Do you remember summer days as a kid when you were free; free to just be outside, feeling the summer sun warming your face even as it was cooled by a gentle breeze? There was no job to do, appointment to keep. You had time to just be and to take note of textures and colors, crisp blue skies, a rich carpet of green grass, punctuated by dazzling rows of flowers. You had time to reflect and to dream.
I can recall a time like this, a long time ago when I was eight years old. The cherished memory has been protected by me all these fifty years and counting because I made a firm commitment to always remember that moment.
It is not that anything earthshaking took place in that moment. In many ways it was a very ordinary event. God did not open the heavens and speak to me. No miraculous occurrence unfolded before me. I was just standing in front of the garage at my family's home in Hartland, Wisconsin, enjoying a moment of quiet reflection in the warm summer sun. If the moment was at all extraordinary, I suppose, it would have to do with the fact that in that moment I was alone. By that time I already had five of what eventually became nine brothers and sisters. The solitary moments were limited.
As I stood there in that graced moment I began to think adventurously about what I would like to do with my life. Three options came quickly to the surface. I would like to be a fireman, a doctor, or. . .a priest. All three possibilities excited me. Each of them held great challenge and struck me as very fulfilling ways to spend my life. For a moment, with the exuberance of youth, I considered whether I might possibly be able to become all three. I could be "Mark Seitz, Fireman-Doctor-Priest." Wouldn't that be great! I could provide all the services necessary when a person was in great need. I could rescue them from a burning building, resuscitate them and, if that did not work, offer last rites.
My parents and grandparents had always told me I could be anything I really wanted to be. They had always affirmed that I would be able to do great things with my life. God had a wonderful and exciting plan for me and nothing that God wanted for me would be impossible. I count this as among the greatest gifts my family gave to me. They taught me to dream ambitious dreams. But they also gave me the conviction that my fulfillment in life would come not from any monetary or material accumulation. My fulfillment would be found insofar as my life made a difference for others. I wanted to make a difference.
Fireman. Doctor. Priest. Those three possibilities all seemed very attractive, but even at my tender age I realized that the day might come when I would have to make a choice among these options. After all, I did not want to be in school for my whole life!
So as I continued to stand peacefully with a gentle breeze stroking my face I reasoned further. If I were a fireman I could pull people from burning buildings and save their lives. That would be a wonderful thing. If I were a doctor I could heal those who were sick. That would be a great way to live my life. It occurred to me, though, that despite my best efforts eventually those people would die. No one on this earth lives forever. But if I were a priest, my eight-year-old brain reasoned, I could not only help them in this life; I could save them forever!
So the decision was really kind of simple. If I had to choose between being a fireman, a doctor, or a priest, I would like to be a priest. What a great way that would be to spend my life. I wanted to be a priest! I knew it would be a long time before that would become a reality. Maybe I would end up deciding upon something else. But if I became a priest I would remember I was eight years old and standing in the summer sun in front of our house on 212 Circle Drive in Hartland, Wisconsin, when I decided what I wanted to be.
There is much more to the story since that day. Long periods of time went by when I gave no thought to the conclusion I had come to in the summer sun. Many times passed when I was not at all sure what my calling really was. I had to discern whether my desire to be a priest came from me or from God. Ultimately my vocation depended not simply upon my choosing but upon God's plan for my life. That moment of insight when I was eight helped spur years of prayer and discernment. With the help of God and of many people I continued to progress. Eventually through eight years of reflection and growth in the seminary, God's call to me became clear. On another beautiful day that I will always remember I was ordained to the priesthood of the Catholic Church on May 17,1980, for the Diocese of Dallas.
To this day I still think it would have been neat to be a fireman or a doctor. Still, I would never trade the joy and the fulfillment I have experienced as a priest. Yes, I had to choose one great vocation and leave some others behind. But I have to tell you a little secret: as a priest and now, since 2010, a bishop, I have been called on many occasions to assist families who have lost everything to fire. Innumerable times I have been privileged to walk the halls of hospitals bringing Christ's comfort and the wonderful spiritual medicine of the Anointing of the Sick. In many ways my original dream has been realized. I have indeed become a fireman, a doctor….and a priest.
© Bishop Mark J. Seitz, D.D., V.G., was installed as Bishop of the Diocese of El Paso, TX in July 2013.