This is the vocation story of Matthew McCarthy, who is in his fourth year of theology studies at St. Augustine’s Seminary. Matthew will be ordained a Transitional Deacon at Our Lady of the Airways Parish in Malton this coming Saturday December 17 by Cardinal Collins. We look forward to Matthew serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of Toronto in May of next year.
The story of how the Lord called me to the priesthood is not something I would consider extraordinary. God never communicated his will to me through external means – I received no dream, or visit from an angel who commissioned me to go forth and serve God as a priest. Nor did I receive a divine message through more familiar means, such as a phone call or text message. Rather, the Lord let me know his plans through quieter, more interior ways: through prayer and a deep sense of peace and joy I experience whenever I see myself serving him as a priest.
I was born into a fairly devout Catholic family. We went to Mass every Sunday, and during the week whenever we could make it. From the second grade until the middle of high school I was an altar server at St. John Fisher parish in Brampton. Some of my fondest memories of altar serving were the times when my parish priest, Fr. Aflred Grima, would chat with me in the sacristy before Mass began. He and I were committed Leaf fans, and so our conversations often included a commentary on the latest hockey game. But before we began to talk hockey, the first question he would always ask me as he walked into the sacristy was: “So, how is my future priest?” I would always answer with a smile and a shrug. To be honest, the question never really meant much to me at the time, being only about eight or nine years old.
Even throughout my teen and early adult years, I never seriously considered the priesthood. I had my sights set on a career in sports. I grew up playing competitive hockey, baseball, and basketball and it was my dream to make it to the pros in one of those sports. If that didn’t happen (and it didn’t), I wanted to commit myself to studying sports. And so, after finishing high school, I entered the kinesiology and health science program at York University with the intention of becoming a physiotherapist or the trainer of a sports team.
It was at this time that I also joined the Catholic Chaplaincy at York and attended the Masses they offered, as well as their other social functions. It was here, for the first time, that I began to wonder if the Lord was perhaps asking me to consider the priesthood. The two chaplains at the time, Frs. Allan MacDonald and Roger Vandennaker CC were very helpful in opening my eyes to the beauty of this particular vocation. Also, for the first time, I met two seminarians at the chaplaincy, who were studying to be priests for the Companions of the Cross (a society of priests based in Ottawa). Prior to this, I had not known anyone who was going through the process of seminarian formation. They, like me, were young men and we shared a lot of the same interests. So they, too, helped me realize that that God often calls ordinary men (like me!) to the priesthood.
Over my years of study at university, I noticed that, while thoughts about becoming a trainer or physiotherapist appealed to me, the excitement didn’t last very long. I would often find myself trying to work up and sustain an enthusiasm for the career. Now, there are things about being a trainer and therapist that still interest me today. However, when I see myself serving God as a priest, I feel a profound and lasting sense of peace and joy. The best way I can describe it is: through prayer and reflection over a period of about 2 to 3 years, I’ve become confident that this is where the Lord is leading me to use my gifts and my talents.
Looking back, I can see that now that Fr. Grima’s question to me as a young altar server of 8 or 9 years old was a seed that was planted in my heart by the Lord. And over the next 20 years, he slowly watered it and cultivated it, until I made the decision to join the seminary in my final year of university. If anything, my vocation story shows that the Lord often doesn’t reveal his plans in fantastic and extraordinary ways, but chooses rather to work gently in the depths of one’s heart. Today, seven years after making the decision to join the seminary, the Lord has continued to strengthen my conviction to serve him as a priest, and I humbly and gratefully speak as a man who will be ordained to the priesthood in a few short months. So I ask you to continue praying for me and the other men in my year who are making final preparations for ordination – that we may be loving and faithful priests, serving the Archdioceses of Toronto.
My Greatest Joy of Discernment: Discovering God’s Grace in Unlikely Places
We all have areas of our lives that we wish were different. Like a piece of cracked pottery, each of us is broken and chipped in certain ways. Perhaps one of the greatest joys of the discernment process for me is discovering how the Lord has worked in these particular areas of my life, and helped me to realize that, even in these very areas, there exists a value and strength that I had not recognized or considered.
I recently heard a preacher speak about the art of Kintsugi, which is a Japanese method of repairing broken pottery. The preacher used it as an analogy as way of illustrating how God can use each one of us despite the parts of our lives that seem broken or embarrassing. According to the philosophy of this art, the damages and repairs sustained by a broken clay vessel are considered part of its beauty, rather than unsightly flaws. When a piece of a clay vessel chips off, a Kintsugi potter will meld the two pieces together using a mixture of powdered gold, silver, or platinum. By using these types of precious metals, the potter gives the once-broken vessel an added brilliance and value. Furthermore, because of the materials and technique used in the process, the clay vessel is even stronger and more resistant to damage than it had once been before.
This is how the grace of God operates when I allow it to permeate every aspect of my life! There are many days when I look at the broken and seemingly awkward areas of life and feel discouraged. During these times, I’ll often hear words in my heart such as: Who am I kidding? I’ve got no place in God’s plan. I’m too weak. “These” areas of my life are definitely going to get in the way of God’s plan for me. The reality is, however, every aspect of my life, good or bad, can pose a challenge to God if I don’t allow his grace to touch it. But when his grace does touch these areas, he is capable of drawing from them a brilliance and a value that I had never noticed before. But this realization almost always occurs in the context of reflection and prayer – and this is the beauty of discernment. It is the process by which I, in the context of silence and prayer, allow the Lord to pour his grace on all areas of my life and evermore discover how he can use even my deepest cracks and faults to reflect his glory.