By Charles Johnson
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question we all ponder at some or perhaps many points in our lives.
I’m one of those people who has thought about this question many times. When I was very young for example, I wanted to be a lighthouse keeper, which is probably a career not many people would be interested in. As I got older, I eventually settled into a career in health care technology. That career choice worked well for a while, and it helped me to see the rewards of serving others. But 11 years ago, I started pondering that question again (albeit somewhat differently.) What did I want to become? The answer surprised me. In a world overflowing with division and strife, I wanted to become someone who spends his life working to unite people in service to others.
Reflecting on that question led me down a path of discernment towards a life of service within a religious context. In this, I could work towards the goal of bringing unity (even if in a small way), while at the same time living a life of service to others. At the time, I was not thinking of becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, but that seems to be the destination on the road I am now travelling. Like the lighthouse keeper, this too, may be a path towards a life that is not appealing to many, but it is not a life one travels alone nor is it thankless. This life, in fact, is quite the opposite; the people with us (and along with us) on this road of discernment are nothing short of spectacular.
In 2012, I was accepted into the program of priestly formation at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. That program has given me the opportunity for an in-depth exploration of this road of discernment, not only on campus through my studies, but in pastoral experiences in our community, and through international experiences as well.
Last summer, Christ the King gave me the opportunity to study outside the United States. I selected a language and cultural immersion program in Guatemala, living in a monastery while taking classes one on one with a Guatemalan teacher. Truth be told, this was one of the most difficult experiences I have attempted, learning a new language through immersion. The effort was well worth it; I’m on my way to fulfilling a dream of becoming bilingual.
It was within this context I learned about the life (and death) of Father Stanley Rother, a missionary priest from Oklahoma, who was martyred while serving the poor of Guatemala. Seeing the place where he was murdered and speaking to people who knew him firsthand had a great impact on my heart. The more I studied his life through his biography, Father Stanley, along with the Guatemalan people, became for me, the perfect role models. Here I found great examples of lives dedicated to serving others.
I went to Guatemala to learn a new language and culture, but came back with that and so much more. I came back with affirmations of the road I am travelling, the road to serve others as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. All of us have to ask ourselves that question: What is it that we want to become as we grow up? In my opinion, if you can dedicate even a small part of your life to serving others, you will find yourself becoming something quite special.
Charles Johnson, a seminarian studying at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, is looking forward to being ordained a Catholic priest to serve the Buffalo community.