Joseph Illes

Age: 25
Home Parish: St. Philip and St. James, Phillipsburg, NJ
Seminary Year: Theology II
Seminary: St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore
What are your hobbies/interests? 
I am an extrovert with a strong introvert side. In my social time, I will typically chat with friends or go out for dinner. I like to play cards and board games. In particular I enjoy Rummy 500, and a good game of Settlers of Catan (“sheep all day!”). In my solitary time I listen to music, play on my computer, or read. I like to read Tom Clancy novels, French medieval and renaissance history (I’m in the middle of two books right now, one on Pope Clement V and Philip IV the Fair, and the other on Cardinal Richelieu.), and books on the liturgy.
What were you doing prior to entering the seminary? 
Before entering seminary I was an undergraduate at the University of Richmond, in Richmond, VA. I went to college to be a history teacher, and took an interest in medieval French history. Second semester of freshman year the question I thought I had settled at the end of high school, that of a vocation to the priesthood, came back after a particularly powerful and prayerful weekend at a Benedictine monastery. I started a period of intense prayer on the possibility of a priestly vocation, and a couple months later started meeting with the vocations office. My last couple of years in college, I volunteered at the local parish, met with the Richmond discernment groups, and became a member in the leadership of the Catholic Campus Ministry. I graduated from college with a degree in history, and an application submitted to the Diocese in the hope of starting seminary the following fall.
Who or what (Scriptural verses, etc.) were the greatest influences in your decision to enter the seminary and why?
While I was at the Benedictine monastery I met a monk, Fr. Gregory Gresko. God was clearly in the heart of this holy priest. As we got to talking about my spiritual and prayer experiences that weekend, I knew that I had to ask him to be my spiritual director. His devoted, compassionate, prayerful, merciful, and self-sacrificing model of priesthood strikes me still as the way a priest should conform himself to Christ on the Cross for the people of God whom he loves. 
In addition to the direction and model of Fr. Gresko, I was impacted by 2 Cor. 12:9, which I heard at Mass one day while discerning: ‘but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”’ One of the temptations in discernment is to concentrate on your own sinfulness, your own unworthiness for a vocation. St. Paul, confessing his own weakness, demonstrates that God does not call the perfect. God calls human beings, not despite, but IN and WITH their weakness, to serve Him. Second Cor. 12:9 taught me that I do not need to be perfect to answer God’s call. I just need to have a heart open to His healing, transforming love and grace.
What advice would you offer a young man who is discerning the priesthood?
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get a spiritual director. There are lots of reasons not to enter the seminary: timing, distractions of life and world and family, doubts of your own worthiness, questions whether this is what God REALLY wants for you. Sometimes it is really hard to figure out where God is tugging your heart, but trust God and get a spiritual director to help you discern. Once you’ve found a prayerful spiritual director you can trust and be open to, work with them and be honest with them. There may always be that reason to delay, the distraction of life or the world, or the perception of God’s silence to your question “God, do you really want ME?” Bring these things to God and to your spiritual director with an open heart and see where God takes you. 
What are some highlights during your time in the seminary thus far that have strengthened your call to the priesthood? 
Virtually every day in the parish or at my ministry sites has confirmed my sense of a priestly vocation. This is no exaggeration; nearly every single day has been a blessing and a confirmation for me, and ends with my thanking God for yet another tremendous blessing in the life of ministry. Each day builds the anticipation of the day when I can serve the people of God as a priest. 
One recent highlight comes to mind, however, as having strengthened my call in a particular way. It happened this summer at my assignment, St. James the Less in Jamesburg. I was kneeling at the back of the church for Adoration, which I rarely do since I prefer to sit closer to Jesus so I can see Him clearly. As I knelt I looked around the church at the twenty-or-so people who were there. Many of them had been in the spirituality lecture-series that I was helping to facilitate which immediately preceded Adoration; others came in to adore our Lord or go to confession. As I looked I thought about them, all worshipping silently, as one and as individuals, each with their blessings and their struggles, their beautiful yet imperfect humanity. And I loved them. I loved them deeply and wholly, not despite their humanity and imperfections, but WITH their humanity and imperfections. I loved everything about them. As I loved them, I realized that I had been given the grace to love them the way Christ does, to love His people—my people—wholly and unconditionally. In that moment I wanted to give them everything I had to offer because I loved them and they deserved it, I wanted to conform myself to Christ on the Cross for their sake, to Christ in whose infinite love for His people I had been permitted to partake. This unconditional love and self-gift of Christ on the Cross is precisely what will be demanded of me in priesthood, and God had given me the special grace to experience what that truly meant. Experiencing such a moment of grace, I knew that by—and only by—God’s grace I could one day be a priest, as I believe He is calling me to be, who wholly loves His people as they so richly deserve. I pray every day to have the grace and fortitude to cooperate with God’s Will in order that I might live the demands of priesthood with the same love as Christ on the Cross.

