Contrary to the saying, not all roads lead to Rome. Some lead away from it. Still a transitional deacon in the summer of 2011, I received my first assignment: to continue residence in the Eternal City—not a bad gig—and pursue a licentiate and doctorate in bioethics. Such an assignment came as a surprise, since up to that point in my seminary formation, I had not been slated for an academic career. While in the final stretch before ordination to the priesthood, which would take place on December 12, 2011, I began my graduate studies at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum.
I attended a symposium on the Theology of the Body during the first semester. One of the conference tracks considered bioethical themes through the lens of John Paul II’s teaching. This intrigued me, and so I followed that track. I began pondering and conversationally sharing my musings over the next few months. In dialogue with an academic mentor, he stressed the need to gain a solid understanding of the principles undergirding the rich teaching. My assignment shifted after several conversations from pursuing a degree in bioethics to a focus on the Theology of the Body. With the chrism for ordination still drying on my hands, I applied to the John Paul II Institute in DC, got accepted, and so left Rome to begin my studies at the Institute.
I began to perceive during the first semester a deep resonance between what the professors were teaching and reflections and questions I had. Some of my reflections had really only been sketches of ideas, and they gradually began to become fill in with more detail. I also remarked how the professors, while having their own interests and unique gifts and strengths, explored the various themes as a body of prayerful thinkers. They understood the communal nature of theology and of any discipline for that matter. It would take some time for the ideas received and pondered over the years to coalesce into a personal synthesis: love is eternally generous and receptive and all of creation bears this mark as it opens from within to grace. Nature and grace, distinct and in a wonderful interplay, both manifest God’s glory.
It would be hard to enumerate the multiple ways in which this principle took on flesh, for I often describe it as a paradigm shift that affects all things: how I think, pray, preach, and counsel. To offer some specifics, these ideas matured during my relatively short tenure as a professor at Divine Mercy University in Sterling, VA, teaching courses in the spiritual life, theological anthropology, and marriage and family. I also served as chaplain. I inherited course syllabi and was able to adjust and enrich the content with small, but important tweaks, guided by this new paradigm. Teaching proved to be one of the best ways of growing even more in my own understanding.
After teaching at the university, I moved to the Raleigh area, and in June 2021, I began serving under the pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Cary, NC in a unique role as the Director of Evangelization and Catechesis. In addition to the normal pastoral duties of parish life, my principal focus is to develop a robust faith formation program, both to share the Good News in an attractive way and to offer a catechesis that aims at being deeply transformative. The opportunities are ample at a parish of over 4,600 families. I have already offered two semester-long courses, one on the spiritual life and another on the Theology of the Body. I’ve also starting leading training groups based on a curriculum designed by The Evangelical Catholic. A dynamic faith community rooted in the Lord, the one came into this world and who sends us to be lights in the darkness. When I preach on the inherent goodness of creation and how God’s grace enters right into the heart of his creation, even when it has fallen, I can see how many in the congregation perk up. I credit much of this approach to what I acquired during my years at the John Paul II Institute. I now have the opportunity to continue these efforts at my new parish, St. Paul’s Catholic Church in New Bern.
My path was quite unconventional and windy and even confusing at times. I am thankful that he led me to be enriched by the professors and my colleagues during my years at the John Paul II Institute. I do not know what the future holds, but I walk forward, led by the radiance of his glory.