Responding to God’s “What If”

Written by Parishioner Lana Kaczmarek, Young Adult Ministry

As I walked into the parish office for spiritual direction and confession, I felt my heart pound in my chest. I wiped my sweaty palms on my shorts as I fumbled to put on my mask. I attempted to flash a smile with my eyes as Father Adam and I engaged in small talk on the way to his office. He’s not here to judge you. Like he said, confession is an encounter with Christ, not a particular priest. If he asks, start with confession first.

“So I remember you wanted to have confession,” Father Adam said. “Would you like to start or end with it? I also want to note that if you bring anything up in spiritual direction that you said in confession, you’ll have to say it again, because, once confession is finished, it’s like you never said it, and I won’t remember it.”

“I’ll start with confession,” I responded.

Father Adam pulled out his purple stole as a sign that we were entering into the sacrament and began us in prayer. I clasped my hands together, periodically digging my fingernails into my hands as I stared at the ground. Why am I doing this? I can’t even look at him. I don’t want to lose our friendship. He’s helped me grow and heal in more ways than I could ever imagine by simply allowing me to be my true self. I’ve enjoyed bonding over our love of The Office and Hamilton. Yet, I still feel this sense of urgency to get up and walk out.

Instead, I took in a breath and began. As I spoke, I slowly started to feel the nerves subside. I unclenched my tightly wound hands and the feeling of condemnation washed away as I recognized that I was talking to a friend--to God. I decided to sneak a glance up at Father Adam, still somewhat fearful that he would be staring me down, deep into my soul. To my surprise, his eyes were shut as he took in every word. He never tensed despite what I shared, but remained stoic. I sighed a breath of relief as confession came to a close with Father Adam stretching out his hand to absolve me of my sins as the intercessor between myself and the Heavenly Father. As soon as Father Adam removed his stole, we immediately started talking  about the rap I had written for him to perform from Hamilton. He laughed and told me he would perform it in two days at brunch for my birthday. In that moment, I knew that I had not only gained a deeper connection with God, but also maintained my friendship with my priest. 

Father Adam recently responded to God’s call by officially becoming an ordained priest and chaplain for Saint Margaret Mary of Winter Park, Florida, and serving as a leader for the young adult community as a young adult himself. 

Prior to his journey toward discernment, Father Adam had envisioned becoming a chef. He started working in restaurants as a dishwasher at 16. By his senior year of high school, Father Adam was working in restaurants full-time before entering culinary school. Before he graduated from culinary school, Father Adam started working at a Ritz Carlton golf club down in South Florida where he realized something was missing from his life. He had been part of the young adult group at his parish and made some good friends who brought him to daily mass and adoration. Because of his involvement, the youth minister asked if Father Adam could help out as a core member in the youth group, but because of his schedule he was unable to lead. That conversation, however, sparked an urge to lean in to what God had in store for him. 

“I remember going to adoration and praying ‘Lord, I have this desire in my heart now to serve the church in some way. How can I serve the church?’ The Lord responded very gently, with a question, of ‘well, why not become a priest?’ My initial reaction was absolutely not, never in a million years. I was dating someone at the time and I had what I thought was my dream job. I had all the things I thought would make me successful, but in the end I realized that I was still empty inside. Then, after months of googling ‘how do you become a priest,’ ‘what is a seminary,’ ‘how long does it take,’ ‘how much does it cost,’  I had no idea of anything. Finally, I started talking to some priests and realized that it was either I made an attempt and found out it wasn’t for me and that’s not where the Lord is calling me, or I live the rest of my life in regret wondering “what if”. So, I took that leap and entered the seminary.”

During this time of discernment, Father Adam not only felt the call to the priesthood, but also the desire to serve as a military chaplain. In high school, he was part of JROTC, so he was already familiarized with the army lingo. He decided to reach out to an army recruiter about becoming a chaplain assistant because they do not need to be ordained. Soon after, Father Adam learned that his chances of acquiring that job were a million to one and he should not settle on that position. He took this as a sign that the Lord was not calling him to become a chaplain assistant, but instead calling him to be a chaplain. After realizing that working as a military chaplain was a possibility, he knew that was what the Lord had called him to do. One aspect that Father Adam noticed in the military was the soldiers’ need for priests. 

“There are a lot of soldiers and they’ll be on a nine month deployment and they may see the priest twice in that nine months when they are in some of the hardest times in their lives, and when the priest finally arrives at their unit, a lot of the priests say that [the soldiers] will break down crying because they have been without the Eucharist and without confession for so long and there is so much on their heart that they need their priest.”

Although Father Adam will not be serving as an Active Duty Chaplain for three years, he has still served the congregation of Saint Margaret Mary. A couple of weeks ago, he had a busy day of presiding over mass, holding two hours worth of confessions, and anointing a dying patient in the hospital. He also provided pastoral counseling to teachers who were stressed out due to teaching in the pandemic and later that evening blessed a young couple’s house.

“I can’t share what happened in confession, but there were some beautiful moments where people had been carrying things for so long, were finally able to let it go and [I] could physically see that from the moment they walked in to the way they left. They were just so happy to unburden themselves from all that had happened, so it was a beautiful gift to be with people at the highs and lows of their [lives]. In one day, so much can happen,” said Father Adam. 

Despite joining the parish during the pandemic, Father Adam has transitioned to the parish with ease because of the support of the pastor, Father Walsh, and the congregation. Father Walsh has given Father Adam the freedom to use his newly ordained energy to make an impact, especially within the young adult community. Father Adam is serving as the young adult chaplain for the group and has helped the organization grow in faith and fellowship by providing confession, adoration, and spiritual direction to those who seek it. Although confessing sins to a priest who is also considered a friend may seem intimidating, Father Adam has reminded the young adults that priests are not perfect and are in need of God’s mercy.

“In seminary, there is so much self-reflection and we are able to come face-to-face with our own failures and our own shortcomings,” Father Adam told me. “When we’re able to hold the mirror up to ourselves and recognize how much we are in need of God’s mercy, then we are able to be so much more loving and merciful to others. If a priest can’t do that himself, then he can’t be a merciful priest. Like, it’s only when you are in touch with your own mercy and forgiveness that you’re actually able to be that instrument for God’s mercy, recognizing who you are in light of the Father’s love. Who am I? Who has the Father revealed me [to be]?” 

By joining the young adults, Father Adam has been able to grow in his own faith life. He said that, although the young adult group may be being considered the forgotten ministry, “we [wouldn’t] have fruitful marriages or religious vocations if we don’t foster the faith of our young adults.” 

Father Adam has been able to use his role as a young priest to help other young adults strive for holiness by encouraging them to become more involved in their faith through the sacraments and daily mass. He has helped young adults recognize God’s voice in their lives by providing a voice to this demographic in the church. He has helped work toward adding an evening daily mass option as well as helping us build our relationships with our Heavenly Father through spiritual discussion. 

“[As] young adults, we are growing in many different ways, even besides our faith,” Father Adam said. “We are building our careers, establishing ourselves out in the world. As with anything, it takes a lot of work and in that process is the time to develop a prayer life, to develop a relationship with the Lord. If you’re trying to grow in holiness, having and being able to deny yourself to grow is so important. Find that time for prayer, and however it might look in your life, then make it a priority. If it’s not a priority then everything else takes over.”