Priestly Ordination is first for the Diocese of Gallup in 7 Years
Filming by David Stacy
The pews were packed at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Saturday, June 28, when Deacon Nathanael Block was ordained to the priesthood – the first priestly ordination for the Diocese of Gallup in seven years.
During the homily, Bishop James Wall noted that this ordination was the result of many years of prayer and dedication.
“Today is truly a blessing for the Catholic Church, and in particular, this local Church – the Diocese of Gallup. We are grateful to the Lord, as he has called Deacon Nathanael Block to the order of priests. This call from the Lord, and the ‘yes’ in response on the part of Deacon Block, is an answer to many prayers.”
For Block, the ordination was the fulfillment of many years of hope and struggle.
“I entered the seminary for the first time when I was 18 years old – I’m now 28, and this is my fourth Diocese. And so it was through a process of God letting me be in some Dioceses for a short period of time and being let go, or being refused at the beginning right away, before coming here and being accepted at this Diocese. The struggle was more of trying to discern despite the strange pathway and the roundabout way [of coming] to the priesthood: ‘Where is God calling me, and is it here to the priesthood?’”
Fr. Block’s family is from New Mexico, and when his older sister entered the Dominicans of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, he began to discern his own vocation. It took many years before he realized that he was called to serve in the Diocese of Gallup, when his sister, now assigned to the Diocese of Phoenix, introduced Nathanael to Bishop Wall.
Fr. Matthew Keller, the vocations director for the Diocese of Gallup, recalls meeting Nathanael soon after.
“I met him through Bishop Wall, who knew his sister. She said that he had been in seminary but was out and was still discerning, and Bishop wall asked me to get to know him to see if he was a good fit for the Diocese, and if I thought he was a good candidate for the priesthood.”
After Nathanael spent some time living in the Diocese and assisting at parishes, he was accepted as a Diocesan candidate and finished his schooling at Holy Apostles Seminary in Connecticut.
God’s utter goodness is what what keeps coming back to me.
Fr. Keller noted that in his own journey to the priesthood, the sacrifice of the Mass in particular became a completely new experience.
“For me, it was the first time in my life feeling satiated in the spiritual life. When you start saying Mass, you feel satiated. I now understand that was a desire in me to get closer to and participate in the life of the Lord in some way that I felt like I was missing, and I think that was my call to the priesthood.”
Fr. Block echoed a similar feeling the night before his ordination.
“God’s utter goodness is what what keeps coming back to me. I mean, this is something so astonishing, that I’m going to stand before the altar and offer Mass, offer worship of God – His divine sacrifice. I’m going to be able to be in the confessional and in His name forgive sins, and when I pronounce those words of absolution, sins will be wiped away, miracles of grace will be performed. Not because of my worthiness but because of His mercy, which has chosen me to be His hands, His feet, in this life. And that’s just so beautiful. There’s nothing like it, in all of the suffering and the pain that the last eight years have been, both good and bad. One Mass – that’s all worth it, and I’d go through 10,000 times as much, just to say Mass.”
Following Fr. Block’s ordination this summer, two more seminarians – Joshua Mayer and David Tate – are looking forward to their own priestly ordinations in 2015. Fr. Keller said he feels as though the people of the Diocese are “reaping the harvest” at last.
“It makes you happy to be part of what is clearly, God’s plan for someone. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes, a lot of people that help behind the scenes. It takes a lot of people to form a priest, and a lot of time, and a lot of resources. And also, tons of effort on the part of the seminarian. But, on the other hand [the seminarian] comes out on the other side having been formed in the spiritual, human, intellectual, and pastoral aspects of Christian life.”
He compared the priesthood, in one respect, to the sacrament of Confirmation.
