After coming back to my faith in high school and experiencing God’s love for me in the sacrament of reconciliation, I wanted to share the good news with others. Until my senior year at Marquette University I never seriously considered any vocation but marriage. I wanted to spread the gospel, but I was not ready to live the gospel fully as those in religious life do yet. At the beginning of my senior year, I first started going to St. Michael's Parish for daily Mass and one day I talked with the pastor, Fr. Rafael Rodriguez after Mass for a while about the things I was involved in at Marquette and he asked me if I could help him start a young adult group there. This was great because I was praying about how I could serve the church after I graduated since I was so involved in many different things at Marquette that I would no longer be able to be a part of. I started helping out with the young adult group as well as other things around the parish and was really enjoying it. One day Father Rafael asked if I wanted to come with him to an anointing of the sick and I came along. This moment helped me realize that God could be calling me the priesthood and would help me to become open about a possible calling. The sacraments are at such pivotal moments in people's life of faith and at points that they are most open to Christ. A good priest can really make all the difference in this moment and point someone towards heaven. All the different ministries that I was involved in were about helping people grow in their faith and that is exactly what the priest does. My view of the priest evolved from being someone who celebrates the sacraments to someone who is Christ to someone when they most need Christ. People naturally look to the priest in these moments of transition. I was discerning my call as a missionary, but realized that the priest is someone who can give more fully to the mission of the church where most others could not. I had a few objections to becoming a priest, but this experience made me realize that I would need to pray more about this calling. Soon after opening up about this possible calling, it became clear to me that God wanted me to further discern this call. I was attracted to religious life, but I was not ready to give up everything that I owned and take a vow of poverty. At this time, I discerned that going to the diocesan seminary was where God was leading me at that time. While at the seminary, I became much more detached from material things, which was keeping me from religious life at the beginning of seminary. For our Christmas break at the seminary, I did my first week-long visit with a religious order at Holy Cross Benedictine Monastery in Chicago. The visit helped me to see how community prayer at the center of one's life helps to orientate the whole day around prayer with work periods in between. Their work was not apostolic work, like I have felt called to, but it helped me to see how religious life is a life that is oriented entirely around the gospel.
Other religious communities often have some communal prayer mixed with some apostolic work. I noticed that the communities that were traditionally missionary seemed to have very little communal prayer set aside each day and often their missionary work was social work instead of the work of salvation of souls that I read about from their early years. Many communities seemed as if they had grown lukewarm. I believe that many more men are and have been called to religious life, but have not found a community that is matching the call they have received since so many communities are no longer true to their original charism. In the past, most religious communities prayed most or all of their prayers together including missionary orders. I found it discouraging how not only were the missionary orders not working primarily for the salvation of souls, but communal prayer was often neglected in favor of being able to do more apostolate work. When our prayer suffers, so does our work. We give to others the fruits of our contemplation and what has been given to us from God. If we don’t allow God to fill us, our work will not bear much or any fruit in the kingdom of God.
In my time in the city, I have seen most of the poor inner city Catholic Churches struggling and noticed that as a church we have these huge beautiful churches in the poor areas of the city, but most attendees do not live in the area and the people who live around the church are largely unchurched or fallen away from practice of any faith. Milwaukee is not alone in this as most big US cities have similar problems with Catholic Churches closing down in the poorer African American neighborhoods. There are many reasons that have caused this, but one of the major reasons is that we Catholics stopped evangelizing. Instead of working for the salvation of souls, we transitioned to focus only on the material needs for our outreach. When we do not have salvation of souls in mind, we don’t invite people into the church community or ask much about their spiritual wellbeing, they remain on the outside and are always receiving, but rarely called to share their talents with the church that needs them. We are many parts of the body of Christ, but how many members are missing because we didn’t invite them into the church.
Also during my senior year at Marquette while attending Cor Jesu, I met Joe Livaudais, a Catholic street preacher who was traveling around the country encouraging Catholics to join him for some street ministry. I joined for a day and realized while doing this that people were very open to conversations about faith and learning more about the Catholic faith. I spent the whole summer before entering the seminary doing this street ministry with Joe here in Milwaukee.
After leaving the seminary, I still feel that God could be calling me to the priesthood, but it would be as a religious priest and not a diocesan priest. Whether a priest or a brother, I am fairly certain God is calling me to religious life. The Missionaries of the Real Presence started when I felt God calling me to give up everything to follow him in religious life, but at the same time not finding a community that was doing what God has been calling me to. I know that God loves each person and wants them to be saved through his Church. I saw that most Catholics wanted nothing to do with evangelizing in the “ghetto” and that God was calling me to help seek out his lost sheep here. In my time as a missionary, I have found there are many people who will never call a priest because they aren’t Catholic. I have been able to bring the good news of Jesus to many people who were far away from the church and often have never been invited or discovered the Catholic faith. There have been many fruits both in my life and in those we have reached through this ministry with two men coming into the Catholic Church in the first year, a few others who joined RCIA but have yet to come into the church and many Catholics returned to the faith. We have seen many good signs of new life in the parishes we have served as Catholics come back, and other neighbors join the church and start to evangelize those close to them. As they see the working of God in their lives and in the church, they can bear witness to those around them.
It has been a slow process as we have been starting this group and it first started with just me praying the liturgy of the hours in the church each day, sometimes joined by the pastor of the parish and others from the neighborhood and I have been inviting other men to come and join for mission work. Now there are three of us missionaries and the structure of our way of life has been solidifying. We are currently under supervision from the archdiocese as we discern this charism for a possible new community of religious. We ask for your prayers as we discern this calling to be contemplative missionaries to our neighbors here in the city. If you have felt God tugging at your heart, we invite you to come and see what our mission is all about whether as a volunteer or becoming a missionary.