By Fr. Brian Wirth
Director of Rural Life
Last month, I wrote that as “Director of Rural Life,” my mission is to enable our diocese to encounter God’s Face, the Face of Love and Mercy, within Lincoln and our rural parishes through faith and agriculture. I noted that this mission is similar to my vocation story, how God continually revealed His graces to me through faith and agriculture. What follows is a Nebraskan story, in that it is particular to me but one of many that could be told in our diocese.
Above all, I encountered God’s Face within my family. One cannot underestimate the faith-filled witness of the family and its goodness, which acts as the domestic church, our first and primary experience of the Body of Christ.
On the domestic church, the Catechism states: “It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way ‘by the reception of the Sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, self-denial, and active charity.’”
From this domestic church, I encountered such a lifestyle daily, not only by living and working on the farm, learning firsthand the physical and spiritual goodness of hard work and self-sacrifice, but more importantly, seeing my family faithfully set aside the first day of the week by attending Sunday Mass together, spending time as a family, serving as an altar boy most Sundays, having good friendships with many faith-filled priests, and above all, receiving the sacraments on a frequent basis.
Secondly, living on the farm enabled me to see God’s Face in creation. I can still recall one day as a child playing outside and stopping dead in my tracks. I encountered Truth and Beauty in creation: I saw a glorious sunrise overlooking the cornfield in our front yard, marveling at the vast dark green rows in the rich soil, with the morning dew still glistening on the leaves. I possessed authentic wonder at God’s magnificent handiwork.
I remember the stillness of the moment, the power of silence where God spoke to me in prayer. From then on, I was fascinated with the beauty of the rural landscape and the power of prayer, and have experienced God’s Face on more occasions than I can count.
Along with my family, my grandparents are my heroes, especially my grandpa, Theodore Wirth. I was blessed to see him daily on the farm. Wherever he went, I went: in the kitchen before school, riding in the tractor or combine, working in the shop, taking hay or water to the cattle, or driving the fuel or seed truck to the field. He loved God, family, and farming—in that order. I cherished every moment with him and the many lessons he taught me.
I also experienced God’s Face of Love and Mercy through Catholic education and my teachers. I attended Lourdes Central Catholic (K-12). Here, I developed a deep and personal relationship with our Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception. I would not be a priest if not for her constant protection and intercession.
After high school, I attended UNL. By the end of my freshman year, I was involved with the Newman Center, set to lead my own Bible study and a member of the Newman Center choir. Through the unity of sacred Scripture and sacred music, I continued to encounter God’s Face unlike ever before, which produced graces and authentic friendships, further drawing me into the fertile richness of the faith.
During the fall semester of my sophomore year, I attended a 10 p.m. Mass at Newman. While life was going well for me as a student and in my fraternity (FarmHouse), I vividly remember feeling a real sense of uneasiness. So, just prior to Mass, recognizing this uneasiness for what it was, I recall praying to God to show me the next step, whatever it may be. I wasn’t asking for a sign, but at the same time, if God revealed one, I would be grateful.
At Mass, my focus was set on the altar, looking for the Lord to speak to me in some manner. During the Eucharistic Prayer, at the consecration, my chest was on fire. Though not painful, the sensation was strong and intense. Trying not to freak out, I kept my eyes on the altar. The same thing happened at the elevation of the Precious Blood. I remained calm and wondered at this mysterious encounter.
When it was time to receive Communion, I received Our Lord and knelt in thanksgiving. All the uneasiness, fear, anxiety, etc. was gone. In its place, I received an overwhelming sense of peace, love, and strength. God simply revealed His Face of Love and Mercy.
A few days later, I shared this with Father Robert Matya, the vocation director. He told me this encounter revealed that I had a deep relationship with Our Eucharistic Lord, to cherish this relationship, and to take this to Him in ongoing prayer and discernment.
As I continued to seriously discern a call to the priesthood, I received a call from my family in the spring. My grandpa’s health was declining and he was near the end of his earthly life. Thankfully, I was able to pay my last respects. As I arrived, my dad met me at the door. He said Grandpa hadn’t been awake most of the day, but it was good that I was there to pray with him. As we walked to his bedside, my dad said: “Dad, Brian is here.”
Immediately, my grandpa opened his eyes, made eye contact, moved his arm to mine, touched my wrist with his hand, and whispered: “Brian.” After that, he brought his arm back to his side, closed his eyes, and went back to sleep.
As difficult as that moment was, it was equally powerful because in that moment, yet again, God revealed His Face, the Face of Love and Mercy. Later, I realized that the graced encounter I had with our Lord in the Eucharist at the Newman Center in the fall was nearly identical to this graced encounter I had with my grandpa in the spring: in each, God radically revealed the same Face of Love and Mercy to me. My grandpa passed away shortly thereafter.
Continuing to pray and discern, following the fall semester of my senior year, I made the decision to enter the seminary following graduation. It was the best decision I ever made.
Thus, in more ways than one, brothers and sisters, God constantly reveals His Face to us, the Face of Love and Mercy in faith and in agriculture. Through the Catholic Rural Life Office, it is my privilege to direct this flock ever closer to our Father and Creator so that the Good Shepherd may do the same for you in your God-given vocations: set your hearts on fire to transform your families, our diocese, and the world in the Flame of the Holy Spirit.