“Come, follow me.” It was the Lord Jesus calling us. These ten simple words are the first lines of our Holy Cross Constitutions—and for me, they are also the most meaningful. Nine years after entering Holy Cross, these ten words have now led me and Ryan to the foot of the altar, where we will profess our perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in Holy Cross this weekend. But when asked how I’m feeling about Final Vows, I honestly don’t know how to respond. Nervous? Excited? Overwhelmed? Overjoyed? In reality, it’s a beautiful mishmash of all those emotions—much like my vocation journey itself has been a wonderful hurricane. After all, that’s usually what happens when God invites us to follow Him!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had plenty of “Wow, this is really happening” moments. One of the best was when my brother asked me if I wanted to baptize my little niece at our home parish in Michigan. I couldn’t say yes fast enough! There are also plenty of other signs that my life is about to change drastically, especially in my duties at Christ the King Parish. But the commitment I’m making this weekend goes beyond any job description; it is an unreserved act of love for the God who first loved me, even though I am a sinner.
When I first heard the whisper of God’s call in 2005, I never would have imagined that the Lord would lead me to this lifelong commitment. In high school, I had always admired the priests at my home parish, but I never seriously considered a vocation because I “wasn’t holy enough.” But during this period, God gave me a good mix of both subtle and obvious nudges toward the seminary. It started when I casually mentioned to my parents (on my way out the front door) that I was thinking about the priesthood…then I got a call the next day from a Holy Cross priest at my parish who “just happened to hear” that I was considering a vocation. (Mom, Dad, and Fr. Heppen still deny that they called each other…)
With the prayers and encouragement of my friends and family, I swallowed my fear of being imperfect and soon began pursuing the call more actively. The turning point came during my visit to Old College as a high school junior. Ten minutes after walking in the front door, I felt right at home with the community. Here was a group of loving and joy-filled men who were not merely colleagues, but brothers united by a common purpose: discerning the Lord’s will for their lives. Since then, I have grown so much in my love for my community and the people of God, and it is all because Christ Himself has called me to share His love for the Church and the world.
The upcoming months will see a lot of “firsts” for me, especially in sacramental ministry. I’m sure that I’ll flub a few homilies, whiff on some assignments, and struggle to remember some (okay, many) names as I’m starting out. But giving my life to Holy Cross means that I will always have plenty of older brothers in community who can guide and encourage me in my efforts, especially when I’m faced with setbacks or new challenges. One image of this bond comes from my novice year, when Ryan and I climbed 13.1 miles to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak. The rough terrain and lack of oxygen meant that we were both constantly stumbling and pausing to catch our breath. At some points, we literally had to pull each other along by our backpacks just to stay on our feet! But in the end, we finally conquered the mountain. Likewise, there have been—and will be—plenty of occasions where my Holy Cross brethren have to pull me along when I can’t go it alone…and there will be many times where I will happily do the same for any of my brothers.
Ultimately, I am saying “forever” to Holy Cross because our world needs the love, hope, and joy of the Cross more than ever before. Countless men and women around the world are suffering in despair, and all too often we cannot see beyond our mental, physical, and spiritual pain. And yet, Blessed Basil Moreau stepped into the middle of such suffering and founded Holy Cross to be a beacon of Christ’s hope for the world. This was the paradox that captivated my soul when I discovered this community: how could a group of religious priests and brothers actually embrace the pain and shame of the Cross as the center of their life and mission? Quite simply, this is possible because God’s Love transformed this same Cross into the very weapon by which sin and death were conquered forever. As men with hope to bring, we in Holy Cross are not ashamed to acknowledge that Christ Himself bore suffering just as we did; for in doing so, we can illuminate the world with the joy and hope of the eternal life Christ won for us!
These vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience form the foundations of a life by which, I pray, God will strengthen His people to reject the worldly lures of pleasure, wealth, and power. By making these vows of love, I am not being restricted or enslaved to a cold-hearted or rigid way of life. Instead, I have come to truly believe that God has called me to Holy Cross because it frees me to be fully myself! Brothers and sisters, the Lord created each of us for a purpose, and we can be assured that Love will never call us to be less than the best and holiest version of ourselves. My heart bursts with joy when I imagine where God will lead me from this day until the very end of my days, when I am finally laid to rest beside my brothers in Holy Cross.
The Lord, in His goodness, has called me to throw in my lot with a band of men who have given all to follow Christ—the poor, chaste, and obedient One. I hope and pray that I may faithfully serve the Church and lead others to eternal life by binding myself to Holy Cross forever. And no matter what this life may bring, may the final ten words of our Constitutions be ever-emblazoned in my heart and mind: It is the Lord Jesus calling us. “Come. Follow me.”
Mr. Mike Palmer, C.S.C. is preparing to take his Final Vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross. Mike attended military chaplaincy training before returning to Notre Dame to finish his priestly formation. Most recently, he was assigned to serve at Christ the King Parish in South Bend, Indiana. Mike is originally from Berkley, Michigan.