Ecce Agnus Dei – This is the Lamb of God
Picture this—an Executive Director of a $25 million non-profit sneaks away to a discernment retreat. The Lord first called him with a gentle desire to be a priest as a grade schooler, and after being bullied for wanting to be a priest when he grew up, that boy actively avoided anything that smacked of discernment. Diocesan events to explore vocations? Nope! Admittedly the media climate around the priesthood two decades ago was chock full of bad men who betrayed trust. I all too readily used this as a mental justification to not pursue a vocation.
As I got into high school, FFA took up all my time and energy, leading me to study agriculture—decidedly NOT seminary. I knew God was calling me to a vocation, so I thought, “how about I work in non-profits instead? Non-profits are good things, right? Lord, you’ll see, my plan to serve you is much better than your plan for me.” Clearly, I had not absorbed the point of Jonah and the whale from my childhood Bible stories—God only is satisfied with our everything.
Fast forward to 2020. I need not remind you about that year’s many unexpected twists and turns, but 2020 was a good year for me. By this point in my life, I finally had cultivated some deep, meaningful, and virtuous friendships where I could be vulnerable. Men who are like my other self, who know my deepest pains and I know theirs. I could write a whole book on the healing I’ve found in real friendship and how we have a crisis of authentic friendships today, particularly for men, but that is not my focus here. My buddy Braden and I both decided to hold each other accountable to discernment. I finally began to get serious about discernment.
In December 2021, our Diocese hosted a discernment retreat. Still uncomfortable about it, I was very secretive with my secretary and family as I sneaked away for a few days. It was in the chapel of the Villa Maria Retreat Center that Quincy native, Fr. Dominic Rankin, gave a conference on how to pray with scripture, known as Lectio Divina. Afterwards, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for adoration. It was in that moment that I turned my eyes to our Eucharistic Lord and prayed a very...well...frank prayer. “Lord, if you want me to be a priest, you better be pretty (word that rhymes with ‘Pam’) clear with me.”
With that I turned my attention to praying with Matthew chapter 6. That chapter is like a greatest hits album of fantastic verses. Then I get to Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
That was it! The Lord replied to my blunt prayer with a blunt hit over the head. In a flash, He showed me how I had made an idol out of my work in the non-profit sector. He showed me my career was the “mammon” I was serving instead of Him. He showed me I was leading a life of works alone when we are called to faith and works. Then with stunned gratitude, I returned my eyes towards the monstrance and there I saw the Eucharist, as if it were a beating heart.
Words struggle to say enough about the incredible gift that Jesus is. “Ecce Agnus Dei,” or, “This is the Lamb of God,” is a truly profound statement we hear at every sacrifice of the Mass. It is there on the altar that the lamb is slain for our sake and from there that we encounter God, face to face. Prayer, confession, and Eucharistic adoration changed the trajectory of my life for the better. Where does Christ want you to surrender? Where are you afraid to let Him in? Consider asking Him just that in a period of adoration, be it in some prayerful silence after Mass or on Wednesday afternoons here at St. Francis.