1. Silent meditation on God’s word, especially before the Blessed Sacrament – Of course, prayer is the best tip for discernment, but too often, our prayer is overly focused on our own words, thoughts, and desires. Therefore, with time for silent reflection, meditating on God’s word can open our minds and hearts to become aware of God’s call and plan for our lives.
  2. Daily Rosary – Our mother is an essential advocate and intercessor for our vocational discernment. I can confidently say she wants nothing more than for us to hear and follow the call of her Son in our lives.
  3. Confession at least once a month – The regular cleansing of our soul through the sacrament of confession can help us to see more and more the will of God for our lives. 
  4. Take steps! We have to move in vocational discernment! We can’t figure it out purely in our minds. We have to take proactive steps and see how the Lord will slowly but surely, reveal His will and plan for our lives with each step we take.
    1. Go on a discernment retreat or Come and See weekend.
    2. Talk to your local pastor or a mentor you trust.
    3. Speak with your Vocation Director.

A few weeks ago at the seminary, I spent time with my brother seminarians in our common room. Out of the blue, one of my friends asked me, “Why do you want to be a priest?” Without any thought, I answered, “Because, I was made for this.” Having spent five years in seminary and plenty of time discerning before that, I have wasted no time pondering the nature of “vocation” and what it means to me. Never in all this deep thought and self-examination do I believe I had come closer to the nature of my call to the priesthood than in these words spoken naturally to a brother. Indeed, I believe I was made for this. 

A vocation is a mystery, but it is not a gnostic secret left for men and women to decode. Hours spent in prayer looking for a secret message, at least for me, would not lead to a “lightning bolt” moment where God says definitively, “do this.” Instead, I have learned that a vocation is revealed in the knowledge of self, which comes when one is exposed to the presence of God. To live one’s vocation is to respond to the Word of God. It is a discovery of the concrete ramifications of that Word spoken to each of us when he called us out of dust and formed us in our mother’s womb. Augustine says “love and do what you will,” and this is good advice for those who genuinely love God. I believe I am called to be a priest, because as I have grown in love for God, my love remains small. I have become increasingly convinced that nothing would make me happier than to be his priest and to unite my heart with his heart in the ministry of His Word. To bear Christ in my heart to the world, in the priestly ministry, seems the perfect joy I can imagine on this side of heaven.

Of course, there is a broad picture of vocation and its concrete manifestation in an individual’s life. For me, it was present from an early time but has grown up and flowered into something more beautiful than human hands could arrange. Before I was baptized, I encountered the priesthood on the first day of my life. I was born on Ash Wednesday, and utterly new to the world, I was greeted by my mother, father, the doctors and nurses, and then a priest, who, when I was not yet a day old, sprinkled ashes on my head and spoke to me the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” That day, though I was personally unaware, I was given a reminder of my identity. I encountered the Word of God and was assured I would return to him. From then on, I was “dusted” on a mission.

Throughout my childhood, I always had an awareness of the reality of God that seems natural to children. Life was joyful and mysterious in all the best ways. I had the wonderful experience of growing up in the arms of the Church. I attended Catholic School and learned daily about the God who called me to love. I marveled at the mystery of the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church. As a child at home, I would try to make holy water and give blessings. I remember learning about the Eucharist and wondering what happened when someone received the Body and Blood of Christ. I remember going to Mass on Sunday and asking my parents to open their mouths so that I could see what happened when someone received the host. I wanted to see – how that which appeared to be bread – could be God and make someone live forever, as I was told. Of course, they did not comply. What happens when someone eats the Body of Christ, I would not find out until my first communion. Dressed in a suit and tie and carrying as a standard a felt banner that read “Jesus is Love,” my classmates and I marched on the church, and I, at the wise age of eight years, would encounter the person of Jesus Christ tangibly and finally know myself and what it means to receive him. Though I was not yet eight and unable to plumb the depths of the mysteries of the blessed sacrament, I knew that I had received the living God and would never be the same. My communions became less frequent, however, as my family, disillusioned by scandal, and caught up in other life concerns, began to fall away from the practice of the faith.

The monthly school Mass was the only one I attended in middle school. Over time, I was exposed to new ideas and friends who rejected the church as old-fashioned and illogical. No reasonable and kind person would believe the claims of the Catholic Church, they told me. Feeling challenged in my belief, and no longer nourished by the regular reception of the sacraments, I began to doubt. I was approaching Confirmation and wanted to know if I should receive the sacrament. I decided I could not embrace what I did not understand or practice, but neither could I reject it, so I resolved to give it the “old college try” as I approached my Confirmation. I signed up to be an altar server as this would force me to go to Mass on Sundays, and as my parents didn’t go, I found rides to get there. I also began a study of what the church teaches. I spent time reading the catechism, and a lot of time on the Catholic Answers website. I became convinced that if God is who He says He is, then Catholicism must be true. I decided to be confirmed and experienced in a new way, the presence of God – the power of the Holy Spirit. I encountered the God of the living, a personal God with overwhelming love.

From then on, I practiced the faith fervently and with the grace of one recently convicted, although still clumsily and imperfectly. All this unfolded through my time in high school in a way that made seminary seem like the natural next step. I had great priest mentors at my parish and school, and they knew they had something I wanted, and in their ministry, they gave me something I wanted to convey. At home, however, I was experiencing a lot of difficulties.

My family life had deteriorated due to addiction, and I was embarrassed by my family. I became accustomed to taking care of myself and keeping up appearances. I entered the seminary when I graduated high school, and I did so seeking to grow closer to the Lord, but with a divided heart, also desiring to be apart from the family of whom I was ashamed. As I advanced through seminary, I gradually began to rely more and more on myself rather than on God. I failed to recognize the wounds I not only had received, but was still receiving as things deteriorated at home. All this came to a head as I came to my fourth year of college seminary. My family had just lost their home, another consequence of addiction, and I could not form authentic relationships due to my inability to open up. At that point, it was clear to everyone except me that I was miserable. Relying on myself, I could not keep up the image of the good seminarian of which I was so proud. I was a mess. God, in his mercy, saw me in my miserable state and saved me from my self-reliance and the misery which is its natural consequence. That year, I would leave seminary as I lost my father to an addiction I tried hard to ignore. I then found myself with my family in shambles and my support systems taken away. I had no job, plan, or specific place to live.

Initially, I tried to accept these things patiently. I had good spiritual directors, and knew intellectually that God was good and that all was under his care. I, in my anger, allowed myself to begin to doubt. I felt betrayed by God, the one to whom I believed I had given everything. I felt betrayed by those with whom I had placed my trust. Most of all, I thought I was being denied something I deserved. I believed that I had done everything I was supposed to do outwardly, or at least assured myself that I was not as bad as those around me, so I was being denied my due. In all of this, I was beginning to see myself again as I was – not a pious or virtuous man to whom God owed a favor; instead, I was still that dust to whom God first spoke. I had come to say, “I deserve,” rather than, “thank you.” Bit by bit, as everything on which the false self relied, was stripped away, the rebuilding began. I could step back and see how I was sustained by a God who took no delight in my pain, but embraced me in my suffering, an embrace that led to a new freedom. 

On my last day of college seminary, I sat in the choir stall filled with sorrow and anger, not knowing what my future would be or if I would ever become a priest, but then came the words of the Gospel that day from John 15:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the Word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because, without me, you can do nothing.” 

Even then, I knew these words were for me (though I did not want to hear them). I knew I was not being cast off, but receiving again the mercy I did not deserve as He invited me to deeper communion with him. 

While away from seminary, I often remembered the Word spoken to me while wandering and rebelling. God is a Father who never forgets His promises, and He asked me to remember who He was and what He has done for me. As time passed, God restored my soul. I would learn again how to rely on his help and friendship rather than my power. I was then able to approach the idea of seminary formation. 

Eventually, as my life took a  different course than I planned, I found myself staring into the monstrance and overcome with the knowledge that I, not God, had been unfaithful. Despite my unfaithfulness, I could see how He guided me along the way, how He kept an account of my wanderings and recorded my tears in his book, and how with a strong arm, He led me from a place of sorrow to a land of joy holding me by the right hand. 

Upon returning to seminary, I was filled with trepidation, but surprisingly, I found everything new. The life I once found arduous was now sweet. What I once dreaded was not life-giving. I now experience a deeper communion with my brother seminarians and fellow Christians. I have experienced a renewed friendship with the person of Jesus Christ, my one true hope and the noblest object of my affection. Apart from him, I can do nothing. Now, with a new heart, I can confidently say, “I was made for this.”

  1. Reception of union with Christ as a Child of God
    1. We must first begin by accepting that our identity rests in the Lord and not what we do. We must receive our status as sons before determining what He wants us to do.
  2. What do I desire to do to further the Kingdom of God – serve the domestic church or the Universal Church?
    1. What does my heart ache for? Does my heart burn to serve the Kingdom of God above everything else? This will give me a clue for how I should orient the whole of my life in a chosen vocation as a priest, religious life, or marriage.
  3. Get involved
    1. Am I involved in parish life or campus ministry? What areas of ministry do I need to explore to see if the diocesan priesthood and the activities that make it up are right for me?
  4. Be patient as the Lord grows your desires.
    1. Early in discernment, we can be impatient to “arrive” at what the Lord wants to do with us. It is essential to be patient as the Lord slowly reveals His will and forms our hearts after His own Heart.

