My mom and dad laid the foundation of faith within me. The importance of giving thanks to and petitioning Jesus instilled in me a sense of the great vastness of God. Growing up in the parish, I was active at most K of C functions and then became a knight myself when I was seventeen. If not at Knights events, I would have been playing the trumpet at Mass.
Being a cradle Catholic, it wasn’t until college where I took a deeper sense of ownership with my faith. Leaving the comforts of home behind aided me in clinging to Jesus more and more. Sophomore year of college, I joined a FOCUS Bible study, not sure what to expect and also questioning how much Catholics should read the Bible. Going through the creation story, and then through the covenants, the Lord slowly began to clean the lenses through which I was looking, enabling me to see the great masterpiece of His plan for me and all of creation.
The humanity of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David shed much-needed light on my own humanity and how the Lord uses imperfect people to accomplish His Divine plans of sheer love. My Bible study leaders in college were also men walking with me in FOCUS discipleship. Being invested in for three years encouraged me, held me accountable, and helped to orient the trajectory of my life more towards Heaven. Becoming a daily communicant, along with frequent adoration and confession, began a spiritual adventure that I didn’t know was possible. During this time, I was asked to be a student representative on the parish council, lasting two years. Along with planning retreats as a member of the student ministry team, the Lord was changing my heart.
The gift of spiritual fatherhood flooded me during this formative time. Father Dan, my college chaplain and a deeply contemplative diocesan priest, was my spiritual director for four years. He was Jesus to me. He would listen and reflect as I would pour out my questions and fears, my prayers and my joys. He was not quick to respond or tell me what to do. He would ponder and pray, gently nudging me where he prayed the Holy Spirit may be leading. Within spiritual direction, I began to discern a call to priesthood. Being on the receiving end of His forgiveness in the confessional, my heart began to and still burns to hear confessions myself, to be a vessel of His mercy. Discernment first began with my diocese because that’s what I knew. While attempting to take steps to visit the seminary in Detroit, the pandemic caused the “Come and See” to be canceled, and the doors to FOCUS opened up. As I began life as a full-time missionary, in my heart, I desired to do two years, and then take a step towards the seminary.
My time with FOCUS allowed for many opportunities to connect with holy religious priests. And as my heart was set on fire to be “His missionary” through FOCUS, my heart began to burn at the idea of being a religious. One day in adoration, I was reflecting: “If Jesus gave me everything…why do I give Him so little in return?” My prayer became, “Lord, help me to give you more of myself.” Two examples of religious giving all to Jesus that I’m close with are Blessed Solanus Casey, OFM Cap., and Sister Clare Crockett. I had the honor of attending Bl. Solanus Casey’s beatification Mass in Detroit. I was drawn into this man of such humility as he lived his Franciscan vocation. While with Sister Clare, I learned about her when on a mission trip in Ecuador, the same country she died in. The joy with which she lived her life is worthy of imitation, and she also trusted that if she took care of His things, He would take care of hers, that being her family.
As the trajectory of my life became more Heavenward, I began having run-ins with the poor. While in college, there was a large bearded homeless man who most days stood on a corner I drove past. I typically offered a wave or a granola bar. When the last day of finals week arrived, I decided to buy him a pizza. In pulling over to give it to him, I had no idea it would turn into a two-hour conversation. This man, Stuart, began pouring his life story out to me, and all I could do was listen.
Fast-forwarding a few years later to my second year with FOCUS, I found myself at the SEEK22 conference where I had the opportunity to altar serve the whole week. During the last Mass of the conference, I was asked to bring the ciborium with consecrated hosts to the altar from the chapel. Jesus in hand, I heard, “They do not know Me. Make Me known.” An hour later after Mass, I saw a scraggly-looking man on a bench, and though reserved, he too began to open up about his struggles. He wasn’t afraid to ruin his image, and he wasn’t hiding behind a façade. He was struggling.
During this interaction, I saw Father Angelus, the CFR vocations director, in the conference center, and I was able to bring “Joshua” over to him. We prayed with him, and then Father blessed him. My heart was torn seeing this man’s suffering. Unbeknownst to me, my team director witnessed this whole event. On the way back to campus, she said, “Jeremy, have you ever thought about discerning with the CFRs?” To this point, she knew of my exploration into the Franciscan way of life through my devotion to Bl. Solanus. This was a question that I began to ponder in my heart and in spiritual direction.
Jesus continues to make Himself known to me through the outcast, the poor, the outliers of society. There truly is a privilege of being with the poor. So too, while on my second vocation visit with the CFRs, my group ran into a man near Penn Station. This man had no hands and no feet, yet he was joyful. We gave him coffee and a sandwich. He asked us to set the food next to him, but I began to ponder how he would eat it. We then went into a local parish to pray, and I cried out to Jesus. Quietly, I heard, “You are My hands and feet.” My daily life has been affected through these encounters with our Lord, propelling my heart to be more and more grateful. This gratitude helps to clear my prideful, lustful, and self-centered ways of thinking and acting. Thus, prayer has to be the foundation of my day. When I don’t pray, I am off and living the plan of Jeremy. Sitting in front of His small humble throne of the tabernacle or looking at Him in the bread, He reminds me that I am His. No matter how far I stray, He remains, and I’m never alone. Daily Mass and holy hour are non-negotiables. Currently, being a missionary at St. Anthony’s Shelter for Renewal, a homeless shelter in the Bronx with the CFRs, I’ve begun praying morning, evening, and night prayer. It’s also been beautiful teaching the shelter guests how to pray the rosary, and I’ve even picked up some of the Spanish prayers. I’ve loved praying the psalms and reflecting on the different movements of the soul; lamentations, canticles, etc. Making time throughout the day to recollect myself and rest in His presence has been an opportunity to be a ruler over my passions and to give Him permission to come into my heart.
Hands-on work with the poor while with FOCUS has taken me to Togo, Africa, where our mission was a ministry of presence in a rural and poor village. Ecuador, where we helped a rural community build a chapel, brick by brick. Uganda, Africa, where we ministered to and upheld the dignity of young mothers and their children. Meeting Jesus in the poorest areas across the world, I’ve found that I didn’t want to leave Him. To the present day, I find myself at the shelter where men come in beaten up, broken, and worn down. It’s been amazing to see how once they realize the missionaries are here for them, some of their walls come tumbling down, and their joy increases.
As my own heart is being restored through His blood, the desire to be fully His as a consecrated religious has been increasing. Through living out of the deep well of prayer, the brothers have witnessed to me their fraternal life, which then flows into their apostolates with the poor and in their evangelization efforts. And as unworthy as I may feel at times, this door is one in which has been freely offered to me. As the Lord has been unfolding His narrative for my life little by little, He continues to ask me to take another step on the water. As my journey towards Heaven continues, St. Francis reminds me of the daily conversion necessary: “Let us begin again, for until now we have done nothing.”