In this first installment of a 2-part blog series, Daniel Rice discusses his residence at a parish and a profoundly moving experience.
Part I: “Graduation/Parish Life”
By: Daniel Rice, Seminarian of the Diocese of Arlington
On May 13, 2017, the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Our Lady of Fatima, having just graduated from my four years of college seminary at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, I drove home to Arlington, Va.
Throughout my seminary years, I had grown to love this 7-hour drive through the mountains of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, a trip that I would make several times a year. Who knows how many times I sang Country Roads, how many stunning sunsets I beheld, how many deep conversations I had with close friends, how many Lighthouse Catholic Media CDs I listened to, and how many hours I spent in conversation with God on those journeys. This past May, I concluded four wonderful years at the Josephinum and concluded that series of long drives, which had become so familiar.
The first month of the summer flew by with startling swiftness. I and my fellow seminarians visited many classrooms of the Catholic High Schools in the Diocese, spreading the message of vocation and answering the questions of students as best we could. The next week was seminarian beach week! With the beach almost entirely to ourselves, we swam, played volleyball with a single rope as a makeshift net, played football on the shore and in the surf, relaxed, talked, ate home-cooked dinners, began each day right with Mass and holy hour, and frequently finished the day with a rosary walk barefoot on the beach under the mantle of night.
At the conclusion of beach week, I drove solo down to Birmingham, Ala., for the diaconate ordination of a good friend, during which I stayed for the first time at the amazing Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, having a love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist renewed in my heart. The next couple of weeks I spent with family and friends in Chantilly, Va. This enjoyable and restful time at home also included attending and serving at the ordination of our new deacons and priests for the Diocese, as well as the opportunity to sing in a choir at the first Masses of two of these priests.
The day after these first Masses, I was off to my parish assignment. Each summer, some seminarians learn more about priestly spirituality at the Institute of Priestly Formation in Omaha, Neb., and others learn Spanish by immersion in Antigua, Guatemala. However, the majority of us live and work with the priests at a diocesan parish, being “priest interns” if you will. This summer I am living at Blessed Sacrament in Alexandria, serving Mass, spending time with the holy, wise priests there, praying in the chapel (where Jesus lives in a beautiful tabernacle), and occasionally going to a parish event or activity. While I am not able to do a lot at the parish due to other summer work, I have learned much from the priests in everyday conversation, through their words of wisdom about the parish and priestly ministry, and in their stories of parish life. I cherish weekday evenings, when we pray Vespers (Evening Prayer) and eat dinner together.
My highlight experience for my summer at Blessed Sacrament happened on a normal day in the early afternoon. One priest walked out the front door of the rectory to go for a run, having just “passed off” the emergency phone to another priest, with whom I was eating lunch. Sure enough, in about 30 seconds, the phone rang. A man at the hospital wanted to talk to a priest, and Father asked if I would like to go with him to see this man—of course I did!
Once he changed into his clerical apparel, we drove over to the hospital. After getting a temporary sticker-badge for me, we walked to this man’s room, introduced ourselves, and sat next to him. He was not in immediate danger of death, but the prognosis wasn’t good and he didn’t look great: besides his great age, he had oxygen tubes in his nose and an IV in his arm, and looked tired and feeble. Father asked how he could help him, and he said that he wanted to become Catholic. What a pleasant surprise!
Father said, “OK, well, what are you now?”
“Church of England,” he replied.
Father continued to ask him questions, receiving affirmative responses each time: Do you believe everything that the Church teaches? “Yes.” Do you believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist in His body and blood? “Yes.” Do you believe that the pope is the successor of Peter? “Yes. Pope Francis.” Yes, Pope Francis, Father confirmed, smiling. Do you believe he is appointed by God to have special teaching authority in the Church? “Yes.”
After looking in his ritual book that he brings to every hospital visit, Father realized that he needed some more items from the parish, so we returned to the church. Father called the man’s wife, a Catholic, and left her a message. After checking a book for Christian Initiation, Father knew what Sacraments he could give to the man. We brought that book, Sacred Chrism, and a Consecrated Host back to the hospital, where the man’s wife and brother-in-law were now waiting. Having already been validly baptized as an Anglican, he now professed the Catholic faith and Father told him, “Now you are Catholic.”
Following this, his reception into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the man’s wife was his sponsor, her hand placed lovingly on his shoulder while he received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Next he received the Anointing of the Sick and, finally, his first Holy Communion. After a few more minutes, we departed.
I was deeply moved by the beauty and goodness of those past couple hours. God used Father to bring this man—possibly in his last weeks of life—into the Church and deeper union with Him. This experience made me realize even more how much I desire the priesthood. I want to be God’s instrument of the grace, love, freedom, peace and happiness that you could see in this man’s eyes.
Visit our blog next week for Part 2 of this summer series from Arlington seminarian Daniel Rice.
This summer, seminarian Daniel Rice is living at Blessed Sacrament parish and working in the diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries, which serves the pastoral needs of the various ethnic communities within the Diocese of Arlington. Follow their office United Through Diversity blog to hear more about his visits to our parishes this summer.