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I am in the seminary studying and discerning the priesthood, because I have experienced in my own life the necessity and the joy of a relationship with Jesus, and I am growing more confident that the most fulfilling way for me to live out this relationship is by serving others as a priest.
God has given me great examples of love, service and joy in my parents and my sister. My parents taught me how to pray, love my sister, and help out around the house. They also showed me by their example how to ask for forgiveness, be patient with myself and others, and to develop a grateful heart.
They really were the first teachers of the faith for me, and although we aren’t a perfect family, they helped form in me early habits of practical love and an openness to God that have nourished my desire to become a priest.
My sister has also helped me discern. We have always been close, and through our relationship I have learned to laugh and find the joy in daily activities, whether we were working or playing together. Spending time together has taught me to be relaxed and flexible with my own preferences, as well as not take myself too seriously!
I realized for the first time that God was inviting me to be a priest when I received my first holy Communion, but it would take years for me to grow into this calling. Along with my family, other people have guided my discernment, especially some parish priests and a few close friends. These people accompanied me as I grew up, encouraging me to stay close to Jesus daily, and build on the foundation my family had formed in me.
In high school, I realized I needed to act on the desire I felt in my heart to consider the priesthood. Saints do not coast their way into heaven, but consciously choose to love and serve as Jesus asks them to. Similarly, although I had the desire to do what Jesus wanted for me, I needed to deepen my relationship with him through acting on that desire in love and trust to live out my vocation fully.
Following the advice of one of my teachers, I began to spend some time in silence each day in the chapel at school, offering Jesus myself and waiting to receive some clarity. I struggled with self-doubt, uncertainty and impatience, but I reminded myself that this relationship is important to me and it is worth the effort. Because of my doubts and to overcome feelings of scrupulosity, I simply offered what was currently in my heart: fears, frustrations, dreams, hopes, sorrows and joys.
Usually during this time, I would feel no response from Jesus, and would sometimes feel discouraged. However, I slowly realized that in the time we were spending together, Jesus was teaching me to pray honestly, be myself, purify my desires and train my heart to recognize and respond to his invitations. Although I was still insisting on clarity regarding whether or not I should enter seminary right after high school, I realized that Jesus was offering me something more important and primary: a relationship with him.
Whether or not I entered seminary, I knew I would need a real and faithful friendship with Christ. With this realization, I slowly let go of my willfulness in needing an answer to the question of my vocation. If Jesus just wanted to spend time together, even in silence, I would be content with that, and I trust that he would guide my decision when the time comes.
I did choose to enter seminary right after graduating from high school. I sought the advice of my family, spoke with Msgr. Friend — the vocations director — and made a decision in faith, confident in the small indications and movements of my heart that had gradually offered me some clarity.
The four years I spent in philosophy studies at Conception Seminary were both formative and fruitful. Most of my professors were Benedictine monks of the adjacent abbey, and their way of life was a model for how I could balance prayer and work in my own changing schedule. In this time, I also learned a lot about myself, and continued to discern my vocation: discovering areas of strength and weakness in my character, and working with my spiritual director to invite God more fully into all aspects of my life.
In the last two years of college seminary, and then into theology, I have had more opportunities to serve others, both in the seminary and in the local community. Visiting the elderly, serving the homeless in the inner city, and spending time with college students at their Newman Center all gradually confirmed my desire to become a priest.
Furthermore, through pastoral assignments back in Arkansas, I have been able to minister both in English and Spanish, learning to see how present and involved God is with people from my home diocese. Experiences like these nourish me in prayer, which in turn strengthens me for future service. Serving and learning from those I encounter in various ministries have been crucial ways God has continued forming me in seminary to love his people as a priest one day.
It seems to me that if I do have a vocation to the priesthood, it will be an invitation to a life of joyful self-sacrifice and continual conversion: letting go of myself, and asking Jesus and others for help. One of my greatest desires that motivates me in discerning the priesthood is to offer those I encounter an opportunity to fulfill their desire to love and be loved.
I want to help people seek Jesus in their daily lives, work, and relationships, and to let him love them through me. As I have experienced the love, mercy, fidelity, sense of humor, and friendship of Jesus, so I want to be available to accompany others in their relationship with him.
If you wish to contact John Paul Hartnedy, please e-mail Maria Izquierdo-Roque in the Vocations Office or call her at (501) 664-0340. This article was published July 1, 2020. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.