Seminarian Matthew Dimian will be ordained a deacon by Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, on Saturday 5 February at Holy Family Church, Sacred Heart Parish, Luddenham-Warragamba.
Matthew spoke to Catholic Outlook about his upcoming ordination and his vocational story.
Catholic Outlook: Why did you decide to become a priest? What called you to the priesthood?
Matthew Dimian: I have wanted to be a priest since I was four or five years old, and that desire was still there by the end of high school. But at that time I was scared and unprepared, so I decided to pursue a couple of secular degrees at university instead. I quickly found that I was restless and unsatisfied there and it became clear to me that I would only be happy if I followed God’s will for my life and not my own plans. But I seriously questioned: how can I really know what God will is for me? When I looked at this desire to be a priest, tugging at my heart, I wondered: Is God speaking to me through this desire, or is it just my own fantasy? Does it come from God or just from me?
I examined my intentions and I found that my motivation to join the priesthood was not personal gain or an escape from something else in life. Rather, my desire flowed out of a love for God, for his Church, and for the Eucharist. I noticed that my longing to be a priest grew and developed the more that I deepened my relationship with God. These were clear signs that God was behind the desire. I spoke with spiritual directors, family and friends, and they confirmed that I was suited to the priesthood and that the calling might be real. So I became convinced that God was calling me there.
The final obstacle was overcoming my fear. I felt totally inadequate. I was not disciplined enough, saintly enough, courageous enough, smart enough, etc. But I heard from many places that God does not call the equipped. Rather, he equips the called. I took solace in the stories of Christ’s disciples, who were clearly not the holiest or the brightest bunch. But if God can make them into apostles, then, by the gift of his grace, he can make me into a priest.
CO: What role does God the Father play in your life?
MD: “We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). My relationship to God the Father hasn’t come about because I chose to invite him into my life. Rather, God has taken the initiative to pursue me, as He has for all humanity through the Incarnation of the Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The relationship is mostly His work: God created us, sustains our existence, and blesses us; He redeems, forgives and fulfils us; and He adopts, sanctifies, and divinises us, and calls us to behold him face-to-face eternally. Our part is to respond to God’s initiative with faith, hope and charity – and even these virtues are not our own; they are a gift from him. My hope is to receive the Father’s unfathomable love and, through the Holy Spirit, to respond to him as Christ did – by giving everything. But I am a sinner, and I constantly fall short of responding to God as he deserves. But to become Christ-like is a process, and I am moved by the Father’s endless mercy and the generosity of his graces which make this happen.
CO: What role does Mother Mary play in your life?
MD: Christ gives us the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother, to be our mother too. She is the greatest of the saints, and yet she loves us with such personal and intimate care. She knows how to draw us nearer to Christ. I want to entrust every single facet of my life to her, from the major issues to the littlest details. It is a work in progress. But as it stands, Our Blessed Mother’s personal presence is a constant source of consolation in my life. She seems able to encourage me when I need it most.
CO: Are there any saints you have a devotion to?
MD: St Thérèse of Lisieux for her humility and trust. St John Paul II for his fatherhood and his personal love. St Anthony of Egypt for his discipline and sacrifice. St Peter for his constant mistakes, his quick repentance, and his courage. St Thomas Aquinas for his love of truth and brilliant insight. St Josemaría Escrivá for his practical wisdom and joy.
CO: How important will the day of your ordination to the diaconate be for you, your family and friends?
MD: It feels a bit like a wedding day (or an engagement), which makes sense to me. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is another sign of Christ’s love for his Church as he raises up labourers to give their lives in her service. I have been getting a lot of love, encouragement and many congratulations from family, friends, and the wider church.
CO: Pope Francis has urged priests to reach out to the poor and those on the margins of our society and church community. How do you envisage doing this in your priestly ministry?
MD: St Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) once said: “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” I can see this sense of loneliness and isolation becoming a growing problem. I feel called to address it just by spending time with people. One person at a time.
CO: Are there any aspects of diaconate life that you are looking forward to?
MD: I am looking forward to breaking open the Scriptures. I love studying the faith, and I can’t wait to pass on what I have been taught. So much of God’s Word is waiting to be unleashed in today’s world.
CO: How has your parish placement been? What has been a highlight of your time?
MD: I have spent the last 18 months at Sacred Heart Parish, Luddenham-Warragamba, and I have absolutely loved it. The community are a highlight. I learnt a lot from their generosity, their hard-working spirit and their hospitality. And Fr Giovani [Presiga Gaviria], the parish priest, was an excellent mentor and model. I will remember our cooking adventures in the kitchen.
CO: Can you describe seminary life?
MD: The days are structured around prayer: morning prayer and Mass in the early morning, Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the evening, and the hours of the Divine Office throughout the day (these centre around praying the psalms). We also have a monthly day of recollection to get away and pray. And an annual, week-long silent retreat.
We immerse ourselves in study during the week, doing courses through the Catholic Institute of Sydney and the University of Notre Dame: philosophy, theology, Trinity, Ecclesiology and Mariology, Scripture, Church history, liturgy and sacraments, moral theology, Christian anthropology, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Canon Law, and many other fun subjects.
We go on various pastoral placements once a week to get experience in ministry: parishes, Scripture teaching in public schools, work in Catholic schools, hospital placements, and various works of charity. Sometimes we have longer placements in parishes to learn how it all runs.
CO: Has there been a highlight of seminary life?
MD: Definitely the brotherhood with other seminarians. Each seminarian is different and brings their own personality and gifts. But I learnt so much from their zeal, their knowledge of theology, scripture and sacred things, their practical wisdom, and their virtues. Over the last eight years in the seminary, I have been greatly blessed by their friendship. It is such a blessing to live with men actively pursuing holiness and giving their lives in service of God.
CO: Have you received any great advice on your vocational journey?
MD: Keep your eyes firmly fixed on Christ. This advice may seem generic, but I found it powerful because it was applicable to so many situations in which I found myself. Feeling weighed down by your own inadequacies? The solution is to focus on Christ, whose power is made perfect in weakness. Discouraged by church politics? Focus on Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and who is in control of it all. Overwhelmed by work? Focus on Christ, who can multiply your small efforts just as he multiplied the loaves and the fish. Is life dreary and dull? Focus on Christ, who came that we might have life and have it to the full.
CO: Who would you like to thank for helping you get to this point?
MD: I am very grateful to my family, my friends, my school, the seminary, the Diocese of Parramatta, the wider church, and all who have been praying for me. In many ways, my vocation is the fruit of their example, their encouragement, their formation, and their prayers.
CO: What message do you have to other young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood?
MD: The Gospel reading on the day of my ordination is providentially a Gospel that I love, and one that is very relevant to vocational discernment. Christ calls Peter to put out into the deep, and Peter hauls a miraculously overwhelming catch of fish. In response to this manifestation of divine power Peter recognises his weakness: “Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” I felt very similarly to Peter when it became clear that God was calling me to the priesthood. I felt (and feel) completely unworthy and incapable. Christ’s answer to Peter is the answer he gave to me, and the answer he gives to each of you: “Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.” Do not be afraid. If Christ calls, he will enable you to fulfill this vocation by a free, undeserving gift of his grace.
CO: Any other thoughts or comments you would like to share with Catholic Outlook readers?
MD: Please continue to keep me and all the seminarians in your prayers. And please pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood. The harvest is plenty, but the labourers are few.
To find out more about a vocation to the priesthood in the Diocese of Parramatta, visit https://parracatholic.org/vocations/, contact the Holy Spirit Seminary or Director of Priestly Vocations, Fr John Paul Escarlan – firstname.lastname@example.org.