July 30th, four young men took another step forward in their commitment to serve the poor and the marginalized through following in the footsteps of St. Vincent. They completed their college and pre-theology program and moved on to the “internal seminary” … reception into the Congregation of the Mission. (Internal seminary rather than novitiate is the phrase preferred by Vincent because he stressed that we were “secular priests” who live together in community rather than members of a religious order.) At the end of this year, these young men hope to be ready to pronounce good purposes in the Congregation of the Mission. (Our formation process). Noe Garcia, Milton Lara, Wilber Mejia, and Jose Alexander Palacios took this step on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in Saint Vincent’s Seminary Community Chapel. Here, Jose Alexander Palacios tells his story at a Sunday evening Eucharist with students at St. John’s University.
“Get ready to walk on paths along you never thought you would walk.” A Vincentian Seminarian looks back… and forward!
A journey begins
I am Jose Alexander Palacios, a Vincentian seminarian and a senior at St. John’s University in New York City. I want to share my journey in discerning a vocation to the priesthood with you. As I reflect on this journey of following Christ, I understand that if one begins to follow Jesus, one must also be ready to walk on paths one never imagined.
I am from El Salvador and grew up in a family that was fervent in living the Catholic faith. It is, for me, a joy to remember my childhood, because during those years I received so much love and was taught Christian values that have marked my life. However, in my adolescence, things began to change. My interest in the faith declined. I stopped participating in the life of my parish community, although, I continued going to Sunday Mass. I began to view church as something for older people and in time, I lost the enthusiasm I had for the things of God.
Unfamiliar roads… and a familiar one
When I was seventeen years old, I came to this country for a better life. My goal was to work for five years, make money to help my family, and return to El Salvador. Once I came here, I worked hard. The first two years in the USA were challenging for me. I did not know anything about American life. It was a shock to me, coming from a communal view of life and family and living in a highly individualistic way of life. So after having experienced the support of a family in El Salvador, I was alone in a country that was very different from mine. I experienced for the first time what loneliness is like. I felt I had lost almost everything; the only thing that I had left was my faith.
A few months later my arrival, I returned to practice my faith. I attended Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Roslyn, NY. Shortly after, I became involved in the Hispanic community and remained active for seven years. It was during those years that I felt a desire to know more about my faith. I also I wanted to meet a good woman, get married, and start a family.
It was then that I started reading encyclicals such as The Splendor of Truth, Faith and Reason, and The Theology of the Body, all the works of Pope St. John Paul II. In his various works, John Paul wrote about vocations and different states of life. I began to read, in detail, about the vocation of marriage and holy orders. I was so happy because it was exactly what I was looking for; I wanted to know more about God, the human person, and to discover God’s plan for me.
From that time on, I began questioning myself about my vocation; wondering what state of life, God was calling me to live. At the same time, my relationship with Jesus was growing. I realized the importance of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. From that, I began to experience an appreciation for a vocation to religious life. At the same time, I denied that possibility as I thought that it was only an idea without any basis. I felt unfit for such a calling. When my friends at the parish saw my enthusiasm and involvement in the church, they began to tell me “you should consider the vocation to the priesthood.” They said they saw in me the potential to be a good religious. However, I just laughed and told them that this type of vocation was not for me; all I wanted was to serve God and be a good Christian.
What held me back was that I felt unqualified and unworthy for such calling; however, the curiosity to know more about priesthood did not go away. Yet, I chose to say and do nothing. Time passed and I started dating a girl. Everything was going well but a curiosity for the priesthood was still there. I felt divided and only then did I decide to speak about my situation with a priest.
The priest explained to me the different types of religious orders and asked me if I had an interest in any particular one. I told him that I did not know. As far as I could recall in those prior years of my life, I had never thought of or even considered the idea of becoming a priest. Because of that, I was skeptical about my thoughts.
In 2013, a young man whom I used to see at the parish youth group, entered the Vincentian Formation House near St. John’s University to discern his vocation. A month after he entered, he visited the youth group at St. Mary’s and invited me to attend a vocation discernment meeting at the Vincentian House. Because of his invitation and because of my curiosity I went to the meeting.
To bring you up to date, in 2014 I entered the Vincentian formation program to discern my vocation with the Vincentians. Despite my up and downs, I can honestly say the last five years with the Vincentian Community have been the best years of my life. For that, I am so thankful to God and my brother seminarians and Vincentian formators who have supported me all these years.
Today I continue my discernment to see even more clearly if God is calling me to this way of life. In May, I will graduate from St. John’s with a B.A. in philosophy. My next step is to enter a program of spiritual formation, called the Internal Seminary (also ‘novitiate’). It focuses on the Vincentian vocation of following Christ by bringing God’s love to the poor. If this way of life and calling continues to ring true to me, I will move on to a four-year program to study theology and continue my formation for Vincentian priesthood, with a goal of ordination in the spring, 2024.
In conclusion, I want to invite you, if you have curiosity, questions, or desires to know more about the vocation to religious life, to put those thoughts in God’s hands and give yourself a chance to discern what the plan of God for you is. And do not forget, if you start following Jesus; get ready to walk on paths along which you never thought you would walk.
Thank you and please keep my brother Vincentian seminarians and me in your prayers.
First published in https://vincentiansusa.org/