Michelle DeRoche, Contributing Writer
Fr. Thomas Esposito, a Cistercian monk and a graduate of the University of Dallas (class of 2005), has begun teaching at the Irving campus this semester after serving as assistant chaplain for the Rome program for the past two years.
In an interview with Michelle DeRoche, contributing writer at The University News, Esposito discusses his vocation to the priesthood and shares his advice for college students.
Michelle: Tell me about your discernment process.
Fr. Thomas: There was rational deduction involved; no lightning bolt labeled “God’s will” discerned my vocation for me – just the certainty that God wanted me here. My will was not [initially] on board, however; it took the election of Pope Benedict XVI a few weeks later to melt away my inhibitions and give me the courage, even the desire, to turn in my application. And I have never regretted that decision … I gradually realized that … life [at Cistercian] was tailor-made for me: The combination of teaching, monastic life and priestly ministry binding our community together was irresistible.”
MD: What was the experience of celebrating your first Mass like?
FT: A new priest never preaches at his first Mass, so I was calm during the Mass. [My only] liturgical hiccup was that I forgot to kiss the altar after the final blessing! Distributing Communion to my parents was also a humbling and extremely graced experience.
MD: Is there something you did not fully appreciate about Catholicism until you became a priest?
FT: Honestly, I would say that I did not fully appreciate the need for compassion and forgiveness until I began to hear confessions and offer spiritual direction. These encounters make me realize that we never know what battles a person may be fighting – with God, with themselves, with temptations or addictions – and for that very reason, lay Catholics and priests alike should always be merciful to everyone they meet, especially the people they think they know best.
MD: What do you think about during the Consecration?
FT: When I hold the chalice aloft, I often lock eyes with my own reflection in the chalice; I guess it’s something like an examination of conscience. I ask myself, “Do you believe this?” and my answer comes when I put the chalice down and kneel before the eternal mystery just entrusted to my hands of clay. The genuflection is my silent “Amen.”
MD: How can college students bring faith into their daily lives?
FT: College students are selfish nomads by necessity – you need to devote large chunks of time to your studies and personal interests. That selfish mentality, though, often prevents us from being available to those who need us. It is difficult to live for others when you spend multiple hours per day as an iPod-toting zombie, or a calendar-clutterer who never makes time for anyone but yourself. The name God gives Himself in Exodus 3:14, “I Am Who Am,” gives us a fundamental characteristic of God: He is present to all, for all, at all times. He is Emmanuel, “God with us,” in Christ. So you bring faith into your daily life by being like God – fully present to those you meet, seeing in them the person of Christ, bringing them to God in prayer. St. Ignatius of Loyola has a beautiful prayer asking God to teach him to be generous, “To give, and not to count the cost.” You will know what and how to give if you ask God in prayer and are willing to listen (and look for) His response.
MD: What is your favorite UD event or tradition?
FT: Nothing beats Charity Week – I look forward to inheriting Fr. Maguire’s mantle as the most violent and escape-minded professor-prisoner thrown into jail! But perhaps my favorite UD event is the chat with friends that inevitably ends with the words, “That was such a UD conversation!”
MD: You were in Rome for the election of Pope Francis. Would you like to share any of his words of wisdom?
FT: Without [a] doubt, my favorite Francis quote is, “You shepherds must have the smell of the sheep on you,” by which he meant that he wants pastors to go outside of themselves and find the flock where they are, experiencing their ups and downs, embracing those on the periphery. The most memorable quote for me, though, comes from his first Angelus address, which I heard with my own ears in St. Peter’s Square: “God never tires of forgiving us, but we often get tired of asking for His forgiveness.”
Esposito is happy to be back in Irving, Tx, though he said he will miss Rome. He is currently teaching Biblical Greek at UD, teaching World Religions at Cistercian Preparatory High School and working on his doctorate in Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome. Esposito can often be found engaged in “UD conversations” with students on the Mall or in the Cap Bar.