Seminarians return from month-long mission trips

Every January, about 25 men who have entered seminary at St. John Vianney are sent out “two-by-two” for a month to be immersed in the lives and service to the poor.

The last of these men returned to Denver Feb. 5 from their various immersion destinations with a desire to continue to serve the poor.

Father Jim Thermos, director of the seminarians’ first year called spirituality year (SY), said, “The seminarians return from Christmas break ready to put their deepened life-in-Christ into action. They are sent out two-by-two to serve the poor in various missions for 30 days. This outpouring of self, and learning to trust in the loving providence of the Father, is critical. Without it, the seminarian would become turned-in on himself and his life for the remainder of the spirituality year would become quite tedious.”

Two of the SY men shared their experiences after visiting confidential locations to serve the needy. Samuel Mota-Martinez and Tyler Frohlich are both seminarians studying for the Diocese of Helena, Mont.


Q: How did you feel before going on immersion? Were you worried or scared?

: I wasn’t focused on immersion, because we’re told all year to be present where we’re at, the Lord gave me the grace to be where I was, even in the three days prior to leaving.
Mota-Martinez: In my situation, I felt really open, ready to go. I had a good Christmas break: it was long enough for me to get refreshed and I was ready to get to seminary to see what immersion was going to be about.


Q: Relate one really moving or touching experience you had.

I had a man come up to me in the middle of the day and said “I need to talk to you.” This is right about at the midway point when we had established relationships with the people, and we went to a room, and he broke down into tears in front of me and told me that, first of all, he was contemplating suicide, and he also told me,“I haven’t been living my life well or properly. I had an experience today of the Lord and I really want to change.” It was amazing just to be able to be an instrument of God in a very small way, a very humble way, knowing your unworthiness to do that, but that he chose you, and that it quite possibly saved or changed someone’s life.
Mota-Martinez: So this past month I got to take care of the elderly. I brought this back to prayer, and I realized that I did have a poverty in that I didn’t get to know my own grandparents, but during this month, the Lord gave me, like, 40 grandparents, who were loving me, and I got to love back. With that there are just a bunch of little situations, whether it was feeding them or walking them from the chapel to the meal room, or simply in being with them, because some of them have varied mental or physical limitations, and some of them were of Navajo culture and heritage, some of them didn’t even speak English at all.



Q: What’s your biggest take away from immersion? How has it changed you, deepened your vocation, or strengthened your relationship with Christ?

I know that liberal society and Christianity says “don’t judge, don’t judge,” and they mean different things in different ways, but I was able to see the depth of the lack of our ability to judge. We have no right or place to judge anyone in any place or situation, because we don’t know where they’ve been. By sight, by talking to someone, just by surface level conversation, you cannot judge. That is only God’s duty and his job.
Mota-Martinez: I definitely reflected a lot about how I need and desire both prayer and work. Both of those things feed each other: the prayer gives the work meaning, and the work allows the prayer expression. It allows you to bring that forth. So really realizing for me that I desire that prayer time and also that I need and desire that work to express and to serve other people, and that I can’t just pray and not do anything, or stop praying and think, “I’ll just work, work, work.” The necessity and balance that you need both of those two pillars was a big takeaway, because during that time I was able to experience days where we didn’t pray and we just worked or days where I just prayed and wasn’t able to work.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.