Bishop O'Connell was joined by a number of priests who concelebrated the Mass.
Bishop O'Connell was joined by a number of priests who concelebrated the Mass.
Becoming a priest is something Justin McCarthy has been thinking about on and off for the past three years.

And while he hasn’t made a definite decision, he’s made a concerted effort to learn more about the discernment process by gathering information, speaking with priests with whom he’s familiar about their experiences and attending events where he can meet other young men who are also considering a vocation.

PHOTO GALLERY: Discernment Mass and Barbecue

“For a long time, I’ve admired the reverence of a priest and what he does for God’s Church,” McCarthy said, of his attraction to a possible vocation. With that, he has also been influenced by the strong devotion of family members, namely his father and grandparents, to their Catholic faith.

McCarthy, a member of St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor, was one of more than 30 young men from around the Diocese who attended the Mass and barbecue the diocesan Office of Vocations hosted the afternoon of June 29 in St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in the church and was followed by a barbecue on the parish grounds.

“It is a happy coincidence today, my brothers, that we gather together to think about discerning God’s call on this solemn feast of Saints Peter and Paul, two ordinary and very different men who responded in extraordinary ways to God’s call to follow the Lord Jesus,” said Bishop O’Connell in his homily. Though Peter and Paul were both Jews, Peter was a fisherman while Paul was a student of Hebrew Law. “Peter heard his call directly from the Lord, who was walking along the Sea of Galilee, while Paul never physically met the Lord Jesus, but heard his call through a vision, a supernatural revelation of the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus,” Bishop O’Connell said.

“Together, through the grace of vocation, these men – as different as their natures and backgrounds were – serve as the foundation of what would become the Catholic Church.”

Bishop O’Connell said it was “in and through Christ Jesus” that Peter and Paul changed the world. Peter was the head of the Apostles and the leader and cornerstone upon which the Lord Jesus built his Church. Paul was a voice of the Apostles who wrote and preached most of the New Testament, interpreting the Gospels throughout the ancient world.

“These were very different men with very different gifts and graces, but they had the same call,” said Bishop O’Connell. “They followed and served the same Lord and they performed in the same mission. And we honor them on the same day since they both suffered martyrdom for the same holy cause in the same city over 2,000 years ago.”

Bishop O’Connell pointed out the “great coincidence” it was for the Mass for men who are thinking about the priesthood to be celebrated on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

“Every one of us is called by God to do something important in our lives,” he said. “For some, that call from God may be clearer than for others at this moment. But do not doubt, not even for a minute, that God has a plan for you. Like Peter and Paul, ordinary men with different strengths and weaknesses, we are asked simply to be open to God’s call, to listen and to learn.

“It will come to you in prayer, in service, in the example or words of another. It may come in moments of silence, in discernment. It may come in days like the one we are sharing,” said Bishop O’Connell.

Meaning of Discernment

At the end of Mass, Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan director of vocations, gave an overview about the discernment process and seminary life.

“Discernment is a big word,” he said, explaining further that it can seem daunting for one to say yes to entering the seminary. But when a man enters the discernment process, it means he is opening himself up and exploring the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood.

“Where the discernment will lead, God only knows,” Father Parzynski said.

“Entering the seminary does not mean you are becoming a priest. The seminary is a time to figure it out, to discern God’s will for us.”

After the Mass, the young men, ranging in ages 13-28, enjoyed the barbecue where they interacted with Bishop O’Connell, seminarians, as well as priests serving in parishes and diocesan assignments in a relaxed, social setting.

Support and Encouragement

Brothers Matthew and Christopher Martinez were two of 11 young men from St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral and St. Joseph Parish, both Trenton, who responded to their pastor, Msgr. Joseph Roldan’s invitation to attend the event.

Having just graduated from Lawrence High School, Christopher Martinez said that, while he currently has his sights set on entering the nursing program in St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton, he was happy for the opportunity to hear more about the discernment process and also to support Matthew who indicated interest in becoming a priest.

“I thought it was important to be here and see if that might be something I wanted to do in my life,” said Matthew Martinez, who will enter high school in the fall.

John Spinelli of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, has been discerning his vocation since he was a high school freshman. Now six years later, his discernment continues, and he appreciates opportunities where he can get to know fellow Catholics with similar interests.

Dominic Amilcare of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, has been discerning the priesthood for nearly a year. In that time, he has developed a stronger prayer life and grown in his faith. Amilcare said his current plan is to begin Mount St. Mary University, Emmitsburg, Md., in the fall where he will pursue studies in history and philosophy, and then, if his interest in the priesthood persists, he will go onto Mount St. Mary Seminary.

“It’s great to see this many people who are interested in finding out more about the priesthood,” Amilcare said. “I’m sure not everyone here will go on to be a priest, but the fact that they wanted to come tonight and learn more and consider it, is a very good thing.”

Matt Burgess of St. John Neumann Parish, Mount Laurel, attended the Mass and barbecue as a way to show his support for his friend, Dominic Amilcare. And of his own discernment as a future priest, he added that “tonight is good for getting more information. I’m willing to be open to anything God calls me to.”