This past year I was blessed to be a student of ESM (Emmanuel School of Mission) in Rome, Italy. What an incredible year it was, Praise be to God! I learned so much in so many unexpected ways. Here, I’d like to relate my calling to ESM, what the experience was like, and some of the many graces I received, which are still unfolding in my life.
During college, I felt a growing desire to share my faith in God through my ordinary, day-to-day contacts with others. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I wanted deep down inside was to evangelize. But I honestly felt like I didn’t know how to speak to others about my faith, about the truth of God’s love for them. Of course, evangelization needn’t be spoken, but that was where God was calling me to grow. After I graduated from Baylor University, I heard about ESM from a friend of my mom’s at my home parish. As I read about it on www.esm-rome.com, I felt drawn to apply because of its mission statement: “to form young men & women into missionaries in their daily lives.” That was exactly what I wanted! I was ready to give a year to the Lord.
A summary of life at ESM:
Spiritual Formation: morning praise, daily Mass, daily holy hour
Academics: weekly classes in theology, Sacraments, Scripture, Italian, etc
Mission: weekly compassion service for the homeless, weekly street evangelization on St. Peter’s Square
Community Life: learning to love those who annoy me the most! It’s a great way to grow in holiness.
My biggest motivation for going to ESM was the desire to grow in confidence to evangelize. I wanted so much to be able to walk right up to a complete stranger and enter into a deep conversation about the things that really matter in life, things like belief in God, God’s love for every person, what is the purpose of life, what happens after death, does religion really matter, etc. During the year, God helped me—through my brothers & sisters, teachings, homilies, Sacred Scripture, and the Eucharist—to learn to depend on Him, on His Real Presence, on the guidance of the Holy Spirit instead of on my own weakness. And God taught me that no one is a complete stranger because we are all part of the human family, with God as Father of all.
Here are a few more highlights from my ESM year:
- Receiving the ‘Letter to the Youth of the World’ from the hand of then-Pope Benedict XVI at the Opening Mass for the Year of Faith—a moment I’ll never forget!
- Camping out under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square to attend the Canonization Mass for 7 new saints;
- Receiving the ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing from Pope Benedict on Christmas Day and from Pope Francis on Easter Sunday;
- Seeing the white smoke puff out of the Sistine Chapel and hearing the announcement “Habemus Papam!”
- Spending 1 week in silence on retreat with God;
- Going on our 3 mission trips: Belgium, Lithuania, and Rome.
- Realizing the necessity of and receiving the confidence to evangelize;
- Learning to sew and iron;
- Appreciating the role that community plays in my life of faith through household;
- Discovering the joy of praise!
- Coming to know the value of personal testimony in giving witness to Christ;
- Praying to be renewed in the life of the Holy Spirit daily.
One of the biggest surprise graces I received this year was the gift of brothers and sisters from around the world. When I went to Rome, I knew that I’d be going to classes with other young adult Catholics, but it never occurred to me that we would become such close friends. I miss them all so much now, but that’s because I love them. God called us to Rome to be together for a time, and then He called us back to our homes to share the treasure we have: His love.
Finally, I learned that God is never exhausted in giving me His Holy Spirit; that He wants to continually fill me with His Spirit; that each day, when, by His grace and the practice of virtue, I grow in my capacity to love, He can fill me to the brim with love…all I need to do is ask.
“For it is not by measure that He gives the Spirit.” -John 3:34
Robert Prybyla, 24
Round Rock, TX