May 2023 Making a gift of myself: From the introspection of formation to offering the…
July/August Faith Magazine
It was a typical summer day at D&W Fresh Market in Caledonia. Since I was only 17 at the time, I worked most often as a service clerk or, more colloquially, a “bagger boy.” That day was no different. It was hot, and I couldn’t wait for the shift to be over.
I also had a lot on my mind. This was the time in my life when I had started to think about becoming a diocesan priest. I had just returned from a powerful experience at the Steubenville Youth Conference in Ohio. Before the conference, priesthood seemed like such an awful idea for a sinner like me. And yet, I was encouraged by a priest at the conference to start discussing the priesthood with my pastor. That advice terrified me. Not because I was afraid of my pastor … I just didn’t know him well. He had only been at the parish for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share this information with him yet.
So, here I am at the grocery store with this internal struggle: “Just talk to Father Mark. It’s no big deal.” Then the discouraging voice would come roaring back, “Who are you kidding? You can’t be a priest! Besides, this guy doesn’t even know you. How can he really help you anyway?” Then I was bringing groceries for a lady to her car, and she asked me where I went to church. That was not common. Religion almost never came up in conversation as I brought groceries out to customers’ cars. I responded casually, “Holy Family.” She was so excited. She said to me, “Oh, you have Father Mark Bauer now! He’s a wonderful priest. I knew him in Muskegon. I so appreciated his love for the Eucharist.” I looked at her bewildered. But she was right, and I said, “I agree, I’ve been deeply moved by his love for the Eucharist.” After that she thanked me, blessed me and went on her way. I never saw her again.
This woman, whoever she is, has no idea how much of a role she has played in my vocation to the priesthood. That conversation was confirmation to me that Father Mark was a holy man and priest. Further, I needed to begin discerning the priesthood with him as a mentor. The following weekend, I nervously waited after Mass to talk with Father Mark in private. I just blurted it out … “Oh, and I think I might want to be a priest!”
From that point on, Father Mark became my mentor, confessor, spiritual director and trusted confidante. I eventually learned that he was trained in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, meant to help people discern their vocation. As I sit here writing this article, I am moved again with tears of gratitude. Why? Because to me it is so obvious that part of the reason Father Mark was sent to Holy Family was to help me receive my vocation. God sent that woman into my life at the grocery store to give me the little bit of courage I needed to start the discernment process.
Now I have been a priest for five years. Father Mark continues to be a wonderful mentor and friend in my life as a priest. Father Mark’s humility, love for the Eucharist and Christ-like love in the confessional helped me tremendously on my vocational journey. I pray that young men who are considering the priesthood can see those beautiful and intentional moments of God acting in their lives. Over the next several articles this year, I will write about different priests who encouraged me on my journey to the priesthood in hopes that it also will help others see how God is inviting them to “come and follow me.”
Father Stephen Durkee is director of priestly vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids