I no longer had anything, except great joy and peace!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Vocation Testimony by Fr. Jason Jalbert


Fr. Jason Jalbert, was born in Berlin, NH, on the 9th of May 1971 as the first born of two children. After a short career in the funeral industry as a licensed funeral director, he discovered that he may have a vocation to the priesthood and began to discern it at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, MA. He received his degree in philosophy and theology at St. John's and was ordained a priest for the diocese of Manchester, NH at St. Joseph's Cathedral on June 7, 2003. Fr. Jason is currently the parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Rochester, NH and St. Leo the Great Parish in Gonic, NH. He also works with the youth at St. Elizabeth Seton School and has recently begun his own weekly radio program called "Rise-Up, It's Sunday Morning."

The Priesthood was definitely the last thing I would have ever thought of, but now I thank God that I eventually heard His call to an awesome way of life!

I praise the Lord every day for my priesthood which began a little late, during my 32nd year of life. How I wish I had discovered my vocation much sooner but there were certainly reasons why I hadn't. This is our story, (the Lord's and mine) which can be used to show other men that Our Lord can work in amazing ways to make the call to priesthood known.

I grew up in pretty tight-knit family, situated in a pretty tight-knit neighborhood. All the people in our neighborhood knew each other, just about all of my friends' parents grew up and went to school with my parents. Generations of French Catholics, as we were called, lived and worked near the parish church of Guardian Angel, it stood in the center of our part of the city. Although most of my friends attended weekend Masses with their parents, our family didn't go to Mass very regularly. For some reason it never took root in our family. Instead of going to Mass we spent most of our summer weekends at the beach and winter weekends on the ski slopes.

Although we didn't go to Mass as a family, there was one thing I knew that I wanted to do-it was to become an altar server. One day after religion classes, I remember seeing the priest, and along with my friends, asked when we could begin serving Mass, he told us that we could after our First Communion. I was so excited since First Communion was only a couple of months away. Not long after that event I joined the other boys from my First Communion class and began to train for my new role in the Mass. I was so proud to receive the black cassock and white surplus; I took it home and put it on immediately. My mom took a picture of me that day as I posed as a priest want-to-be. Unfortunately, my career as a server was short lived, after missing three masses I was asked to no longer continue serving. I guess priesthood wasn't in the plan, yet.

As I began high school my relationship with the Church grew very distant. Only a few of my new friends went to church and for those who did go, they attended nondenominational Christian churches. One particular friend of mine had a very devout Christian mother and father. They would pray before meals and would openly talk about Jesus and would also quote the Bible. I looked forward to their invitations to attend their Sunday services, at the same time I sensed that something was missing with the way they worshipped. Experiences in their home and other influences made me think about my own faith, about what I believed.

During my junior year of high school I decided that I was going to rediscover my Catholic Faith on my own. I thought the best way to do this was to begin attending Sunday Mass, which is what I did, but in another parish. I was uncomfortable going back to my home parish, so I attended a neighboring church. I felt like an observer at first but with time the Mass came to life. The best way I can describe the way I felt at the time was to say that I was falling in love with the Mass. Through the grace of God, this continued through my last year of high school.

At this point of my life all I wanted was to be happy, which I believed could only happen with having a good job, lots of money, marriage and children. Certainly anyone with any and all of these things would be happy, so I began to pursue these goals. My dream was simply to have a big family with a beautiful home and serve the community in some way. In 1992, after graduating from Mt. Ida College in Newton, MA with a degree in funeral service I returned to my home town to settle in for the long haul. I assumed my duties as a funeral director, working for a local family, where I was treated as their own son. I loved serving the people of my hometown in this capacity; I saw it as my vocation. After a couple of years I truly believed that life was just great, I could afford to do what I wanted, I could afford to buy the things I wanted, and I was building an exclusive relationship with this great girl I knew from high school. What more could I possibly want!

All I could say was that God was blessing my life with so many loving people and so many promising opportunities. I truly recognized Jesus working in my life. He kept drawing me closer to Him. I decided that it was time to return to my home parish and to become an active member. My pastor asked me to be a member of the parish council and to become a Lector. Receiving the Eucharist at daily Mass became the most important event in my day, I felt that this is where my relationship with Christ deepened and became more firm. At the same time a friendship developed with a very dedicated priest who was the pastor of a neighboring parish. I began to see little by little what priesthood was actually like and what a priest actually did with all their time! Although I was learning a lot about the faith and falling in love with Jesus, I still had no evident desire of becoming a priest. All I thought about was how great it would be to someday have a big Catholic family. In retrospect maybe I should have been a lot more specific in my prayers for a big Catholic family.

One day my priest friend asked me if I had ever thought of the priesthood, I immediately said "no way." We never spoke about the priesthood again until Good Friday 1996. After his direct question to me about the priesthood, the idea began to stir in my heart. This really wasn't something I wanted to be thinking about, I had already planned my life and this idea of the priesthood wasn't going to change my plans. As time went on the desire for priesthood grew stronger, but I couldn't understand why. I questioned whether or not God would actually be calling me to become a priest, it sounded absurd to me. I never told a soul about the feelings I had, I just continued living my life praying for strength and knowledge to do the will of God.

Then Holy Week of 1996 my whole life changed, as the idea of priesthood had finally taken hold of my life and now was the time to act. This is what took place, the bishop was going to be visiting our parish Tuesday of Holy Week and my pastor asked if I would read at the Mass. With all of the lectors in the parish he asked me; I was rather honored with the task. That night before Mass began I saw this young man dressed in a cassock walking around the Sanctuary, I had never seen him before. With great curiosity I asked the woman sitting next to me if she knew who he was, she said "yes, that's Fr. Anthony." I really didn't believe that he was a priest but she insisted that he was. She reiterated herself and said "Yes Jason, he's the bishop's master of ceremonies." I was so surprised because I had never seen a really young priest before, I was so impressed. After Mass we gathered in the Church hall, and Fr. Anthony approached me to tell me that he was the vocation director for our diocese and asked me if I had ever thought of the priesthood. My immediate response was "no," but in his gentle manner he gave me his card and invited me to call him if I ever wanted to talk about the priesthood. I thanked him and then I went home dumbfounded. As I lay in bed this encounter kept playing through my mind, and I kept asking God if this was a sign, was I supposed to go through with this.

Finally, on Good Friday, I called on my priest friend and told him what had taken place and that I had been thinking seriously about the priesthood. The next week I met with Fr. Anthony and application to the diocese and to the seminary began. It all happened rather quickly, by September I no longer had a job, I no longer had a girlfriend, I no longer had anything, except great joy and peace that came from leaving all behind to follow Christ.

After seven years of seminary formation, and two years of priesthood, I can say that priesthood is an awesome vocation. I would never have guessed in a million years that celebrating the Sacraments, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, would be such an incredible part of my life. It's my prayer and hope that as I live out the gift of the priesthood with love and zeal, that the Lord will use me to help many young men discover their vocation to the priesthood.

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