Deacon Russell Ward, LC, will be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday June 12, 2021 at 10:30am EDT at St. Mary Cathedral in Lansing, Michigan. You can join him via livestream on the Diocese of Lansing Outreach Mass’s YouTube Channel. He shares his vocation testimony below.
There have been a few times in my life where things begin to happen that are completely outside of my plans or control, that I am hurried along to a specific destination as if led by an overpowering force. These moments are shocking, scary, but tremendously beautiful. These are the moments of God’s overwhelming grace and the motion of the Holy Spirit—I am always left free to respond, and when I say yes, amazing things happen. Two of these grace-powered moments happened when I was fourteen years old.
The first time I was in Cheshire, CT, and at the novitiate of the Legionaries for the weekend when the brothers make their first profession of vows. I was only there because my mom had pretty much forced me to go—I was not too excited, to say the least. Yet, as I was there, I had an irresistible urge to visit Our Lord in the chapel alone. And there I found myself in a small chapel before Our Lord, before the large, vivid crucifix. One glace at that crucifix and I felt so deeply loved and called to correspond to that love—the only way that came into my mind to do that was to be a Legionary priest. On leaving the chapel, I felt such deep peace. I was sure that grace had moved me to go to the chapel and that Our Lord had made his voice heard in my heart.
Of course, when I got home and back into my fourteen-year-old rhythm, that voice was gradually drowned out. Then came the second moment. Again, urged by my mom, I had to choose a summer retreat with the Legionaries. For various reasons, I had avoided them one after another until the only retreat left on the calendar was the summer program at the Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in New Hampshire. Instead of a week camp, I reluctantly headed off to a month-long summer course. Yet, after only a few days there that insistent, peace-giving voice emerged from the depths of my heart. I just knew that this school was the place where I was going to be happy and blessed, able to live my faith to the full. However, when I told my parents that I wanted to stay for the school year, they were shocked. My dad especially resisted. I felt helpless when he came drove the fourteen hours from my home in Michigan to New Hampshire to pick me up. There aren’t many times that my dad told me no and ended up changing his mind, but this summer of grace when I joined Immaculate Conception was one of those moments.
This was the start of a long journey of intentionally trying to open my heart to God’s overwhelming grace, to be led by him wherever he would take me. And what an adventure it has been! I am amazed looking back how Our Lord has gradually dilated my heart, revealing more every day what he is calling me to as a Legionary priest. Put simply, I have found that God fills us with deep desires in our hearts and, if we let him lead us, he will undoubtedly begin to fulfill all of these desires in unexpected ways. Looking back at that moment of grace in the chapel when I first felt God’s call that desire in my heart was to correspond to his love by sharing that love with others, a love that expressed itself through the cross and the Eucharist. Throughout the years, the image of the Sacred Heart encapsulated this desire; I longed to have not only a heart like Christ’s but to have his very own Heart within me so that in my priesthood, others can have a real encounter with the Lord and discover his love for them.
There are countless ways in which Our Lord has begun to make this a reality in my life, and I am sure that through my priestly ministry this will only continue in an even more incredible way. Currently, I am pursuing studies in moral theology in order to hopefully be able to teach in the future. I have found that this is a specific way to exercise my priesthood in accord with my talents and desire to communicate to others the passion for Our Lord within my heart. This is the deep desire which gives meaning and purpose to long days of study, and without this underlying motivation, so much of what I am doing would be impossible for me. In the past year, I have had the incredible opportunity to study at Notre Dame where I feel that the incredible talent of those around me brings out the best in me. My hope is that after I finish here, I will be able to support the efforts of the academic institutions of Regnum Christi in their mission to make Christ reign in the hearts of all people in society.