for the first time.
I’ll never forget sitting in this huge chair – so large that my knees couldn’t bend past the seat of the chair and my legs stuck straight out. Fr. Zinno still loves telling this to everyone he introduces me to today… Anyways, it was at this Mass when I was finally ready to hear the voice of God speak to me. It was at this Eucharist that I was finally able to feel the finger of God tap ever so gently on my heart. When the priest raised the host that day, I felt a deep conviction that I was going to be the priest. I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I remember that on that day, at eight years old, I KNEW God was calling me.
I’m really not someone special. This Friday we will hear the Gospel message that God calls the sinners and not the righteous. Truly, I believe it is because I am no-one special that God called me. Never did I feel that I was choosing this for myself. In fact, often times when I would ask how I could ever be the priest God calls me to be, but thanks be to God, when He calls, when He chooses, He makes perfect what is imperfect.
Throughout my grade school and high school years I always had this lingering feeling that God wanted me to be His priest. In fact, some used to call me Father Fleming and Father Nick growing up because they saw it too. I suppose too that God might have used those people to keep the thought always fresh in my mind.
As I finished my final year of High school I knew God was definitely calling me. Did I have my doubts at times? Yes, of course! Did I think that maybe I’d be happier doing something else? Yes, of Course! But when it came down to it, the only peace I found was in filling out the enormously long application to the seminary.
In 2007 I graduated High school an average student. I entered Our Lady of Providence seminary the following September enrolled at Rhode Island College. In my second year I transferred to Providence College (catholic school) where I graduated recently in 2011. Graduating College, I still felt a strong pull to the priesthood. Sure, I still had some doubts, but I knew that trusting in the Lord’s work I could be a priest.
At the end of minor Seminary (college seminary) we were all called into the bishop’s office for a meeting. One by one we received our assignments for further studies. If you haven’t figured it out by now, seminary formation is a LONG process. The bishop decided that I would take up residence at the Pontifical North American College here in Rome, and I would study at another Dominican School, the Angelicum University.
So, that brings me to today. God is good. He calls those whom He has chosen to be His priests, and today, stronger then ever I feel the conviction that God has called me to his priesthood. St. John Marie-Vianney said, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus” and truly this heart has transformed my life. It is a great desire for me to love as He did, to minister to His people, and to marry my future bride, the Church whom I have loved all of my life.
God Bless you All and thanks for reading!