I ENTERED SEMINARY at age 36, quite honestly so that I could save myself from the misery of not being a priest.
Yes, I can vouch for the fact that when one resists what they come to believe God made and desires them to be, one can bring a lot of misery upon oneself. It comes from feeling unsettled and out of place. The misery doesn’t go away. It only intensifies.
Wrestling with the Lord
In my case, I was a social worker and a church musician who was bearing fruit in my professional work and ministry experiences. My steel-cage wrestling match with the Lord spanned several years and was marked with several points of contention: “Aren’t these things bearing good fruit, Lord? Aren’t I already serving you, sometimes in the trenches? I’m a free spirit, Lord. I don’t fit the mold.”
I learned over time that there isn’t a mold. The Lord did want to use me as a priest, as Michael Panicali. I am not the same as any brother priest or seminarian. And thank the Lord for this!
In coming to realize that the Lord did want to use me as a priest, I’ve learned that all the professional and personal experiences would shape me into being the priest I am today.
Dying to Myself
Some dying to myself was necessary, but the Lord wanted to fill me and bless me in ways I could never conceive of or even anticipate. So good is the Lord. So good is the priesthood.
In dying to myself and in letting go of what I thought I needed to do with my life, I have actually found what I perceive to be the fullest expression of who I am!
There is sustaining joy in being oneself, in realizing what God has created you to be. How could there not be? He has authored each of us!
What I want to impart to others is that there is joy in letting God fill you – in emptying yourself of the “shoulds” and the stories you tell yourself – and allowing God to bless you and bring you to the people, the encounters, the ministries, the places, the tasks, the joys, the challenges, the knowledge of yourself that you could never have dreamed of.
Such is what comes from saying “yes” to a vocation in the vineyard of the Lord.
Father Panicali, parochial vicar at St. Mark and St. Margaret Mary parish, Sheepshead Bay, was ordained to the priesthood for the Brooklyn Diocese on June 3, 2017.
The St. John Paul II House of Discernment in Cypress Hills is a place where single men between the ages of 20 and 40 have the opportunity to prayerfully discern the Lord’s call without giving up a career right away or while continuing studies at a local college.
Candidates for residence are usually recommended by a diocesan priest, must be interviewed by the Director and Spiritual Director of the House of Discernment, have a psychological evaluation and agree to the terms of being a member of the House of Discernment community.
Residents of the House of Discernment would normally live in the house for one year. Every resident would be under spiritual direction and meet with the House Director on a regular basis in order to evaluate whether it is beneficial for them remain a member of the community.
Men who are feel they may be called to the priesthood are invited to an Evening of Fraternity on Monday, Feb. 19 at the House of Discernment. To participate, call the diocesan Vocations Office at 718-827-2454.