Saint Joseph College Seminary

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Seminary Appeal Weekend 2016 | Zel Salazar

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My name is Zel Salazar and I am a sophomore at St. Joseph College Seminary, which is on the lakeshore campus of Loyola University Chicago.

This weekend is Seminary Sunday and seminarians are visiting parishes all over the archdiocese to share the beauties of the seminary program and to show you that young people are still being called by God to consider the priesthood.

The story that brought me here is not extraordinary. I would consider myself a normal 19 year-old, just as human as you are who is pursuing my vocation. Having a vocation is not just for holy men and women who have a devout, prayerful life. We all have a vocation. We are all called to holiness and are created to respond to the call God has for us. Yet it is up to us to willingly discover what that call may be. We can be called to holy marriage, holy orders, religious life, generous single life in Christ, or to be a diocesan priest. Understanding a vocation is anything but easy, yet it is rewarding.

I was born in Elk Grove Village, and was raised in Streamwood, Illinois for all of my life. Growing up I wanted to be many things. In 4th grade I wanted to be policeman, in 7th grade I wanted to be an engineer, 8th grade I wanted to be an architect, and 9th grade I wanted to be an accountant. There were so many careers that seemed interesting to me, but there was always something in my heart that told me to keep searching.  Although there were days when I felt lost, there seemed to be a constant time that my worries were gone. It was during every Sunday Mass. Church made me feel like I was home. I could feel a connection through the Eucharist, and I found myself so fulfilled as well as happy participating in the celebration. Each time I went to mass, I sensed that God was showing me a new beauty that mass embodies and how special priests are. Priests are involved in the day-to-day lives of the people they are privileged to serve. Priests teach and preach the Gospel, so that everyone can experience God’s love for them in their lives. A priest is beside each member of his parish through the successes and struggles, joys and sorrows of life.

After realizing how beautiful the priesthood is, the desire to become a priest never seemed to fade away and became stronger, yet I had doubts.

I was never an altar server, I did not go to Catholic school and instead went to public school throughout my life. I was not the best at catechesis, and I am a very shy guy. I had doubts that overwhelmed my head and I kept thinking about all the things that I am not. But it was through prayer and guidance from others that I was able to bring to mind all that I am. I am passionate in serving others, I seek to provide mercy and compassion to those who are hurt, and I have a strong desire to become my best in all that I do.

There are programs available that helped me become courageous enough to put aside my insecurities and to see myself as a special child of God, just like we all are. We all are special children of God and we need to see that we have amazing gifts that can be offered to others. Being a part of the Quigley Scholars Program that the archdiocese offers helped me understand how to respond to a vocation. I got to know seminarians and hear them talk openly about our faith, and we grew from each other’s experiences.  And it helped me to say yes. Being at the seminary now has helped me experience a happiness that I never had before. I aspire to be the person who brings good news to the poor, I want to help others rediscover their faith, and I dream of being some one who makes this world a better place. I have never felt more proud, and feel as though I was meant to take this step in life. My faith has flourished and I have trust in God wherever he leads me, all because I said yes to his call.

But the Quigley Scholars Program was not the only factor responsible for helping me say yes to God’s call. My mom and especially my dad have very encouraging. I looked up to them as I stood right next to them at mass at admired seeing them praying. I saw Christ in them without hearing them speak a word. St. Bonaventure once said, “When we pray, the voice of the heart must be heard more than that proceeding from the mouth”. I believe they are great Catholics who have an amazing heart.  I cannot say thank them enough for their support. Also, the priests I meet offers me unbelievably amazing examples of how priests should minister. They have done so much good for this Church. Last but not least, each person I have encountered has made an impact on my discernment. The people I see in the pews have helped me to not let go of my faith. This sense of community here at this church has strengthened me to not give up. Believe it or not, you are important and help make it possible for guys to pursue the priesthood. I cannot thank you enough for coming to mass. I pray each day for this church, for the priest here, and for all of you.

Being a priest is not primarily about self-fulfillment, but about helping the community to find goodness in the Church and to find Christ in their lives. So please pray for me and for more people to respond to God’s call to serve the Church as priests, sisters, brothers, and deacons.

I challenge you all to ask yourselves, “ How is Christ calling me to experience and to share his love today?” Ponder this question, not just during mass today, but also throughout your lives.  Each moment in the present is an opportunity to seek God and to be an instrument of his love to others. You can be that very instrument by encouraging those in your life to pursue God’s plan for them. Not everyone is called to religious life, but if you see someone in your family who you think would make a good priest or a great religious sister, say something to them.

And if you want to help out more or feel called to assist in any way, you can show your support for me and other seminarians by supporting today’s annual appeal for the seminaries. Please contribute to the seminary system in the second collection so that we can keep providing scholarships to help those who are ready to consider the priesthood.  These scholarships have helped make it possible for me and many of the seminarians I know to study at Saint Joseph College Seminary.

Thank you for allowing me to talk at this mass. I hope one day I can become a priest and walk in the shoes that these courageous men here are standing in.

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