Over the years, and more so in the current year(s), I have been meditating upon this infamous passage from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. And sometimes it felt as though that was all I heard . . . “Follow me.” I know that I am not alone when I say, “How Lord; how am I supposed to do this?” And we get scared, frightened, overwhelmed and thus, we run away, we fly to the known and do not want to go down the narrow path that He wants us, all of us, to take. However, the more we all want to flee and hide, Christ cries out to us even louder, He comes back to us more persistent each and every time. We are all called to be disciples, after all, all who are baptized are baptized: priest, prophet, and king. And sometimes, many times following Christ means venturing to the unknown down the narrow path to do the unthinkable. So we must always follow the light of Christ and completely ‘fear not,’ for God is with us in all that we do. The phrase of ‘letting go and letting God’ is easier said, than done . . . even for a bunch of seminarians. And this is where our summer story of “Follow me” begins.
Classes ended and summer had finally begun. Freedom was ringing through our ears as we drove back to the motherland; MICHIGAN and the thought of no schoolwork and not being in Ohio for nearly three months became the most beautiful thing to think about. As our assignments were given out, three of us, Brad Nursey, Peter Freundl, and I were assigned the duty of being on a traveling team that will travel across the diocese. At first this sounded like an awesome plan and I was so excited to travel the diocese. But the closer it came to leave for the first location the thought of driving all over the diocese and living out of a suitcase lost its grand luster.
Manistee Catholic Community, consisting of three beautiful churches: St. Joseph, St. Mary of Mount Carmel Shrine, and Guardian Angels, was the first leg of our journey. Even though Manistee is only an hour south it felt like I was driving to the end of the world. When I arrived, Peter and Brad were already there. As we walked into one of the three amazing churches, we were greeted and announced with joyful spirits not just from the priests, but also by God’s Holy People. This was done at every mass we attended. It warmed my heart to know that here, at the end of the diocese, were people, strangers that had been praying for me on my journey toward priesthood. I remember thinking how spoiled I am, to be from such a beautiful diocese and yet how often I just take it for granted. Throughout the week we followed Fr. John and Fr. Sylvester to every event they went too. We saw a community that was filled with love, joy, sorrow and even pain. Love: they have a deep commitment for God and his faithful. Joy: their happiness from their love of neighbor overflows and gladdens the hearts of those around, especially to those who are in need. Sorrow: those who need consoling have a place to come to, to receive mercy and compassion. And pain: the elderly and the homebound who are cared for, they never complain about their state of life, but they smile with joy when we come to visit and they give me strength. Brad, Peter and I spent time with the High School Youth Group. The group was learning about the blind leading the blind. I was excited about it and the spirit filled me, I was excited about this because these young people were learning about how to be a good Christians for the 21st Century. The question that we challenged them with was, “What are you going to do when the crowd wants you to deny your faith?” It is something that I hope they will meditate on for years to come. Another thing we did was going to the assisted living community for the elderly, where Fr. Sylvester was saying mass. Peter and I sang and played for mass as Brad beautifully assisted Father for the Holy Sacrifice. Personally I have sung for many people at various different venues, large and small, but singing for elderly will always be my favorite. I love singing, but the elderly rarely hear music and knowing that music strikes the soul faster than any other art form; I know that I was able to bring them closer to God through the art of singing during that mass. And for some, that might have been the last time they heard music before they went to meet their Maker. It truly gladdens my heart knowing that they heard beautiful music one last time.
The last thing that we did that I will highlight is their newly developed food pantry. Once a month this community opens its doors to help feed those who are in need. The food pantry had fresh food and canned food, baked goods and everything you can think of that might be in a store. They even made sure that our furry, four-legged pets had food too. The food pantry also carted the food out to people’s cars. How lovely it was to help such a fantastic crew.
The next two missions I am going to combine into one since both locations –The National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods in Indian River and St. Mary’s/St. Charles in Cheboygan –
assigned us to help out with Vacation Bible School. Now if you know me, this would not have been something I would have volunteered for on my own. To do this, I would have to be volun-told. How good, no how AWESOME is our God to make me branch out and remind me how much I love being around children. It had been so long that I almost forgot about their since of humor, wit and how many times the insight they have on faith is beyond their years. In both VBS’ we learned about the story of Moses from his birth, the 10 plagues (including Passover), the flight into Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea and so on. We sang with full heart and voice, lifting our song into praise of our God. They learned and so did we, the seminarians too, to “fear not,” for God is with us and He will always give what we need at the time when we need it.
We were meant to be there at that time, because God knew that we needed to be there and I left both places filled with joy and love that I thought was long past. In both places we met teams that were hard working, loving, caring, and wanted to give their best to God’s children so that they might be Holy kids of God. And maybe one day, one of them might be teaching us!
All in all: Manistee, Indian River, and Cheboygan were not places that I would have traveled to on my own, but God chose us to come to these various parts of the diocese to see what they are doing. Truly they are all following Him in all they do. As I walked one last night on the beach in Manistee, or a stroll through Cheboygan, or my last walk down to the Cross in Indian River, I was sad to leave all three places because all have touched my heart, and I know they touched Brad’s and Peter’s too. And excited to journey to the next sight that God had in store for us.
The Cross in the Woods is a Holy, a place for sinners to come in their brokenness and to be healed by the power of prayer. It is a place where the young, the old, the sick, the dying come to pray before God asking for the intercession of St. Peregrine and the Blessed Mother to pray for them, especially for healing. At the Cross, we see, and just a small glimpse, how big God really is, and how beautiful He is, too. I went for my evening stroll on one of my nights there and I too found myself drawn to prayer before the Cross asking the Lord to heal my brokenness, because to truly follow Him, I must decrease so that He may increase.
Stay tuned for Brad, Peter’s and my next adventure . . .