I'm not shy, but I do experience mild anxiety in certain social situations. I was certainly nervous back in late November when Rev. James Ebert, pastor of Mater Christi parish in Albany and supervisor for my pastoral year assignment, introduced me to his congregation at a 4 p.m. vigil Mass and then instructed me to meet and greet the congregation as they exited the church.

As I stood at the doors, awaiting the crowd, I recall telling myself to try to remember names and faces. It was to no avail: Everything was a blur. Dozens of friendly people rapidly filed past me, shaking my hand and offering their well wishes.

"Welcome to Mater Christi," said some. "Glad to have you here," exclaimed others. Such pleasant sentiments were interspersed with the occasional question about where I went to school or what I studied in college.

There was one interaction, however, that I will always remember. An older woman took my right hand and placed it between hers. She spoke five simple words: "Thank you for saying yes."

It was one of those moments in life when time seemingly stood still.

Though immediately impactful, I did not feel the full weight of these words until I later gave them my full mental attention. What exactly was I saying "yes" to? I first felt the call to the priesthood in my junior year at Mount Saint Mary College, but I had spent the better part of the last decade saying "no."

The answer to my question came unexpectedly on one of the coldest days of the year.

On that March Saturday, Father Ebert and I had, in order, a funeral Mass, a burial, a wake, a vigil Mass and, finally, dinner at a parishioner's home. We began the day at 8 a.m., and 13 hours later, after supper, we were sitting in his freezing cold Volkswagen Jetta in the parishioner's driveway, waiting for the car to warm up.

I was thor­oughly exhausted. So was Father Ebert. Then he turned to me: "We have one more thing to do," he said with a smile. "I got a call from a family who needs their mother anointed."

Thoughts of my warm bed quickly vanished.

We arrived at St. Peter's Hospital in Albany 10 minutes later and found an elderly woman surrounded by her family. She was unconscious, but looked peaceful.

Father Ebert, following apostolic tradition, anointed her forehead and hand with the sacred oil, ending his prayer with the words, "May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up. Amen."

Two weeks later, following Sunday-morning Mass at Mater Christi, I was again assigned to the back door, wishing people a good day as they exited the church. A man among the crowd stopped to talk to me. Admittedly, I did not recognize him.

He said, "I just wanted to thank you and Father for visiting Mom that night. She passed a couple hours after you left." As he and his family walked away, it dawned on me who he was.

As I later thought about this moment, I realized what a privilege it was to help minister to this dying mother and her family. I also had a feeling of admiration for Father Ebert, who, despite the bitter cold and the exhausting schedule of the day, brought us both to the hospital where he provided the final sacrament to the woman in her earthly life, which helped lead her into eternal life in union with Christ.

I now had the answer to my question. Saying "yes" is about being open to God's will in your life and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is about becoming the person the Lord made us to be.

Each man who celebrates Mass every day at your parish, at one time in his life, said "yes." Have you ever thanked him?

(Mr. McHale, a native of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson, is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass.)