When I was first accepted as a seminarian for the Albany Diocese, a priest friend gave me some of the best advice in regard to discerning the priesthood: "You're not deciding to be a priest now; rather, you're deciding if you are willing to take a year to discern that call."

This was the most settling advice I received while entering and continuing along my journey each year I returned to the seminary.

Four years have passed: two years of pre-theology and two years of theology, leading me to begin third theology. This is the deciding year for each man discerning the priesthood as, at the end of the year, God willing, each of us will have said yes to the Lord's call and be ordained transitional deacons.

I can honestly say that the decision has come rather easily for me over these past few years. I spent a significant amount of time fighting my feeling called to the priesthood before gaining the courage to even apply to the Diocese. I was under the misconception that you had to have your mind made up, be willing to say yes to what you felt the Lord was calling you to, long before even talking with the vocations director.

However, looking back, I am not the same person I was when I first entered formation. These years of classroom study, formation, pastoral experience through parish assignments and teaching faith formation have helped mold me into who I have become and hope to be.

Being open to change is one of the most difficult things for guys entering the seminary, but it is the most crucial. We go in with a narrow-minded belief that we are set and only need the textbook knowledge to become priests of the future. This couldn't be further from the truth, as each of us has some sort of hang-up, stubbornness or roadblock that we put up in our own lives that will not help us as a priest later on and may even hurt the people who we are called to serve.

The whole four- to six-year program is completely necessary so that we can become who we ought to be: balanced, well-equipped trained ministers with a toolbox full of potential tools to help us in our life of ministry.

The recent shift in the number of men even beginning some form of discernment to the priesthood in our Diocese alone leaves me hopefully for the future. During many of our discernment meetings, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has said to the guys, "take the time to figure it out." In my opinion, this summarizes every aspect of discernment and seminary in just seven simple words.

Each of us is trying to figure out if the Lord is calling us to the priesthood and whether we are willing to respond with a heartfelt "yes." If we take this time, we will see our classes and formation sessions fly by, as intertwined within every aspect of the seminary's four pillars of formation (human, intellectual, pastoral and spiritual) lies another opportunity for us to discern the Lord's call.

For example, this summer I had the opportunity to return to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., for a second summer of sign language immersion. I found in my time there that, even in a secular university, I was still discerning the call - still taking time to figure out what the Lord willed for me.

My desire to learn American Sign Language (ASL) was centered around trying to open the door for deaf families who don't go to church simply because no one is there to interpret or could minister to them, all due to a communication barrier.

So many different barriers stand in the way of spreading the Gospel message in today's society and even in promoting vocations. Whenever I have discussions with men considering the priesthood, I find that they, like so many of us, get caught up on one aspect of our faith that they don't understand or disagree with, and prevent themselves from even going any further.

This is so common for so many Catholics who try to follow the faith, myself included. We put up various roadblocks preventing us from even beginning to discern what the Lord created us for. We get stuck in scenarios of "I believe, but...," preventing us from taking the time that is necessary for each of us to grow in our understanding of the faith and discern what the Lord wills for each of us.

If we take the Bishop's advice to "take the time to figure it out" and apply it in all aspects of living out our faith, we can see that these roadblocks crumble, the answers we long for come to light and the answer to our vocation question - regardless of the path - becomes a simple yes or no.