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placeholder October 27, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
National Vocations Awareness Week

Fraters Emanuel and Matthew of the Norbertine order, and Matthew Murray, a seminarian for the Diocese of Oakland, spoke with young men at De La Salle High School in late August.

Vocation stories come to the classroom

Three men on their respective journeys to the priesthood visited a classroom at De La Salle High School in late August to tell about their vocations, and answer questions other young men might have.

The three — two Norbertine fraters (or brothers) and one Diocese of Oakland seminarian — had places on the altar as Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, celebrated the opening school Mass at the all-male high school in Concord.

Frater Matthew, formerly known as Grant Desme, left behind a promising career in professional baseball, to answer the call to the priesthood. He had been invited by Bishop Barber to tell the story of that journey during the Mass. The visit to the classroom provided a more informal opportunity for the three seminarians to talk with the students, and for them to answer questions.

One question to Frater Matthew began with, "Why did you give it all up?"

To which he replied, "What makes you say I gave it all up?"

Frater Matthew was joined by Frater Emmanuel from the Norbertine order, who had declined an opportunity to attend a prestigious graduate program in education in Canada to enter the order.

With the Norbertines, who were dressed in white cassocks, was Matthew Murray, a diocesan seminarian who was just days away from returning to his studies at the North American Pontifical College in Rome. He wore a black suit with black clerical shirt with the Roman collar.

The habit itself offers an opportunity to serve. "Someone sees you, thinks 'I was in the church,' he said. "It could be a moment of coming back to the Lord."

It is the opportunity to bear witness, Murray said. "I'm here to serve, help people grow closer to God."

What came across in the hour of give-and-take on vocations was the image of the priesthood being a brotherhood of strong men, who answer a calling that is stronger than themselves.

"Now is the time to develop the habit of prayer," Frater Emmanuel told the boys, who are sophomores studying social justice. "The most important identity you have is son of God."

When asked how he knew this was his vocation, Frater Matthew said at first he didn't want to admit it to himself. Opening that door takes courage: "You don't know what is lying behind."

But with "a lot of little baby steps, God leads you along the way," he said.

"I knew I wanted to be a religious priest," he said. "You take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. You live in community. That's a vocation in itself. The priesthood is another vocation that goes along with that."

He began looking into orders. He had been advised that discernment can be compared to dating a girl. You take time to know her, and determine your compatibility before making a commitment.

When the students grimaced at the notion of 10 years of study for the priesthood that the Norbertines require, Frater Matthew told them it wasn't much different from the years of preparation involved in becoming a doctor.

"A priest is a doctor of the soul," he said. "So you have to learn how to help people learn the most important things in life."

In becoming a priest, there is much a man gives up, but he gains something more.

"The deepest yearning of the human heart is for love," Frater Matthew said. "God steps in and fulfills that completely in the religious life. That's the only way we are able to renounce marriage, our own will, possessions, not because they're bad but because they're the greatest things we have in this world — God gave us those great gifts — but because he wants to give us something better."

One of the students asked about married life. "Do you ever wish you could have that?"

"Yes," Frater Matthew answered without hesitation. "Every day."

A spiritual adviser told him: "You'll always have that," he said. "That's always part of being a man."

"The desire to have a wife and a family is natural. As a priest, you're a supernatural father. If you don't have the desire to be a father, then you shouldn't be a priest."

As priests, they are following Christ, Murray said.

"As priests, we make Christ present to people, especially when we're saying Mass, and hearing confessions," said Murray. "We're bringing Christ's mercy into the world."

"We live the way Christ did," he said. "We follow him as celibate men."

There is a practical aspect as well. "A good father has to take care of one family," Murray said. "A priest has to take care of thousands of people, depending on how big his parish is."

On the lighter side, there were questions about leisure time. Basketball and soccer are played at St. Michael Abbey. "You would be surprised," Frater Emmanuel said. "When men visit our house they are always dumbfounded at how normal we are."

"Don't think if you live a religious life that you're not going to have fun," he said. "It is absolutely, positively false."

Murray said sports, hiking, music are all part of the life he leads.
"At the end of the day, we are men who were chosen to serve other human beings," he said.

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