We all have a purpose

The reality is that God is the Creator Who created me for a purpose, and I can come to know that purpose. Therefore, the goal of my life is to come to know that purpose and to live it out to the best of my ability. How can I come to know that purpose? Authentic discernment happens in and through the circumstances of real life; and the best discernment happens not only through committed prayer with the Holy Spirit as our guide, but also with the help of a spiritual director who can help us to be attentive to what is going on around us and within us.

Be honest with God and yourself. 

Many men feel called to the priesthood, but out of fear, attempt to explain it away. If you are feeling a conviction that God might be calling you, acknowledge it; say it out loud to a friend or a priest – God is present in that moment. Reality becomes more present with honesty. Being honest about the reality that we perceive a call doesn’t necessarily mean we will become a priest, it just means that we are acknowledging God at work within us. 

Discernment is Patient

Mature discernment takes place over time. Every big decision in life should be done in counsel and prayer – this is especially true of a sacred vocation. If a perceived conviction is sustained over the course of a month, it means one thing. If it is sustained for 6 months, it means something more. If I live faithful to daily prayer and virtue while remaining convicted of a divine call over the course of a year, the meaning is a lived reality. On the other hand, if I can’t live out a life of prayer and virtue in the midst of a perceived calling, then I have to acknowledge that reality, and be honest with myself and others, that though I may be called, I might not be ready.   

Growing up in a military family, I spent most of my childhood moving from one place to another, constantly establishing a new community wherever we went.  Although we did not attend church regularly, it was on the occasion of my mother’s miscarriage that I first recall witnessing the power of God in my family’s life. I vividly remember the Sunday – my mother reaching out to God in intense suffering and seeing God console her as He held her in His arms. It was a Sunday unlike any other, as it was the first Sunday I recall God moving in my family’s life. My mother’s heart was broken and God put it back together.  At the time, I did not know what to make of it, but it touched my heart, and opened me up to believing in Goodness. Though this was an intense experience, football quickly became the God of my life. 

I grew up watching my dad play Semi-Pro football and knew from an early age that I wanted to be just like him; a tough guy adorned in armor, ready to battle! I began playing football in third grade, and with each passing year, it became more of my identity. It gave my life purpose and direction and made me feel alive. I applied myself wholeheartedly to the game, giving my all on the field and training intensely off of it. By the end of middle school, this great love and dedication culminated in a scholarship offer to attend a private Catholic High School, St. Mary’s Ryken. My parents and I accepted, and our lives have never been the same. The first day of freshman year began with a retreat, and it was the first time I had ever heard anyone my age speak of a personal relationship with Jesus. I was perplexed by the reality of a living encounter with God, but quickly buried this inspiration with football and academics. However, this encounter would prove to be inescapable, as a broken shoulder paired with a broken heart stripped me of my identity and cast me into darkness. But the light was not overcome! Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body healed my heart that was wounded by a sex-saturated culture and renewed my hope for love. 

Healed and hopeful, I found myself open to the witness of my teammates, who invited me into a deeper communion with Jesus through the Church. He convinced me of His love, and I concluded my time at Ryken by entering the Church at the Easter Vigil. Newly confirmed, I began my academic and athletic career at Colby College. I came with the firm intention to bring Christs’ Light to the darkness of a secular campus. I quickly became a starter and the spiritual leader of my team my freshman year and began working with a local priest to bring the faith to my classmates. In this endeavor, I encountered the absolute brokenness of a secular world. The tears and helplessness of friends pierced my heart with sorrow and moved me to compassion. In loving them, I felt most alive and knew my heart was being drawn to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. 

As I began to discern with the help of the High Calling Program, I began to discover more and more of my own heart as instructors drew me deeper into the Heart of Christ. The deeper I treaded, the clearer it became my heart desired a spiritual fatherhood, and a life devoted to Christ as His priest. I am now at the end of my first semester in seminary, and I can say that He has me right where He wants me. It has been the most joyful four months of my life and the toughest. I am painfully encountering the ways in which my heart does not belong to the Father, yet the promise of His faithfulness always soothes me. In this short time, I have experienced profoundly how much my calling is a gift to others as much as it is to myself. It fills me with a gratitude that is the source of all that I do during the rest of my time in seminary, and God-Willing, in the priesthood He is calling me to!

