‘Get off the fence’

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Since being ordained to the transitional diaconate last June at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Deacon Christopher Hayes has served at St. Joseph Church in Dowington, Pa., while finishing his final year of theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.

Though he's enjoyed taking on the responsibilities of a deacon - including preaching and presiding at baptisms - Deacon Hayes is ready to step into a new role at his ordination to the priesthood June 8.

"When you're a (transitional) deacon, you have one foot in the seminary and one foot in the parish," Deacon Hayes said. "There comes a point, especially after six years (of seminary), where you just want to get back home, get settled and get to work."

A parishioner of St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg, Hayes was born on Christmas Eve in 1969. A native of Northern Virginia, he attended St. Ann School in Arlington and Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Vienna and graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington in 1988. After studying theology and criminal justice, Deacon Hayes graduated from Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md., in 1992.

He worked for several years at an inspection management company before becoming a fundraising consultant to parishes in 1999. For that job, he spent several years traveling between dioceses to help parishes execute capital campaigns.

Though his faith was strong, Deacon Hayes never considered a vocation until a life-changing experience when he was 33 years old. He was living in South Riding and working at a startup company when his roommate, an old friend, became sick with cancer. Because his roommate's family lived in other parts of the country, Deacon Hayes became a full-time caretaker.

"Prior to that, I had my agenda laid out," Deacon Hayes said. "When you're a full-time caretaker, all of that goes on hold because you have to be attuned to the needs of the person you're caring for. Through that seven-month time period to the point where my roommate passed away, that got me refocused on the direction I think the Holy Spirit wanted me to be focused."

After his roommate's death, Deacon Hayes returned to consulting work, but began to seriously discern a call to the priesthood.

"I was thinking about the people I knew and imagining them coming into a relationship with God and the whole beauty of hearing confessions and being available to people," he said. "The thing that makes a priest different from other lay people is he's the one who provides the sacraments."

Deacon Hayes entered the seminary in 2007 and spent his first two years at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, before transferring to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

His desire to be a priest was reinforced a few years later at a diocesan "Life is Very Good" rally in Woodbridge. Thousands of teens and young adults were at the event, which included confessions. Near the end of the night, Deacon Hayes remembers seeing hundreds of teenagers lined up for the sacrament. Standing with a group of other seminarians, Deacon Hayes remembers wishing he could step in and hear confessions.

"I could be a teacher or a fundraiser, but I could never jump in line and hear confession," he said. "If you have the Holy Spirit leading people to confession, what a tremendous grace to be the one put in that place to reconcile them to the church."

Now that his ordination to the priesthood is only days away, Deacon Hayes said he is most looking forward to building fraternity with his brother priests as they work together to bring people to Christ. He also hopes to be able to preach in a way that will enable Catholics to look at their faith from a fresh perspective.

"I (hope to) come up with ways to present the faith to the people in a way that doesn't overwhelm them, but enables them to grow," he said.

When it comes to discerning a vocation, Deacon Hayes said the best thing a person can do is take action, to "get off the fence" and explore the options available.

"I was one who sat on the fence for many years," he said. "The longest journey begins with just having that courage to take the first step to try it. And then just being patient and letting God lead where He wants to take you."

Bahr can be reached on Twitter @KBahrACH.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013