A Seminarian Encounters His Pope

For the last week, I have been on pilgrimage with 33 of my seminarian brothers from the Diocese of Orange. As I reflect on this awesome experience, I struggle to even begin to grasp the incredible grace and blessing I have so undeservingly received. Who am I to have had, in the last week, prayed and celebrated with Pope Francis on three different occasions, at the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra in Washington D.C. and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia? Most people will not get this opportunity even once in their life. We got to see him up close; we got to hear him preach, but most importantly we were all touched by his joyful witness and fatherly embrace. The Spirit moved my heart deeply, confirming my vocation and desire to give my life in service to his people. There were two themes that rang out for me over the week: mission and witness.

Love Is Our Mission

The theme of this World Meeting of Families was “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive”. Our mission is what gives us purpose, a direction. It is what orients all our energies and desires. The mission of love is the only mission that can truly light the path to a life of genuine fulfillment and joy. From the beginning, love has been Pope Francis’ mission, and he invites you and me to make it ours.

In his homily at the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra he revealed to us: “Mission is always the fruit of a life, which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.” We can only love as much as we have been loved and forgive as much as we have been forgiven.

Love does not find its source or end in us, as if we could offer anything on our own, but rather it is the Father who fills us with his love in Christ and through the Spirit, inviting us to share in his mission of being poured out for the good of all. At the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis reminded us in the closing Mass homily, “‘love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us’ first (1 Jn 4:10). That love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel.” This mission cannot remain an idea, it must move into concrete acts of love.

Witness Is The Way

The way love is made manifest has always been through witness. The Father made his love manifest by sending his Son into the world, not to condemn it, but to witness to what life and love could look like when it’s fully lived. Today, the Father continues to choose to make his love known to the world through Jesus’ mystical body, the Church. You and I who are baptized into this body are called to witness to the Father’s love for us, made manifest in word and deed. It is this witness alone that has the power to show the world around us that God is who he says he is, our Father and theirs.

Many years ago, Pope Paul VI gave us these prophetic words: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” As I watched and listened to Pope Francis, I could not but be attracted to the love and joy pouring out of him. He makes the mission so manifest in everything he says, but more importantly in what he does. Seeing him stop to embrace the physically challenged, to tenderly kiss a helpless baby, to care for the poor, the imprisoned, the least, and the most broken is to see the face of Jesus.

When people encounter Jesus they find their meaning, they find their hope, they find their home. It is no wonder why people are returning to the Church and being converted to the Truth. It is only in Jesus and through his Church that all of our deepest desires find their rest. People encounter Jesus in Pope Francis. This is what it means to be a witness. As a seminarian, do people encounter Jesus in me?

We Are Family

One of the greatest gifts I received this week is a greater sense of belonging to our big, crazy, and beautiful family of faith that knows no limits. The Church is a family of families from every land and people. It is my family and in it all find their home, it has room for everyone, including you. God willing, in less than two years I will be ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Orange. People will refer to me as Father Tim. This is not an honorary title that I will ever deserve, but rather my hope is that people will call me father because they encounter the Father in me and come to find their home in him.


Photo taken by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

About the Author

Tim Donovan

My name is Tim Donovan and I have been a seminarian for the diocese of Orange for the past six years. Before seminary I was a youth minister for three years, a ministry that I still love dearly. I enjoy making and playing music with creative folks, cooking and eating delicious food, and sharing deep things about life and the Lord with good people. My passion is to give my life in service of God’s holy people, especially in the area of marriage and family life. Please pray for me.

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