Father Matt Kiehl’s tenet that “the Lord is in the midst” of all that we do especially applies to the seminarians and men who are discerning to become priests. As the new vicar for vocations, he plans to guide them through their experiences by sharing the joy of the priesthood and stressing that they must have a deep relationship with God as they journey through discernment and life.
Father Kiehl – previously the pastor of Holy Spirit, Virginia Beach – took over the role on July 1. Since being ordained in 2015, he has also served as parochial vicar at St. Gerard, Roanoke; parochial vicar at St. Andrew, Roanoke; and campus minister at William & Mary. He also served as campus minister at Roanoke Catholic and taught theology and apologetics at the school while at St. Andrew.
He said that he hopes to be a fatherly and faithful example as the seminarians and men discerning do the very important work of discerning God’s call in their lives.
His own call to be a priest first came to him at age eight when he was deeply moved by the witness and example of his parish pastor Msgr. Thomas Shreve at Church of the Epiphany, Richmond. He noticed “a great joy about him and an evident love of the Lord,” and thought, “I want that.”
At the time, the ambition was fleeting, as he had childhood dreams of other careers, such as being a lawyer, politician or astronaut.
He did not seriously consider the vocation of priesthood until he was at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax. He talked about it with Father Michael Renninger, who was the diocesan vocations director at the time.
A turning point was adoration. He had never experienced praying before the Eucharist, but when he saw it scheduled on a campus church bulletin, he decided to go, and it was so moving that he made it part of his routine.
“It was in that time of silence and prayer before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament where things really were clarified for me,” he said. “It became a tremendous grace for me.”
“The Lord really, really works in my heart in that silence, in that intimate time with him,” he added. “That really nourished my love of him and my resolve to ask some of those questions and to pursue discernment in the seminary.”
After graduating from GMU in 2009 with a degree in government and international politics, he went to seminary at the Theological College at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and was ordained in 2015 at the age of 27.
“I’ve lived the priesthood in a number of different contexts, and I’ve loved every minute of it,” said Father Kiehl. “I hope that in this role, I’ll be able to share the joy of living this life and show the guys that there are many ways that the Lord is inviting us to serve him.”
Father Kiehl believes a big challenge for seminarians and men who are discerning is a noisy culture consumed with distractions. The solution he prescribes is to be “present to the Lord, who so often is at work in silence and in quiet.”
He said another challenge is that we are “living in an apostolic time of the Church characterized by living the faith in an increasingly hostile environment. We no longer have the benefit of cultural Catholicism in which the life of faith and discernment was generally supported in the broader culture.”
However, discernment is still encouraged in the Catholic Church, where there is “tremendous support” for our seminarians, for men discerning priesthood and for women discerning religious life, he said. There’s more interest in vocations to the priesthood, and Catholics, even those who don’t know the seminarians and discerners, are praying for them.
He emphasized that prayer is paramount at all phases of discernment as well as in everyone’s life.
“As we come to know the Lord more deeply and intimately, we feel his call to share him and his love,” he said.
“I’m hopeful that the Lord will continue to stir up in the hearts of many young men that desire to discern his will in an intentional way and to be present to them,” he said. “Their discernment requires being grounded in prayer” and having “a deep relationship with Christ” where they will experience “nourishment, strength and direction from him.”
Sometimes at the beginning of discernment, it can feel lonely and there are “a lot of things that come up in one’s heart,” Father Kiehl said, noting he experienced this to some degree when he was discerning. He wants them to know they aren’t alone in their journey and that they “don’t have to resolve all of these questions on their own” because the Lord and the Church are there.
“I’m looking forward to sharing my love of the priesthood and the great joy that comes from following God’s call,” he said. “It’s a great gift that as priests we serve as spiritual fathers to those who are entrusted to our care.”
Father Kiehl often turns to the example of Mary, “who was and is radically available and open to God’s providence.” His hope is that, like Mary, everyone is open and ready to say “yes” to whatever the Lord asks and to live out that yes faithfully and joyfully.
“I have found such tremendous joy in discerning my call to the priesthood and being open to his promptings in life and saying yes to the Lord’s call which is something that has happened many times each and every day,” he said. “We live a yes each and every day. I love being a priest. I love serving the Lord in this way.”
D. Hunter Reardon contributed to this story.