Joseph Illes is a seminarian in his third year of theology at St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, MD.

Age: 
Home Parish:
Seminary Year:
Seminary:
 
26
St. Philip and St. James, Phillipsburg, NJ
Theology III
St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, MD

What are your hobbies/interests? 
I am an extrovert with a strong introvert side. In my social time, I will typically chat with friends or go out for dinner. I like to play cards and board games. In particular I enjoy Rummy 500, and a good game of Settlers of Catan (“sheep all day!”). In my solitary time I listen to music, play on my computer, or read. I like to read Tom Clancy novels, French medieval and renaissance history (I’m in the middle of two books right now, one on Pope Clement V and Philip IV the Fair, and the other on Cardinal Richelieu.), and books on the liturgy.

What were you doing prior to entering the seminary? 
Before entering seminary I was an undergraduate at the University of Richmond, in Richmond, VA. I went to college to be a history teacher, and took an interest in medieval French history. Second semester of freshman year the question I thought I had settled at the end of high school, that of a vocation to the priesthood, came back after a particularly powerful and prayerful weekend at a Benedictine monastery. I started a period of intense prayer on the possibility of a priestly vocation, and a couple months later started meeting with the vocations office. My last couple of years in college, I volunteered at the local parish, met with the Richmond discernment groups, and became a member in the leadership of the Catholic Campus Ministry. I graduated from college with a degree in history, and an application submitted to the Diocese in the hope of starting seminary the following fall.

Who or what (Scriptural verses, etc.) were the greatest influences in your decision to enter the seminary and why?
While I was at the Benedictine monastery I met a monk, Fr. Gregory Gresko. God was clearly in the heart of this holy priest. As we got to talking about my spiritual and prayer experiences that weekend, I knew that I had to ask him to be my spiritual director. His devoted, compassionate, prayerful, merciful, and self-sacrificing model of priesthood strikes me still as the way a priest should conform himself to Christ on the Cross for the people of God whom he loves. 

In addition to the direction and model of Fr. Gresko, I was impacted by 2 Cor. 12:9, which I heard at Mass one day while discerning: ‘but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”’ One of the temptations in discernment is to concentrate on your own sinfulness, your own unworthiness for a vocation. St. Paul, confessing his own weakness, demonstrates that God does not call the perfect. God calls human beings, not despite, but IN and WITH their weakness, to serve Him. Second Cor. 12:9 taught me that I do not need to be perfect to answer God’s call. I just need to have a heart open to His healing, transforming love and grace.

What advice would you offer a young man who is discerning the priesthood?
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get a spiritual director. There are lots of reasons not to enter the seminary: timing, distractions of life and world and family, doubts of your own worthiness, questions whether this is what God REALLY wants for you. Sometimes it is really hard to figure out where God is tugging your heart, but trust God and get a spiritual director to help you discern. Once you’ve found a prayerful spiritual director you can trust and be open to, work with them and be honest with them. There may always be that reason to delay, the distraction of life or the world, or the perception of God’s silence to your question “God, do you really want ME?” Bring these things to God and to your spiritual director with an open heart and see where God takes you. 

What are some highlights during your time in the seminary thus far that have strengthened your call to the priesthood? 
Virtually every day in the parish or at my ministry sites has confirmed my sense of a priestly vocation. This is no exaggeration; nearly every single day has been a blessing and a confirmation for me, and ends with my thanking God for yet another tremendous blessing in the life of ministry. Each day builds the anticipation of the day when I can serve the people of God as a priest. 

One recent highlight comes to mind, however, as having strengthened my call in a particular way. It happened this summer at my assignment, St. James the Less in Jamesburg. I was kneeling at the back of the church for Adoration, which I rarely do since I prefer to sit closer to Jesus so I can see Him clearly. As I knelt I looked around the church at the twenty-or-so people who were there. Many of them had been in the spirituality lecture-series that I was helping to facilitate which immediately preceded Adoration; others came in to adore our Lord or go to confession. As I looked I thought about them, all worshipping silently, as one and as individuals, each with their blessings and their struggles, their beautiful yet imperfect humanity. And I loved them. I loved them deeply and wholly, not despite their humanity and imperfections, but WITH their humanity and imperfections. I loved everything about them. As I loved them, I realized that I had been given the grace to love them the way Christ does, to love His people—my people—wholly and unconditionally. In that moment I wanted to give them everything I had to offer because I loved them and they deserved it, I wanted to conform myself to Christ on the Cross for their sake, to Christ in whose infinite love for His people I had been permitted to partake. This unconditional love and self-gift of Christ on the Cross is precisely what will be demanded of me in priesthood, and God had given me the special grace to experience what that truly meant. Experiencing such a moment of grace, I knew that by—and only by—God’s grace I could one day be a priest, as I believe He is calling me to be, who wholly loves His people as they so richly deserve. I pray every day to have the grace and fortitude to cooperate with God’s Will in order that I might live the demands of priesthood with the same love as Christ on the Cross.