  1. Develop a Rhythm of Personal Prayer
    1. Consistency is key. Make sure you meet God daily in prayer and get accustomed to recognizing His “still, small voice” (see 1 Kings 19:11-13).
  2. Meet God in the Sacraments
    1. You will only know His will if you are filled with the grace He gives you in the sacraments – most notably, frequent confession (I recommend at least monthly) and Mass (ideally more than once a week).
  3. Daydream
    1. Imagine yourself in the various vocations and get excited about what the Lord can do in you and through you in each of them. [Bonus points if, beyond your daydreaming, you get out and ask your parish priest if you can shadow him in some of his priestly duties like sick calls or sacramental ministry so that you can have experiences to inform your daydreams!]
  4. Clean Your Room
    1. You can’t find something you need in a mess. It’ll be hard to find your vocation if your life has no order to it. So, try to build up an essential structure for your days and weeks: When are you going to pray, serve, study, exercise, sleep, etc.? Also, literally, clean your room; order in your room can often help to develop order in your soul.

My vocation story begins at a little religious goods store called “La Guadalupana” where my mom is the store owner. I spent a lot of time there as a kid and was always surrounded by religious articles, books, etc. I would say that I grew up in a religious family, learning the Rosary at a young age and praying the Rosary as a family. Furthermore, I am blessed to have three aunts, who are religious nuns in San Francisco, with the order “Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament.” When I was 7 years old, I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Rome with my mom and travel with my aunts’ order. We were there for the beatification mass of the order’s foundress, Blessed Mary Magdalene of the Incarnation. Throughout the trip, I learned how to serve the Mass by helping out the trip’s chaplain, a priest-friend from Spain. On that trip, something struck me, and I, a seven-year-old kid, had aspirations about being a priest. Upon coming home, I decided to tag along with my mom, a Eucharistic Adorer at our home parish, and join her for a weekly Holy Hour with Jesus from 6 am-7 am every Thursday. 

During these years, people would come up to me and ask me if I ever thought about becoming a priest, and I would say yes because that’s exactly what it was: a thought. As life continued, the thoughts of the priesthood would come and go. It took a while, but when I was 14, I signed up to be an altar server – this was a pivotal moment in my vocation; I saw the Mass so differently when I was serving. It is quite an experience serving the Mass. But again, the priesthood remained only as a thought in the back of my mind. I was a big-time soccer player, and this was all I wanted to do. The idea of the priesthood was still there, but I continually put them away. These were my high school years in a nutshell. 

After graduating from Manteca High in 2017, I attended UC San Diego, entering as a biology major. On the first day of college, I met a girl I eventually started dating, and I became attracted to secular college life. I was still attending Mass on Sundays, but only out of obligation. In addition, my grades were falling behind, which continued throughout my first year of college. Entering my second year, I had changed majors and started studying Business & Psychology. I realized that something wasn’t clicking in my life, so I reflected a little bit and realized: I wasn’t praying anymore. I was so caught up with college life. So I decided to pray a Rosary every day for better grades, and with a heightened sense of purpose and discipline, I started to get better grades.  At this point, I was praying my daily Rosary and going to Sunday Mass, but I was still focused on the secular world.

Now, this leads to my third and final year of college. I was working, going to school, and had a nice girlfriend… I thought life was good. That was until I returned home for a weekend in 2019, and the homily at Mass that Sunday was about the priest’s vocation story. I was completely in shock; it had never occurred to me how many priests today “dated” before entering the seminary. I did not even pay attention to the rest of the Mass; all I could think about was, “Maybe that could be me.” When I returned to school, I started thinking, “So I am graduating soon.. What am I going to do with my life?” And the more I thought about it, the harder it was to see myself as anything other than a priest. I kept these thoughts to myself for a few months, but then it came to the point where I could no longer hold my thoughts in. I had to do something about it; I had to tell my girlfriend. She was not Catholic, so she did not quite understand the whole part about “I can’t be married and be a priest,” but she came to terms with it. It was a difficult conversation, but at that moment, I decided to discern the call to the priesthood. About two weeks later, COVID-19 turned the world upside down and closed all the churches.

So here I am…I just figured out that I felt called to go to the seminary, and I cannot  go to Mass or visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Being a kid who grew up with Youtube, I looked up “live Eucharistic Adoration” and what do you know, a bunch of channels worldwide were doing this. So I started to pray, and I kept asking, “why me?” I began to say to myself, “I’m not worthy.” After a couple of minutes, I cried for two hours straight. The Lord touched my heart, and I was sorry. In tears, I asked Him, “What do you want me to do?” In my heart, I heard, “What you have always wanted to do since you were a little boy…be my priest.”

