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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Seminarian Juan Vargas

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism

Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.

Seminarian Juan: My early Catholic formation was primarily from my parents, mostly my mother and the community at St. Pius V Parish. My parents, immigrants from Mexico, found a comfortable community at the parish. My mom was part of the choir and later on she was a catechist. This community was a big part of my Catholic formation.

Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school years in formation.

Seminarian Juan: During my high school time at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, I didn’t identify it as formation, but now that I am older and have been in the seminary for three years, I’m able to see my high school experience as formation. The experience gave me a firm foundation especially in my relationships with God and with others. Cristo Rey provided me a very “at-home” community rooted in service. There was some direct Catholic formation, but overall, it was more relational formation – learning how teachers related to the students and learning how students, including myself, relate to one another.

Dr. Knight: You went to college and discerned to the Seminary. How did you make that decision?

Seminarian Juan: Once my time at Cristo Rey came to an end, I continued my education at Xavier University, continuing the Jesuit education that emphasized “being a man for others.” This emphasis is well-rooted in my heart and being, since I can go back and say I am a product of that service for others. At Xavier University, my seminary discernment process was not yet fully present.

I left to Cincinnati to get away from Chicago. I was constantly involved at St Pius V. as a peer outreach worker, teaching confirmation, and giving pre-baptismal talks. I would always be at church and so I decided to go away to ensure that the call to the priesthood was not only there because of how comfortable I was being at church. During my time at Xavier University, I began taking matters into my own hands. I was still volunteering and doing service, but these weren’t rooted in faith. I stepped away from the Church and took my call to serve as serving in my own way rather than inviting God into what I was doing.

During my first two years there, I was homesick. My transition was hard, but I made it harder on myself by stepping away from my faith. As I look back on it, I realized that the homesickness I felt was more homesickness for the House of the Lord.

During my junior year, my eyes were opened a little bit more and I decided to get reconnected with my faith. Here is where I decided that my major should be social work. I felt that God was calling me to serve, but I still wanted to serve under my own standards and so I decided to do a year of volunteer work through the Sisters of Mercy at a vocation school and an orphanage in Guyana in South America.

After that year I decided to continue serving this marginalized community and so I started working in Chicago as a Case Manager for Children in the Foster System at an agency called Child Link Inc. During my time at Child Link is where I, for the first time, decided to deepen my prayer life to see how God wanted me to serve and not just serve because I felt it was right.

I realized that my time volunteering at Immaculate Conception in the confirmation program was life giving for me. Similarly, it was life giving to be able to dedicate my all to my job as a case worker. My prayer at the time was very much intercessory prayer for those I served, but I started to pray for myself to be able to hear how God wanted me serve.

Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be a Seminarian. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of Christ?

Seminarian Juan: To be called a follower of Christ has been rewarding. I’ve experienced graces the moment I took the time to listen to the call and then answered the call. To finally serve as a response to the call has made my ability to serve so much easier. Before I was serving under my own standards, but now I align what I want to do with what God wants me to do.

Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally as a seminarian?

Seminarian Juan: My discernment has solidified my response to priesthood as a seminarian. To be able to put together both what I wanted with what God was calling me to do has filled me with peace and a sense of freedom. This discernment has been key to just be at peace with all that I do and that is what reminds me that no matter how stressful, tired, or excited I am, I am doing Gods will.

Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts and talents?

Seminarian Juan: I very much do think that my life is a mosaic of different gifts and talents, but a mosaic that has my own pieces of gifts and talents, and God’s pieces and also other people and their pieces in there as well. During my time in formation at the seminary I have been able to see what pieces are not to be used. I have been able to identify my weaknesses and my limitations to see where I would need help to complete the mosaic.

Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being a follower of Christ? About living a life surrounded by people who are in need of God’s graces?

Seminarian Juan: The moment that I started following Christ my desire to serve escalated. The tools to serve with grace have been given to me and so it has been easier with Jesus walking with me. He works through me. I am able to see more of where God’s grace is needed, but I am also comforted to know that I can only do so much and the rest will be taken care of by God.

Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church?

Seminarian Juan: Some of the challenges is the lack of relationship, or just superficial relationships. I have realized that we struggle to have grace-filled relationships with one another, which can also be a reflection of our relationship with God and so as a Church there seems to be a disconnect, and communities get lost in having a more transactional style of faith.

Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a follower of Christ?

Seminarian Juan: I have been blessed to get to know myself better. I have been blessed to already see some of the fruits of my labor which is something that we will rarely get to see. Overall, what brings me the most joy is knowing that I am doing God’s will. The moment I share what I have received with others is when my heart is filled with joy. It gives me peace that reminds me that I am going down the right path.

Dr. Knight: What is the importance of prayer in your everyday life? some of the duties that you perform/pray each day?

Seminarian Juan: Prayer is essential and it has been a gift to experience prayer in many different ways. There are moments where my prayer is a private hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament and other times my prayer is serving the less fortunate at a soup kitchen. Other days it is listening to a seminarian brother and walking with him during formation. Prayer is important because it is rooted in the Lord. It is a personal relationship that helps me realize that God talks to me in a way that I understand.

Dr. Knight: Thank you so much for offering us this interview and letting us see all the good works that the seminarians do for us all.

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