By: Fr. Andrew Schumacher
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist Lafayette, Louisiana
Former Magnificat Travel Missionary
to Mexico and Puerto Rico
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of our dedication to magnifying the Lord through pilgrimages and missions is what happens after the pilgrims or missionaries return. Often, journeys bear fruit through vocations, increased participation in parishes, greater works of charity or the formation of new organizations serving those in need. This post is part of a series on the fruits of pilgrimage
Over 10 years, I felt invitations in prayer to discern the priesthood. But like many of my brother priests, it was an invitation I did not originally want to receive. I was the guy who wanted a big family. I played sports, dated girls, traveled around the world, studied business, and I was the president of a college fraternity.
I fought God’s call, ran from it, was afraid of it…but eventually I said “yes.” Many people look at my past and question how I became a priest. By not pursuing what our culture views as successful, I was simply “wasting” my life. I realize, however, that it was precisely my past that placed me in my current state.
The truth is, a priest absolutely should desire marriage, he should be well-rounded, well-studied and perhaps even well-traveled. My years before seminary, and even those early years of formation, were sprinkled with particular moments that fundamentally changed my path and the way I viewed the world. Many of those occasions came outside of the United States, in small, remote villages. They came in places like Mexico, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
I went on my first mission in 2007 with Magnificat Travel as a senior in high school. We traveled to a poor village outside of Saltillo, Mexico. It sparked a flame in my heart. Traveling far away from the daily routine and familiar sights, removing distractions, all allowed me to meet Christ in a new way. I wanted to serve, to suffer and to bring others along.
I remember thinking that no matter what I do in life, it must involve spreading the Gospel and assisting the needy.
It was precisely in the poor, outcast and forgotten that the mission I desired to pursue most in life would become clear.
Four years later I would return on mission. I had just finished my undergraduate studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. As a graduation gift, I went on a pilgrimage to Rome and followed it with a 10-day road trip from Florence to Amsterdam with college friends. But from there, I headed to La Vallee de Jacmel, Haiti, with a group of doctors, medical students and nurses. I spent my days in the Eye O.R. helping with cataract surgery. I witnessed patient after patient lie down on an old table with no anesthesia as the physician removed cataract after cataract, restoring sight to the blind. It was remarkable, a reciprocal exchange of love.
I recognized how blessed I was, but at the same time, how blessed they were in their poverty. If their utter dependence on the Lord for food and shelter helped maintain their thirst, while I allowed temporal, material pleasures to quench mine, then yes, they are rich in something that money cannot buy.
Yes, I still had many worldly aspirations, I still wanted to pursue business and married life, but in that medical clinic, I desired most of all to know and do God’s will.
I knew this process would be difficult; it would take time, but ultimately, it would be worth it. With only a month before my graduate studies began, I started the application and entered seminary soon after.
Once in seminary, I had the opportunity to help at an orphanage run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows in Fortaleza, Brazil. Returning from this mission, a thought came to me in prayer—It would be an answer to the question I often had concerning how to convert my lackadaisical or even fallen-away Catholic friends and fraternity brothers. It was simple: Bring them on mission. I thought this would take place after ordination, if I ever made it to that day. However, my spiritual director wisely told me how seminarians think they have to wait until they are ordained to start their priesthood. He asked the question, “Is God calling you to start now?”
He was. With the help of some close friends, we started a mission company called Mission Renew. It was geared toward lost Catholics and non-Catholics, many of whom had everything else the world told them brought happiness but still had a void. They had a void because they had not received an opportunity to love greatly, to suffer, to give of oneself and expect nothing in return. This is what mission brought them.
Aquinas tells us that the first fruit of love is joy. Our first trip had 14 missionaries, the following year 24, then 28, then 36, until this past summer, when we started two trips. Over 50 percent of the missionaries would return the following year. They sacrificed their vacation days and made a significant financial offering, only to take cold showers, make grueling daily hikes and spend days with people from a different culture and language. The missionaries kept returning year after year, like I did, because they found themselves full of joy. They returned because they saw truth, beauty, and goodness in their Haitian brothers and sisters, and they fell in love.
When I moved on to major seminary in New Orleans, our rector was quick to make clear he was forming missionary disciples for the New Evangelization. In this day, priests must be creative, and we must be missionary disciples who go out. We must be priests who go out not to tend simply to people’s material needs. The love and commitment we show through our interactions has had a great spiritual and emotional impact.
In my encounters with the poorest of the poor, I have come to face my own poverty and brokenness but also my God: my God who was calling and continues to call me to mission—to be that missionary disciple for perhaps the greatest battles our Church has ever seen. I am a priest today because it is my vocation. I said yes to the invitation because of mission. And I will not let this priesthood go to waste.