Matthew Ramirez enrolled in a Bachelor of Medical Science at the University of NSW with the intention of becoming a doctor and helping people.
In his first week, he took the initiative to join the university’s Catholic Society.
“I was a first-year university student in O-Week [Orientation Week] in 2016. I walked down the main walkway, went to the Catholic [Society] stall and signed up. They had a little sign that said they had daily Mass, so that day I went to daily Mass, and the rest of those days of O-Week, I attended Mass,” Matthew said.
“Being able to experience that, being able to have Mass during the day, start your day with Mass, you’re able to orient your day with God. It gives purpose to all your activities for the day, it gives you direction and you are able to offer your classes as a sacrifice to God.”
Matthew’s faith was a source of strength throughout his studies, and it was this foundation that lead him on a path away from medicine and towards a life of service to God.
Matthew, 21, was born in Manila, Philippines and is the youngest of two children, moving to Sydney as a three-year-old. His family originally lived in Kensington, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and moved to Glenmore Park when he was in Year 8.
Baptised in Manila, Matthew received the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Communion and Confirmation at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kensington.
“There were lots of positive examples of role models of faith in my family.
“In every Catholic home in the Philippines, you have a little room set aside as a chapel or altar space, and the family always gathers together there for devotions and to pray the rosary.
“My maternal grandmother loved to pray the rosary, and before going to bed each night, she would always call the family downstairs and we’d all pray the rosary together and after a while, everyone would already know all the prayers off by heart.
“When we moved to Sydney, we still said the rosary together regularly and faith was always something that we were comfortable talking about and discussing.
“We were always taught to pray every day, so my parents would join us each night before going to sleep and would say our prayers with us and would make sure we said our prayers.
“We always strived as a family to maintain that connection to our faith and to learn more about our faith and practice it as much as we could.
“Faith starts at home,” Matthew said.
Matthew grew up attending the parochial Sunday school through his parish in Kensington before children’s liturgy, and was enrolled in the Special Religious Education programs at his public primary school.
Towards the end of his university degree, Matthew had a “deep, profound realisation” of his vocation.
“After Pope Francis declared the Year of Mercy, we started having things called ‘Mercy Nights,’ which are like Holy Hours, but longer.
“At the first Mercy Night of 2018, I was adoring the Blessed Sacrament, I received a calling, a deep and profound realisation that God wanted me to serve Him by being his priest.
“I was quite surprised by it; I was taken aback by it. Initially I was in disbelief.
“I came back to the rest of the Mercy Nights throughout the year and I prayed about that intention each night. Every time, I asked God whether that’s what he really wanted me to do, and each time, the answer was the same, ‘yes, I want you to be my priest.’
“All of [my family] were initially really surprised, but in the end, everyone’s been so supportive throughout my journey coming here. They’re very happy for me, and I’m assured of their prayers,” Matthew said.
Being in the seminary now for a few months, Matthew is happy at the family of which he has become a part.
“I was surprised at how quickly we, the new guys, all settled in and how, in fact, we actually became a part of the seminary family,” Matthew said.
“We all address each other as ‘brothers’, and truly, we are spiritual brothers – brothers in Christ, united in baptism, and we are being formed together by the Holy Spirit.
“We journey together, we deepen our relationship with Christ together and we support each other in times of need.
“We have that family atmosphere in that [it is a] loving, comfortable home environment.
“Family is the best word to describe it and I’m quite happy about that.
“It is quite relaxed. You have that routine of prayer, that routine of study, but this is also your home. It is not just a boarding house where you go to study and to pray, it is actually your home for the next seven years, and the people, the seminarians living with you are your family,” Matthew said.
Matthew believes that the ordination of four new priests – Fr Galbert Albino, Fr Jessie Balorio, Fr Chris del Rosario and Fr Jack Green – for the diocese in November 2018, and his own entry in to the seminary shows that the church is still strong.
“Having four new young priests says to the world, in response to all these scandals, all these troubles that the church is going through, that we’re still standing strong,” he said.
“Despite all this negative media portrayal of the church, despite all these very real struggles the church of Australia is going through, people are still responding to that call.
“People may say ‘why would you want to be a priest now?’, ‘why would you say no to marriage?’ ‘what’s the relevance of being a priest in today’s world?’ ‘the priesthood is not for young people, the priesthood is irrelevant.’
“Having all of our newly ordained priests, having a seminary in Parramatta brimming with people, almost at capacity, and having all these vocations not just here but in Homebush as well, is a testament that the church will get through whatever the media throws at us, what the world throws at us, we will get through, we will persevere,” he said.
Matthew’s message to men considering a vocation to the priesthood is that they should enter the discernment process in complete openness to God.
“We are all called to be saints, and that doesn’t mean we should all be priests or religious brothers or sisters, but through immersing God through all aspects of our lives, we’re called to live our lives in holiness,” he said.
“It is important not to enter the process of discernment with pre-conceived notions of who you think God wants you to be, what you think your vocation is.
“Rather, you should maintain that radical attitude of total, complete openness to God and the Holy Spirit.
“Be constantly actively listening for the voice of God in your life, and God himself will tell you what he wants you to do with your life.
“Vocations are a gift from God, it’s that calling from God.
“You just have to listen.”
To find out more about a vocation to priesthood in the Diocese of Parramatta, visithttps://parracatholic.org/vocations/, contact the Holy Spirit Seminary or Director of Priestly Vocations, Fr John Paul Escarlan – firstname.lastname@example.org