IV Philosophy

Samuel Stengel, St. Joseph Church, Paris

Attends the House of Formation in Little Rock

I grew up in a very Catholic home. In fact, you could say that my family is “super” Catholic. I have an uncle and a great uncle who are priests. My grandpa is a deacon. I went to Mass with my family every Sunday, and oftentimes we would go to daily Masses. Saying grace before meals and praying before bed was a given.

If you walk into my parents' house, you will see Catholic art everywhere. There is a crucifix in every room, and sometimes there are multiple. My mom also made a point of celebrating the feast days of the saints and holy days in a special way. Even one of the games that my siblings and I would play was Mass, where I would, of course, be the priest since I was the oldest. All of that is to say that it was very easy to be Catholic in my family, and I never questioned it. My family and my faith were literally all that I knew.

The first time that my faith began to look different was in high school when I started to get involved in CYM (Catholic Youth Ministry). For the first time I was experiencing my faith in a new way that did not come from my family, and a huge part of this was service. My first experiences in youth ministry were in 9th and 10th grade when I joined a group going on mission trips in which we did work to support the impoverished communities that we visited.

Later, this aspect of service was strengthened when I got involved in diocesan youth ministry and participated in Catholic Charities Summer Institute (C²SI), which is a camp for youth to learn about Catholic social teachings, and to serve the poor and least fortunate in the Little Rock area. Up until these experiences I had mostly been spoon fed the faith, and it was really the faith of my parents instead of my own faith.

However, through youth ministry I felt for the first time that my Catholic faith, which I had received from my family was actually mine. It felt like something I wanted for myself and not just because of my family. With this deepening desire to make my faith my own, I became more involved in youth ministry and also drew closer to the Lord in prayer, especially in Mass and eucharistic adoration. It was through my prayer before the Eucharist that God began to make it more clear to me how he was calling me closer to himself in a particular way as a priest.

Whenever I began to think really seriously about the priesthood, it was not a foreign idea to me. As I said before, my faith was something very natural to me, and I even have priests in my family, so the idea of being a priest has always seemed like an option to me. Even as a little kid I felt drawn to priests and would sometimes say that I was going to be a priest.

Because it seemed so natural, I do not really remember when I first began to hear the call and consider being a priest, but it was in my junior year of high school that the call became strong and my discernment took on a very real flavor. By the time my junior year of high school was over I had already decided through much prayer in adoration and in Mass that I was going to enter seminary.

This decision was really based on feeling because I had no idea at the time what my decision would mean for me going forward. All that I knew is that I loved the Eucharist, I loved serving the people of God, and I wanted to serve the Lord.

The most powerful moment as I started to explore what God’s call would mean for me took place during my last semester of high school when I felt drawn to and decided to participate in a program called Exodus 90. Honestly, I was not very good at it. I failed to be faithful in a lot of the stuff we were supposed to do. But the fact that it was hard did not change the fact that I felt like the Lord wanted me to do it.

Even though I felt clearly that the Lord wanted me to do this program, I didn't really understand why until about halfway through the program when I had begun to despair of being able to follow through with what I had committed to. Bogged down in this despair, I found myself one night at home kneeling on the floor in front of a crucifix, and I was really blaming my struggle on the Lord. I could not understand why he would ask me to do something so difficult, and I asked him why did he expect me to do what I could not do.

It was at that low moment when I was really despairing that the words of the Lord came to me very clearly in my mind. “I want you to lay down your life for me as I did for you.” Those words immediately brought me to tears and have completely changed my life because they showed me that God truly wanted me and had intentionally chosen me for himself. He was asking me to give him everything that I am. As Jesus died on the cross for me and gave everything that he is just for my sake, he wants me to do the same for him.

Now, as a seminarian of the Diocese of Little Rock, and I have continued to dive deeper into the mystery of Jesus’ great love for me. I have grown greatly in my understanding of what it means to follow the call of the Lord and lay down my life for him.

Recently, I focused especially on growing in acceptance of my own weaknesses and surrendering them to the mercy and healing power of God. As I have done this, I have become more acutely aware of the movement of the Holy Spirit in my life as he works to conform my heart ever closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I am confident that the Lord is leading me to himself, and I look forward to serving him and his people in whichever way he wills. I give thanks to God for all of the graces he has given me, and I dedicate myself to Our Lady, queen of the clergy, who has been a guiding light for me through the darkest valleys and across the highest mountains.