I can remember it vividly. It was a hot, humid day in mid-August in 2007. I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach as I was sitting in the back of my parents’ car and we turned down Notre Dame Avenue to see the great, shiny Golden Dome in front of us. We made our way to Old College and were greeted by what seemed like a swarm of young men, who emptied out our car in a matter of seconds and got everything into my new room. It was then that my journey began, a journey that I had hardly expected.
It is just so hard to believe that my arrival to the Old College Program happened 9 years ago! Here I am standing on the brink of taking my final vows and being ordained to the diaconate, things I had seen so many men do before me. As I enter these final days of preparation, I could not help but reflect on a few themes that have been pillars in my time in initial formation and things that will be very close to my heart as I enter the next phase of my life.
The Path to True Love
Every year at the formation orientation camp, the men in formation who are preparing to take their final vows give a witness talk to offer their reflections on their time in initial formation. I had the privilege to talk to my brothers in formation this year and I chose to reflect on the notion of love, since it is a fundamental principle of our faith. Christ, when asked what is the greatest commandment, simply answers like this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37,39). Christ sums up the entirety of our faith in one word: love. I think this is something we can take for granted as Christians. There are so many things we can learn about our faith and spirituality, but all of these ultimately should direct us to love. This is a notion that I have felt tremendously through my time in initial formation. Through my experience in community, the friends I have made, my encounters with others in ministry, I have greatly experienced God’s boundless love that has often left me in awe. God has been training me how to love by profoundly allowing His love to penetrate me. My vocation became clear as I experienced this love and leaned how to spread it: like St. Therese of Lisieux, I feel that my vocation is to love, to keep being an instrument of God’s love in a world often devoid of it. I believe, too, that this is the call of every Christian, so we all must allow our hearts to be profoundly penetrated by this love so that we can be convicted that it truly is at the center of our faith.
The Cross our Only Hope
We, in the Congregation of Holy Cross, have as our motto “Ave Crux Spes Unica,” “The Cross our Only Hope.” It is certainly something that I have heard often in my time in formation, and to be honest, I took it for granted. The more I heard it, the more it became ingrained in me. It seems at face value to be a little absurd. The cross, an instrument of death, can be a source of hope? How? It gets even more absurd when we think about this in the context of our own lives. We all have experienced the cross, dark moments of difficulty and desperation. How can we see those moments as hope-filled? Yet they are! It is one of the greatest realities of our faith. From the cross broke forth the resurrection and so likewise, from our deaths will come forth new life. That is what we can hope in. I have seen this more and more clearly in my own life. There have been many moments where the cross weighed very heavily, but something very good came from it, a new beginning, a special blessing. This is something I am convicted of and something that I want to preach to the world in my ministry. Through the vows that I will take, I enter fully into a community that is based in this conviction and one that is motivated to lead other people into it.
The Unity of the Holy Cross Family
Fr. Basil Moreau had a vision of a Congregation of religious brothers, sisters and priests working together to build up the Kingdom. It was a model that caught my attention and one I find very beautiful. Throughout my time in formation, I have been ingrained in this model and have had the wonderful opportunity to get to know the three societies of the sisters, brothers and priests. Being able to study at Moreau Seminary gave me the wonderful opportunity to live near all three societies and to get to know them and live with them. Many of my ministry experiences in the seminary involved more opportunities to see the three societies working together. Certainly, we can do an even better job at this as a community. From my positive experiences in formation, I long to work to foster greater unity among the three societies and see the Congregation fulfill the model of the Holy Family, as Fr. Moreau wanted. Especially in our society today in which we focus more on the individual, a model of a united family can be a powerful witness to Christian community and how important it is to have it in our lives.
This indeed has been an incredible journey, yet it is only just the beginning! I look back with gratitude on everything that I have experienced and look forward with great hope for what is to come. I know God has been guiding me all along and I know that it will be only by His guidance will I be able to fulfill what I am to promise. By taking my final vows, I dedicate myself to the themes I mentioned above most intently, and also allow God to work through me more completely and freely to guide me more and more to building up His Kingdom in the world.
Ryan Pietrocarlo, CSC entered formation with the Congregation of Holy Cross through the Old College undergraduate seminary program. He is now preparing to make his Perpetual Profession of Vows in Holy Cross. Ryan will be making his Final Vows with his Old College classmate, Michael Palmer. He is originally from East Rochester, New York.