Back in 2001 in the early morning at 5:30AM at St. Teresa Catholic Church in Gonzales, I was inside the church in darkness, praying. For a few months, I had been serving the early morning daily mass for Fr. Phil Spano before heading to work at the chemical plant. By then, attending daily mass had become an essential part of my routine and I felt that I missed out on something if I did not go to mass before work. That morning was a little different, though. I had already submitted my application to enter the Diocese of Baton Rouge as a seminarian. A new chapter of my life was unfolding before me, and I had some apprehension about giving up my engineering job in a few months and plunging into something that I had been mysteriously drawn to--priesthood.
Later in the evening, I went to attend the Croatian mass and found that it was standing room only in the church. Although I could not understand the language, I knew that we were praying the Joyous Mystery together and then the mass began. After the mass, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and the Sorrowful and the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary were prayed. A priest carried the monstrance through the church, and I really felt Jesus' presence throughout the whole church.
Talking with the pilgrims in my tour group, I got the sense that many had brought burdens with them on this pilgrimage. One lady was going through a divorce, and she wanted Jesus to help ease the pain. Another lady had a son suffering with cancer, and she wanted Blessed Mother to implore Jesus for healing. A young lady in our group had come because she felt she had lost direction in her life. Each pilgrim somehow felt called by Jesus to travel thousands of miles to a small village in Croatia, to encounter him in a special way. Jesus who is gentle and humble of heart had come to each of them to offer rest--rest for the weary and the burdened, rest for those with only troubles in their lives, rest for those who had been taken advantage of in some way. Jesus came in meekness to offer rest to all of them. Near the end of the trip, each of them commented that Jesus had made them realize that they could experience this rest and peace at mass in their own churches back in the United States. On this pilgrimage, they realized that they were asked by Jesus to carry a new burden, a burden of truth and love. United with Jesus, knowing His love for them, they realized that their burdens would not be taken away, but that they would know and experience Jesus' comfort. They knew that Jesus was going to be with them.
Back at the early morning at St. Teresa's Church in Gonzales, I waited for Fr. Phil to vest for 6AM mass. A couple of minutes before we walked out into the sanctuary, Fr. Phil asked me, "Paul, have you ever considered priesthood?" I replied with a smile, "Yes, Father. I have already submitted an application with the Diocese." He was surprised. I left that morning mass to go to work with hope--hope that just as Fr. Phil brought Jesus in the Eucharist to comfort those who were burdened, that someday, I would be able to receive that privilege of grace from Jesus. That was 10 years ago and that grace that I hoped and prayed for continues to flow to me abundantly.
As a priest, I have different burdens to carry, not only my own burdens, but I also have the privilege to walk along side parishioners and carry their burdens as well. Together, through this Eucharist, we will continue to experience the rest and peace the Lord has offered us.