The Power of Encouragement

April 17, 2023
Archdiocese of Baltimore
Est. Reading: 3 minutes

“Nice catch.” After participating in Baltimore Quo Vadis for each of the last ten years, this simple encouragement a seminarian gave me during a game of ultimate frisbee is one of the things I remember most. I was a rising freshman in high school back then, and I can’t remember if it really was a good catch or not, but it stuck with me for a couple of reasons.

At the most basic level, it was cool to receive encouragement from someone I admired so much. I was thinking fairly seriously about entering the seminary at that point in my life, and I looked up to seminarians. Even though it was just intended as a compliment about a play I made, it hit me like an affirmation that I could be in that man’s shoes someday. I even felt something of God’s fatherly acceptance and the delight He takes in me through the words of that seminarian, who probably thought nothing of it.

In the context of the game, it showed a healthy sense of competition that the seminarian was not trying to hide. I knew from other interactions that this man was intentional about growing in holiness and humility, but this did not make him a pushover. For the moment, he was just a guy trying to win a game. To see a seminarian continuing to do one of the ordinary things he loved doing and tacitly making it part of his journey toward God was eye-opening to me, and this reality resurfaced in several conversations with other seminarians about their hobbies and interests.

At the same time, I knew that this man was committed to a life of deep prayer. Just the night before the frisbee game he and I had sat in the same pew of St. Bernard’s chapel for Eucharistic Adoration, and his concentration on Jesus had helped me to quiet my heart and focus on the voice of God. I loved playing frisbee in high school, and at that moment I understood that holy people can play frisbee too. By the grace of God, generations of saints will have played my favorite sport without necessarily thinking about it as a sanctifying activity.

It is a mystery even to myself that this is one of the distinct memories from my years of Quo Vadis that comes to mind first when I look back. Even more remarkable is the fact that this kind of interaction was representative of the impressions I took away from Quo Vadis that ultimately helped me decide to enter seminary formation for Baltimore. The conferences and homilies were formative and fruitful, but there was nothing quite like just being able to spend time with young men who were committed disciples of Jesus in ordinary settings like meals, games, and hikes. God works in our conversations, not only in the intentionally spiritual ones, but even in something imperceptible and short, like the quick, sportsmanlike word I received. I pray that I will continue to hear God’s voice through words of affirmation and to be attentive to ways I can encourage others.

Stephen Kirby is in 2nd Theology at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. Stephen’s home parish is St. John’s in Severna Park. Please pray for Stephen!