I graduated in June 2020, moved back home to take a “gap” year, and seriously discerned. I contacted Fr. Cesar Martinez, our vocations director for the Diocese of Stockton in California, and he suggested I start attending the monthly discernment meetings. I lived at the Formation House in Stockton for six months while taking courses with the High Calling Program before leaving for the seminary. In my heart, I believe this was all the doing of Our Lady. It took a couple of years, but I genuinely believe that because I started praying the Rosary every day, I am here telling you my story. Additionally, I would not be standing here today, telling you about how the Lord has called me without the prayers of my family, my friends, and my community. After applying for the Diocese of Stockton and St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, I was accepted in the fall of 2021. Today, I am a seminarian for the Diocese of Stockton, studying at Saint Patrick’s Seminary, pray for me. 

  1. Adoration
    1. Frequently spend time with Christ, the one who asks men to follow Him.
  2. “Father, your will be done, not mine.”
    1. Allow this prayer to become a theme in your prayer.
  3. Make a Marian Consecration
    1. Mary is the mother of priestly vocations and intercedes for her sons along the path of discernment.
  4. Read a book on the priesthood.
    1. To Save a Thousand Souls is a good book to start reading if you have questions about discernment.

I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta with no religion to speak of in my household. My father was a rather outspoken atheist, and my mother was an apathetic agnostic. I inherited my father’s atheism and was passionately anti-religious throughout my teenage years. Although I never went to church on the weekends, I was driven to my grandfather’s house every Saturday morning to spend time with him and help him with his yard work. These were some of my most formative experiences growing up, and I especially remember his favorite phrase, “this too shall pass.” At the time, I could never have realized the severe impact that phrase would have on me. 

When I went off to college, I began to slowly be exposed to certain Christian things, like arguments for the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ. I thought some of the arguments I heard were reasonably good, but they were not enough to convert me on the spot. However, in my junior year of college, several personal tragedies struck, and my life as I had hitherto known it fell apart within a few days. My grandfather died of cancer, my parents divorced, my girlfriend dumped me without warning, my car broke down in the middle of nowhere, and for the first time, I genuinely cried to God for help. I asked Him for a sign that I could not miss.  

The next day, my girlfriend and I reconciled and got back together, and she, being an evangelical Christian, gave me a book by the protestant pastor Max Lucado to help me deal with my grief. As I slowly read the book, asking for a sign, I began to feel a stirring in my soul that grew stronger by the day. Finally, after a week or so, I had become highly anxious while reading the book, so I decided to finish the page I was on and put it down. When I reached the end of the page, the last sentence was “This too shall pass.” I thought it was an interesting coincidence, but nothing more. I went to the kitchen to make lunch and opened YouTube on my phone for some background noise. I tapped a short video, and the last sentence was “This too shall pass.” Then not thirty seconds later, my girlfriend texted me and said, “I felt like I needed to tell you, this too shall pass.” 

I realized this was no coincidence and bolted to my room, weeping. After praying furiously, I accepted Christ into my heart. I was baptized shortly thereafter into the Methodist church, but after much prayer and study of church history, I was received into the Catholic Church in May 2020. 

After that, the call to pursue the priesthood came relatively fast, but as God’s call to the seminary became more evident, I simultaneously grew excited and anxious. I had no prior experience with religious formation, nor did I know anyone close to me who had attended seminary. Finally, I contacted my local Vocations Director, who enthusiastically recommended the High Calling Program. The spiritual, intellectual, and practical foundation I received from the program’s top-notch professors was pivotal in my discernment. The information has since proven invaluable in my seminary formation. The module on prayer from Fr. Boniface Hicks was incredibly impactful in my journey, and it will undoubtedly affect how I pray for the rest of my life. I cannot recommend High Calling enough to anyone discerning.

In the late summer of 2022, I entered the seminary to study to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. 

Road to Emmaus painting
  1. Consecrate six months of intentional discernment to the Lord.
    1. In addition to following a rule of life with prayer, virtue, sacraments, and spiritual direction, visit a seminary, go on a discernment retreat, and observe a dating fast
  2. The call to marriage is written in the heart of every man and woman by our nature (CCC 1603), but a desire for priesthood or consecrated life is not.
    1. For that reason, we shouldn’t give experienced desires for the marriage and for priesthood or consecrated life the same weight in our discernment.
  3. There is no wasting time in our discernment if we are pursuing holiness. Holiness is the means to discerning our vocation and the end of answering our vocation.
  4. Discernment is hearing the voice of God and following where He leads, and there is simply no substitute for silent prayer in this task.
    1. Dedicate time to our Lord in silent prayer before the day begins. Once the day begins, it’s no longer ours, and the prayer time we intended to make can be taken up by other things.