Starting Over

A Paulist Novice’s Excellent Adventure

Ever since I was young I wanted
be an actor. My love for movies has always been a big part of my life and the hundreds of DVDs and videos I’ve amassed in my personal collection over the years is just a clue to how big a cinephile I am. This passion led me to study acting in college and then at a conservatory for two additional years before I finally hit the Cincinnati pavement looking for work.

In addition to my growing fascination with movies, I was also a church rat as a kid. Serving mass as an altar boy left a big impression upon me and I often wondered if I could be a priest. I would fantasize about what being a priest would be like, but most of the time I didn’t think I had anything to teach people about being holy. Better to be an actor where I could inspire people with someone else’s story. After my conservatory training, I worked in various odd jobs from hotel clerk to mall Santa. Finally, I settled into a desk job at the local hospital to pay the bills. I also became active in my Cincinnati parish where I was a cantor and acted in a drama group called Acting on Faith that would present performances based on the gospel.

But I often felt like I was leading a “double life.” As a hospital secretary, I felt empty, but as a lay minister I felt alive, more alive than I ever felt acting. Still, I never thought I could make a career out of ministry. I felt like my training and experience were completely out of sync with my interest in ministry. I thought I didn’t have anything to teach anyone about God, after all I was trained as an actor not a preacher.

It was during a faith-sharing presentation to a group of people exploring their desire to join the Catholic church that I realized that I had more to share than I realized. I found they resonated with my experiences and the fact that I was able to use both my creativity and my faith to express my spiritual longings and insights made me feel more alive than ever before. I had felt empty for too long and ministry seemed to fill that missing part of my life. I had a hunch that my interests, desires and experience fit together in a way I’d never realized before and I wanted to find out if I was right.

Rookie Season
Today I am 38 years old and a novice—a beginner, or rookie—with the Paulist Fathers, the religious community of priests behind I researched and visited a number of religious communities, but eventually felt most “at home” with the Paulists and their mission to “Give the Word a Voice” –preaching the gospel in the language of today’s culture.

The novitiate is primarily a year of discerning—a time to detach

myself from the demands of secular life and become more familiar with what religious life will entail. During this time I’ve learned about the history of the Paulists, Catholic tradition and practices, and how the Paulists live out their mission today. I’m also getting used to the rhythm of religious life, especially the regimen of prayer which includes morning prayer, daily mass and then evening prayer. I’ve learned how to use a breviary, the book of prayers used during our prayer times, and I’ve been seeing a spiritual director, a trained counselor from outside the Paulist community. The rhythm of community life also requires me to take on some of the house jobs and some volunteer work.

Naturally this all adds to my discernment (and the community’s) of whether or not I’d make a good priest. The Paulists also note that it’s an opportunity for me to bring my individuality to ministry. They hope that I can bring my particular talents together to build community in service of their mission with the help of the Holy Spirit. One of my fears was that I didn’t want to surrender my individuality in favor of blending in with a religious community. The Paulists assured me that this would not be the case.

Via Crucis
Recently I was assigned to St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York during the season of Lent. St. Paul’s is the Paulist Motherhouse, the first church that the Paulist founder, Isaac Hecker built. During my stay I ended up doing a little bit of everything: visiting the sick and homebound, preaching a few times at various parish functions, working with youth groups on retreats, and attending various meetings of parish ministries. One particular moment that stood out was when I went to see Paulist Father James DiLuzio perform a mission show called “ Luke Live .” James DiLuzio has memorized the Gospel of Luke and presents a reading of it dramatically. He takes the show on the road and bases a parish mission on it. It was truly inspiring to see someone combine a gift for theatrical and musical talent with presenting the Gospel message of Jesus. I was beginning to see more clearly the countless ways in which people can use their unique interests and talents in ministry.

This observation was put to the test when I was asked to write and direct the “Via Crucis” (Spanish Way of the Cross) procession for Good Friday at St. Paul’s. The real test for me wasn’t the writing and directing but the fact that I don’t speak Spanish. I was forced to rely on my training as a performer as I pantomimed my way through our preparations trying to convey my thoughts on how to enhance the devotional telling of Christ’s passion story to a group of Hispanic parishioners. Because I was forced to convey the story of the passion without language but instead with movements and music I discovered a depth and richness to the story that I hadn’t experienced previously.

While it’s been a challenging year with its share of struggles, I now feel I’m finally on the right road in my life, doing practical and creative work that has a greater purpose. I still wonder some days if I can be a priest; if I can be true to celibacy; and if I’m cut out for this. But discovering how my unique talents can be used in service to others is a lesson of this novitiate year that I’ll never forget.