2023 — IV Philosophy

John Paul Hartnedy, St. Edward Church, Little Rock

Attends Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo.

My vocation story really is a love story, and I think that it is true for each one of us as well. This is how I have come to see it: For all eternity, God says to us, “I love you,” and then, at one point in time, he gives us life so that we can hear his voice and say, “I love you, too.”

To me, that is the meaning and purpose of our lives — to be loved by God and to love him back. We fulfill our life’s purpose in more specific ways through our unique vocations. It is all a love story!

In my own case, I first experienced love in my family. I remember how my parents taught me how to pray the rosary, how to share with my sister, and how to be respectful to others. We made a point to eat dinner as a family often and spend time laughing and talking.

My parents also were witnesses of love to me in how they worked to love each other. On some nights after dinner, when the weather was nice, my parents would take a walk through the neighborhood. I would watch through my bedroom window as they passed out of sight, holding hands, talking and enjoying each other's company.

My family isn't perfect, though, and we struggle and fail to love each other at times. However, just how one can touch a hot stove top and learn (the hard way) that it is hot, so also these negative experiences taught me how to love, even if they weren't ideal examples of family life.

I learned an important lesson from my dad about love. When I was in the second grade, just as my mom was dropping me off at St. Edward for school, my dad called her on the phone and asked for me. He apologized for raising his voice earlier that morning, told me that he will keep working on it and that he loves me.

In that brief phone call, my dad taught me that love is worth the work. God is always calling us to grow in how we love. He wants us to love like he does: completely — in a way that includes our whole being. My dad taught me how to be humble enough to admit mistakes and ask for mercy in the process of learning to love more fully.

The love I experienced in my family formed a foundation of openness for my relationship with God. As I grew older, I was drawn into the life of the Church through prayer and adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, which led me to serving on the altar and participation in youth ministry.

However, the most life-changing and intimate experiences of love came through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation. In receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, I came to realize more how much I am loved. God wants to be with me so much, that he veils his glory and offers himself humbly in a way I can receive: as food.

Thinking about holding God on my tongue or in my hands is awe-inspiring, and it reminds me to do my best to prepare my heart to receive him, whose love is exceedingly personal. As the Eucharist intensifies my ability to love God and others, reconciliation purifies it, allowing me to love other people more for who they are, as God's sons and daughters, and not as merely how they are useful to me.

This love story led me to the seminary right out of high school to discern the priesthood. Following the advice of a priest, I developed a habit of taking a few minutes every day to sit in silence with Jesus in prayer. This quiet time opened my heart, and made it grow familiar with his presence and docile to the desires he placed in my heart.

Choosing to go to seminary right away was difficult, however, because instead of receiving one big sign from God, I discerned through thousands of little ones. What makes me really joyful? When am I most satisfied? What am I most passionate about doing?

At the end of high school, I chose to go to seminary, making an informed decision with faith, trusting that the God who has loved me so far would let me know more fully how he wanted me to love him back when the time came.

I have since come to learn that little acts of love are what lead up to greater ones, and that loving God is done in the present moment, right now, not sometime in the future. Being a priest is how I think God is calling me to say “I love you too.”

By being with others in need, admitting my mistakes and asking for mercy, discerning God's will through the little things, and one day though the grace of the sacraments, I can live in a way that allows others to hear more clearly God's “I love you,” and gives them an opportunity to say “I love you too.”