Letters from Seminary

Lessons come in least expected ways

Published: August 28, 2010

By Mauricio Carrasco
Diocesan Seminarian

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“You’ve got to reject passivity and expect the greater reward,” Jim said with a conviction one rarely finds in men today. Jim was talking to me about a Christian program he was directing, which was helping men get their lives back together. I listened with admiration as he was telling me about it. I remember thinking, “Jim is exactly the kind of man the Church needs!”

My encounter with Jim came at the end of my summer parish assignment, before starting my first year of theology in seminary. That summer, I was sent to southeast Arkansas with one of my brother seminarians, Juan Manjarrez.

Part of the mission for that summer included painting a church, praying with migrant farm workers and directing vacation Bible school. Painting the church turned out to be quite a task, especially because we had nothing but ladders to reach the highest parts of the church.

Praying with the migrant farm workers was also a challenge. Juan and I would walk down a row of worn-down apartments asking men to come pray with us. This would not have been so difficult had the men not been so busy with their beer cans, listening to loud music and cussing up a storm. How does one walk up to a group of such men, and then proceed to ask, “Would you like to come pray the rosary with us?”

Vacation Bible school also was a much more difficult project than I had envisioned. The number of kids that showed up seemed like way too many for Juan and me to handle. I remember Juan and me trying to come up with games for the kids and attempting to learn the VBS songs the night before.

As the summer drew to an end, I recall feeling somewhat disappointed in myself. The slothfulness that had often overtaken me was disappointing. I would struggle getting myself together before each new project. It felt very much like being in the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37).

It was precisely in those moments that I needed someone to prophesy to me. Jim’s statement about rejecting passivity and expecting the greater reward brought me back to life, and it helped me regain my zeal for priesthood. And the reason Jim shall forever remain in my memory is because he was the person from whom I least expected to hear such conviction.

When he introduced himself to me, I had a hard time seeing past his thick glasses and bloodshot eyes. His white vest and the serial number on his chest revealed a very different kind of conviction — 15 more years in prison. Whatever Jim might have done in the past, he now had his mind set on a greater reward, and despite appearances, he was a free man under the grace of Christ Jesus.

This series was written when seminarian Mauricio Carrasco was studying for the priesthood and chronicles the joys and struggles of his formation along the way. Today, Father Mauricio Carrasco is a priest serving the people of the Diocese of Little Rock. The series was originally published in Arkansas Catholic. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. It may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.