by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Would you please tell our readers your call to be a priest and specifically a friar priest?
Father Dimitri Sala: I have felt a calling to the priesthood since I was a boy. But like all “What do you want to be when you grow up?” dreams, the calling matured as I got older. At Quigley South, I had some tremendous mentors who demonstrated that priests can help people, and make a difference in the world.
In the final months of high school and then in college, I was introduced to a personal relationship with Jesus. I had a crisis in my life near the end of college, which resulted in me leaving the seminary and devoting myself to the sole goal of seeking the Lord. That’s is when I connected with Francis of Assisi. He was a young man who was disillusioned, and it drove him to the same search.
After a while, I came to a surrender in which I decided that the purpose of my life would be to serve Jesus like the first disciples did. I had an inspirational companion in Francis and became a friar for that purpose. During my first year of friar life, I had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit that left me forever changed. It ultimately led me to the moment in which I repented of my Sin once and for all and trusted Jesus to be my Savior.
As a friar priest, I knew that I was to be an evangelist like Francis — sharing that good news of salvation and leading people to know him, including those who were already in church but have not had that personal conversion (as talked about in Evangelii Nuntiandi 52). Reintegrating the original vocation to the priesthood now meant a calling to sacramentalize what happens through the preaching of the Word, and to apostolically father the Church by calling individual members and groups into, and equipping them for, their destiny as sharers of the Good News.
Dr. Knight: The social media of this day and age has provided some wonderful aspects of communication as well as drawbacks. How can we use social media to assist others in knowing/loving/serving God?
Father Dimitri Sala: Social media is the contemporary public platform of communication, the crossroads of ideas, and influence. It’s where people meet. What we used to communicate by “preaching” and teaching — viz. information about who God is, what His plan for our lives is, and how we enter into His plan — we can now relay on the internet, in printed word and by other creative means of communication. Social media in particular is relational. It can be a place to share one’s own personal experience of the Lord and even engage with others about their reactions, responses, and questions. The higher level of anonymity poses less of a risk for potential recipients who want to engage.
Ultimately the Church of Christ is not a virtual community. Real relationships that come from real shared interpersonal experiences are the ticket in the Kingdom of God. But as an evangelist, I see social media as a great “starter” because it is de facto where people go to seek out more in life.
Dr. Knight: I am a consecrated hermit and spend a great deal of time in prayer, you do also. Can you explain what that means to you?
Father Dimitri Sala: I immediately think of a book title I once saw, Too Busy Not to Pray. I simply have nothing to offer if I don’t spend time with the Lord and in His Word. For mendicants, preaching (or ministry for that matter) is “sharing the fruits of contemplation”. It’s the Father who does the work, not we (Jn. 14:10), so I need to stay in union with Him to have any fruit produced. How else but by serious and consistent times of prayer?
But spending a great deal of time in prayer has even deeper reasons and meaning. We are made through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16). My identity is in Him. Balance is certainly essential, but the less time I spend with Him, the less I will be connected to the source of who I really am. What’s more, when a person has entered into the first and fundamental conversion (Catechism 1427), the old self is dead and gone. “You are no longer in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:9). I need lots of time to accustomize myself to this identity which I’m not used to. Only the Lord can do that, and He meets me in prayer.
Finally, worship. We don’t hear a lot of talk today about worship. I don’t mean liturgy; I mean personal heartfelt worship of our Father. If I did nothing more but express my admiration, wonder, awe, love, and thanksgiving to Him, it would have been time well spent. He deserves it.
Dr. Knight: What part of your past ministry has been meaningful to you?
Father Dimitri Sala: It has all been meaningful. I have learned to find meaning in all of the ministry, and all of life. That doesn’t mean it always feels good. But it’s all about Him, not me; and as I enter into that truth, sometimes at a price, I find great meaning.
Dr. Knight: What are your hopes for the future of the Church in light of the abuse scandal? The virus?
Father Dimitri Sala: The abuse scandal is a very complex reality, with roots that go deep into at least a millennium of history. What I hope is that God gets what He wants out of it: certainly the healing of horrible, horrible wounds; but also Church systems that proactively discover and own what produces this type of nightmare. Right now I think high levels of leadership are generally still too busy managing the consequences so as to have the least amount of damage control, rather than humbling ourselves to face the root issues head-on. Unless and until that is done, we can expect more of what we’ve been seeing — a withering away of the Church.
The virus is another confrontation with limits. It has brought the whole world to a rude awakening that we are not in control. That’s an especially hard pill for Westerners to swallow; we think that we just have to find the right equation of human knowledge or science and everything will eventually return to “normal”. We are missing the vital life-lesson, even in the Church. This is a moment when we need to seek the Lord like never before, humble ourselves and acknowledge that “salvation” is not just a religious word we use in church, but a reality that is a key component of human life — viz. that we don’t just need God’s help every once in a while; we have a radical need for God, even where we thought we were doing just fine. I hope we can use this opportunity because, even if we survive this, we won’t get into eternity without being “saved”. The good news is that, on whatever level, God won’t fail those who honestly acknowledge their need for a savior.
Dr. Knight: As a friar what was a ministry that you loved to work on?
Father Dimitri Sala: What has brought me the most joy is evangelizing — sharing that basic Message of Salvation (what Evangelii Nuntiandi 52 calls “the first proclamation”), and then facilitating people understanding and personally responding to it — the “first and fundamental conversion” (Catechism 1427). There’s nothing like witnessing the real change of life that occurs when people enter that reality. Along with that, I have loved raising up lay ministries which do this exact same work of evangelizing.
Dr. Knight: What recent movie was one you enjoyed?
Father Dimitri Sala: I devour movies, especially ones grounded in history. One of the ones I have recently enjoyed is “Darkest Hour”, based on Winston Churchill’s role in the UK’s participation in World War II. I was absolutely glued to the screen.
Dr. Knight: Thank you for assisting us at Profiles in Catholicism to bring good news about the lives of our priests to others.