On June 21, Matthew Gregory, a native of South Portland, will be ordained into the transitional diaconate of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. This is his first official step toward the priesthood.

As a deacon, Gregory will be able to perform the sacrament of baptism, witness marriages, preside at funeral rituals held outside of Mass, proclaim the Gospel and preach homilies.

In a press release issued by the diocese, Gregory said, “It seems like just yesterday I was reaching out to the vocations office for the first time and now I am preparing for ordination to the diaconate. This moment has been a long time coming and I am so grateful to Almighty God for calling me to serve Him and His people.”

Gregory, now 40, comes to the church after first earning a commercial pilot’s license, teaching at various flight schools and also working in aircraft sales. It was 2006 when he returned to Maine and first began thinking about becoming a priest.

In 2010 he entered the seminary and following his ordination as a deacon he will return to Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., for a final year of theological studies and priestly formation.

Dave Guthro, the communications director at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said, “It means a great deal to (the church to) see young men considering the possibility that they might be called to be priests. The church draws its life and strength from the Eucharist (and) priests make that possible.”

Overall, he added, it’s the responsibility of “priests and parishioners alike, to pray and to work for an increase in vocations to priesthood and religious life.”

Guthro said the role of priest is multifaceted and includes being a shepherd, an administrator, counselor, teacher and collaborator. But, he added, “The most vital role of the priesthood is spiritual and sacramental leadership. In his ministry, a priest promotes the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of the people.”

While a deacon is also an ordained minister of the Catholic Church their role is mostly in service, including ministering in different settings, from prisons to hospitals and from homeless shelters to soup kitchens. “Regardless of where a deacon finds himself, it is there that he serves,” Guthro said.

This week Gregory spoke with the Current about his call to the priesthood and what that means.

Q: How and when did you hear God’s call to the priesthood?

A: I had actually been away from the Church for about two years and had put God on the backburner. I was caught up in the things of the world and eventually I began to recognize that something was missing in my life. On Nov. 2, 2007, I realized that something was actually a somebody – Jesus Christ.

I did the first thing that came to my mind and that was to turn to Our Lady and ask her to lead me back to God and back into the Church. She did that and so much more. That evening I remember picking up my rosary beads, which were a Confirmation gift from my parents that had been gathering dust on the bookshelf for years, and for the first time in a long time I began to pray. I was immediately enveloped in a motherly embrace and it changed my life.

A few days later when I went to Sunday Mass at Holy Cross Church something was different. I found myself drawn to the priest and from that point on I felt God’s call to the priesthood. All of a sudden people were approaching me after Mass and asking, “Have you ever thought of being a priest?” In 32 years nobody had ever asked me that question. However, it was the interior call I heard in my heart that was the most powerful. There was no mistaking that God was calling me to discern His call for me to the priesthood.

Q: Did your decision to attend seminary surprise your family and friends?

A: When I told my friends I was going to enter the seminary, they were definitely surprised. They knew I had a strong faith and devotion to Jesus Christ and the church, but they were not expecting me to enter the seminary.

My family was also surprised in a certain sense, because it’s not every day that your son comes home and says: “I think God is calling me to be a priest.” Unbeknownst to me, I learned that years earlier they had actually talked about me one day becoming a priest. It just goes to show that others can see things in you, before you can see them yourself.

Q: What do people say when you tell them you are going to be a priest?

A: The support has been overwhelmingly positive. I am blessed to have the full support of my family and so many friends. Even when sharing with complete strangers that I am becoming a priest, the response is so often the same. They respond with sincere gratitude and it’s not uncommon to hear people say how wonderful it is and how we need priests, even from non-Catholics. I think people, whether religious or not, understand that priests have a vital role to play in society and that they do a great amount of good.

Q: How would you describe your relationship with God?

A: Over the past eight years I have come to know and have fallen madly in love with God, who Himself loved me into existence. My relationship with God is one that is constantly growing. He is continually inviting me into a deeper relationship and so each day I am called to respond to His invitation.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t eagerly and happily accept His offer. I can’t imagine going through life, for even a single second, without Him. He is my everything and I desire nothing greater than to be with Him forever in paradise.

The best way I can describe my relationship with God is that it is one of total love and self-giving. As Christ gave Himself for all, so I freely and joyfully give my life for Him and His church.

Q: What are your feelings about the future of the Catholic Church?

A: I am excited about the future of the Catholic Church. In our nearly 2,000-year history the Catholic Church has gone through many ups and downs.

I think right now we are going through a period of rebuilding and strengthening the foundation of the church. As Catholics, we are so blessed to gather at the Lord’s Table and give glory and honor to God and to receive the Holy Eucharist. It is the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. And, it is in the Eucharist that we receive the strength to go out into the world and live out the Gospel message. Pope Francis is leading the way by example and showing all Christians what Jesus Christ has called all the faithful to, which is a life of selfless love and service to our brothers and sisters, especially those in most need.

When you look at the world we live in, whether here at home or abroad, there is so much unrest. People are desperately looking for peace, happiness, joy and love. Whether they realize it or not, I believe they are actually looking for God, but they are knocking at the wrong door. So, it’s a wonderful time to be a priest in the Catholic Church, to be a shepherd, who with all the Christian faithful, is called to help others to encounter the love and mercy of God in a hurting and wounded world.

Q: What are your goals after seminary?

A: Upon ordination to the priesthood, God willing, in 2016, I will be assigned to a parish in the Diocese of Portland.

When I began discerning my call to the priesthood, I looked into various religious orders. Ultimately I felt God was calling me to serve as a parish priest in Maine and so I applied to and was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Portland.

What appeals to me about the diocesan priesthood is that there are a variety of ways in which the priest is called to serve the people each and every day. From the daily celebration of Mass to hearing confessions, from visiting the sick and homebound to having dinner with parishioners, from baptizing a newborn baby and rejoicing with the family to being by the side of a dying person as they breathe their last, the life of a diocesan priest is one in which you share in some of the most intimate moments in a person’s life.

Being a priest is an awesome responsibility, while at the same time it’s also a beautiful gift, so no matter where or in what role the bishop asks me to serve after my ordination I will happily accept, because I will be doing the work that Jesus Christ has called me to do.

Q: What have you learned about yourself during this whole process?

A: If you asked me eight years ago to stand up in front of a couple hundred people and speak, or to walk into the hospital room of a terminally ill patient, I would have been terrified and could not have done it.

Now, however, though I may still get a little nervous from time to time, it doesn’t hold me back. It doesn’t keep me from stepping into the unknown and allowing myself to be vulnerable. I have learned that if you place your trust in God, with Him you can do anything.

My time in the seminary has been a true blessing. As I look back over my four years of formation, it’s amazing, and at the same time humbling, to see the work that God has done and continues to do within me. Arriving at this point in my journey to the priesthood has not been easy, but it has certainly been worth it.

The various obstacles along the way have been blessings in disguise. It has been through the struggles that my faith has grown, my love for God has deepened and I have come to realize just how great God’s love is for me and for all of His children. But the greatest lesson I have learned is that true joy and lasting happiness is found in God alone.

Matthew Gregory, a South Portland native, will take the first step toward becoming a priest during an upcoming ceremony at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Courtesy photo

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