“You’re expected to not stop right there – to continue study and to be formed throughout the rest of your priesthood. You get the sacrament of Holy Orders, which opens the door to priestly ministry. But it’s like when you get confirmed – by no means are you done being a Christian. It’s the opening of being fully initiated in the Christian life, kind of a beginning. And the priesthood is like that, too. There’s a great mystery in it because you get to share in the priesthood of Christ, and there’s a lot of spiritual growth and spiritual battles, but also a lot of rewards as well.”
Fr. Block expressed a similar sentiment. Even though his seminary studies are through, he still has the rest of his life to fulfill his vocation.
“The question can never be: ‘Am I worthy?’ because the answer is always going to be ‘no’. We’re never going to be worthy, be able to perfectly fulfill Christ’s role. The question has to be ‘Am I called? Is this what God is asking me to do? Am I willing, because of that call, to strive for holiness, to strive to always go forward in that calling?’ That’s the question, and I think God answered in the affirmative in my case.”
For Fr. Nathanael Block, his true calling – his life’s work – is only just beginning.
“The Catholic priesthood is great for two reasons – the glorification of God, and the sanctification of his people. And both occur especially in the sacraments, the making of God’s people holy. So the best I can, I’ll be living it out the rest of my life.”
What Does it Mean to be a Priest? (Video Interview with Fr. Block – transcript below)
NB: I’m Deacon Nathanael Block. In 24 hours, I’ll be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Gallup, NM.
And what is a priest?
NB: A priest is somebody who offers sacrifice to God. In the case of the Catholic priesthood, it’s the holy sacrifice of the Mass. So there’s no sacrifice without a priest, no priest without a sacrifice. So the Catholic priesthood is great for two reasons – the glorification of God, and the sanctification of His people. And both occur especially in the sacraments – the making of God’s people holy. So the best I can, I’ll be living it out the rest of my life.
What lead you to decide that you wanted to become a priest?
NB: Well, when I was about 13 years old, my older sister entered the convent. She became a Dominican – the teaching order – up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And seeing her utter happiness, her joy, her gift of herself to God, set the spark in me as well, and so I began to think about it and pray about it. And I asked her, “How do you discern? What do you do to figure out where you’re called?” And she gave me some really good advice – probably the best I’ve heard. She said to me, “Nathanael, you’re trying to follow God, you’re trying to follow Christ. Ask Him.”
And so I would go and spend time in church, in front of the Eucharist – the Blessed Sacrament. And I would ask Him, “where am I called? Do you want me to be a priest?” If I couldn’t go to the church I would just do it in my own room, during the day and I would ask our Lord, “what do you want me to do? What do you want me to be?” And after about 3 or 4 years of praying, it was very clear to me that God was calling me indeed to be a priest. And I’ve been following that path ever since.
Was there anything that competed with your vocation for the priesthood?
NB: In my case, not so much a competition, but the struggle that came about was the pathway to come here. I entered the seminary for the first time when I was 18 years old – I’m now 28, and this is my fourth Diocese. And so it was through a process of God letting me be in some Dioceses for a short period of time and being let go, or being refused at the beginning right away, before coming here and being accepted at this Diocese. The struggle was more of trying to discern despite the strange pathway and the roundabout way to come to the priesthood: “Where is God calling me, and is it here to the priesthood?” That is the personal struggle of worthiness. You know, we think “I’m standing in the place of Christ, where Christ stood, and saying the words of Christ, being his representative.” And the question can never be “am I worthy?” because the answer’s always going to be “no”. We’re never going to be worthy, be able to perfectly fill Christ’s role. But that’s the wrong question. The question always has to be “am I called? Is this what God is asking me to do? Am I willing, because of that call, to strive for holiness, to strive to always go forward in that calling?” That’s the question, and I think God answered in the affirmative in my case.
Looking at the past Dioceses, do you see God’s hand in this Diocese that accepted you – is there something special here that you think you’re especially suited for?
NB: Well, I don’t think it’s necessarily me being suited or unsuited for elsewhere, but it’s a question of God’s divine will. As a short example of that: when I was 18 and began to discern, I was convinced I was being called to New Mexico. It’s where my family’s from, it’s where I heard the calling for the first time. But immediately that door was closed to me, and so I thought, “Well, I misheard the call.” I was accepted out to the Midwest and spent 6 years out there. And so I thought, “Well, I misheard that.” But then, in 2009, I began having troubles up there – things happened where, that door ended up being closed up there. And looking back now I can see that was the same year Bishop Wall became a Bishop here. The same year I began having trouble was the same year Bishop Wall was installed. And now I can look back and say that my original calling – my original feeling, that interior thought that I was called to being a priest here in New Mexico – is fulfilled. After having the formation out there, I went back to where I first thought, I first heard the calling, out in this part of the world.
So what are your thoughts about the last day as a Deacon before you will be ordained as a priest?
NB: It’s a bit unreal, it really is. There is…God’s utter goodness, is what keeps coming back to me. I mean, this is something so astonishing, that I’m going to stand before the altar and offer Mass, offer worship of God, His divine sacrifice. I’m going to be able to be in the confessional and in His name forgive the sins, and when I pronounce those words of absolution, sins will be wiped away, souls will be – miracles of grace will be performed, not because of my worthiness but because of His mercy, which has chosen me to be His instrument, His hands, His feet, in this life. And that’s just so beautiful. There’s nothing like it, in all of the suffering and pain that the last 8 years have been, both the good and the bad. One Mass – that’s all worth it, it’s all worth it, and I’d go through 10,000 times as much, just to say Mass.
You said suffering and pain, so the path to get here wasn’t simple and easy – it required struggle.
NB: Some of those rejections really set me back, and there was a period of about an year and a half where I was not sure I was called to the priesthood. I was always open, always trying to figure out where I was called. But it was never clear to me, for that period of time, if that was the case. Because I knew I wanted to be a priest – that was always easy to know. It was a question of “Am I just being stubborn, and there’s no desire – refusing to listen to God? Is the fact that I’ve been turned away from a Diocese proof that I’m not called to the priesthood?” And that was very painful for me, just having the – I’d been there for most of my adult life, my whole life was wrapped up in that. Everything I’d done since high school had pointed toward that. And so it was a question of trying to both continue forward doing God’s will and yet being willing to say “Lord, am I called here? Whatever you will of me, I will do.”
Can you offer something as far as advice for those who are considering the priesthood but they’re not certain within themselves if that’s what they should be or if that’s what God is calling them…?
NB: I would give two pieces of advice. I would say one is: pray, and listen. And so that’s the first one is to spend time with our Lord and talk to Him, because he’s the one who will tell you where you’re called to be. The second piece of advice, something I learned later on: St. Alphonsus Liguori, the doctor of the Church, said there are three signs of the Catholic priesthood. And the first sign is you’re trying to avoid all serious sin – you’re doing your best to avoid serious sin. The second sign of the priesthood, you know, the vocation, is that you’re striving to follow God, you’re striving to grow in virtue. The third sign is the inward desire to become a priest. Those three signs, Liguori said, are enough to pursue it. If you have those three signs, talk to your priest, and let him help you discern and follow God’s will in your life.
When you become ordained, will you have, or do you have a sense that you will be born again and be a completely new person?
NB: Well yes and no. I still unfortunately have a lot of my own personal, my own personality traits, good and bad. In many ways, I’ll still be the same goofy Nathanael Block I always was. But I’ll be that goofy Nathanael Block as a priest. In another sense, yes. There’s a whole new configuration of Christ, a whole new union with Christ, not because of me but because of Him. As He says in the Gospels, “you have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” And so that’s where the configuration or rebirth comes about is His Grace – His gift to me. He’ll choose me to be His hands, choose me to do what He’s done. And that’s just beautiful, it’s wonderful – nothing better.
Well Deacon, I want to thank you very very much for your part, for your perseverance, and for your vocation to become a priest.
NB: Thank you. God Bless – say a prayer for me.