|Fr. Benjamin Joseph Cieply , LC|
Even as a young child, I always felt the
calling to be a priest.
As my mother recalls: “When
Benjamin was just 3 ½ years old, he was wearing
his bright red, ankle-length ‘Superman’ cape when we were on
an outing to the grocery store. The checkout clerk was
quite taken with his outfit and enthusiasm and, with a
smile, she asked him if he wanted to be Superman
when he grew up. Benjamin stood up very straight, put
his hands on his sides, looked squarely at the clerk
and said in a very convincing voice ‘No, I’m going
to be a priest!’”
Of course, as a kid, I was
interested in many other things as well –sports, theatre, friends,
and hobbies– but somehow, I always felt that the priesthood
was where I should be. It was Christ who took
the initiative from early on, and while growing up I
always considered him my best friend. Consequently, I always felt
an almost inexplicable drive to share him with others, and
this quickly developed into my dream.
The Virgin Mary played a
central role as well. My devotion to her grew especially
during my grade school years; I remember frequenting our school
church during some of the recesses after lunch and paying
long visits before her statue. When I was in sixth
grade, I began to go to a Marian prayer group
in our parish, and in 1990 I accompanied my parents
on a memorable pilgrimage to Medjugorje. Surely, Mary’s motherly care
protected me during those years. Looking back now I clearly
see how she took me by the hand and led
me straight to her son. A priest once told me
that there are many roads that lead to God –
but for me, Mary is like a six-lane freeway.
was fifteen, the dream of one day being a priest
continued, and I found a booklet promoting vocations in the
back of my seventh grade classroom. Inside the booklet there
were several postcards that you could fill out and send
to the congregation of your choice to request more information.
One night, I took the booklet home and nearly sent
out all of them. Perhaps because I was still rather
young, only two responded; and even the two that did
respond merely made a few suggestions and asked me to
write to them again when I was older.
Now the adventure
The Legionaries of Christ were not one of the congregations
in the booklet and I had still never heard of
them until the spring of my eighth grade year when
some friends of the family were hosting two Legionaries at
their house. They invited us over to meet them and
I was immediately impressed. I still vividly remember everything that
took place that evening. After dinner, I had the opportunity
to speak with one of the Legionaries, Fr. Kermit Syren,
L.C., and I told him that I was interested in
the priesthood. He told me that they ran a summer
camp in New Hampshire for young men considering the vocation.
|Fr Benjamin on the day of his ordination to the diaconate, June 29, 2008.|
During the ride back home with my parents I spontaneously
asked for permission to attend the camp. I was sitting
in the back seat of the car, and when they
both looked at each other after my question I remember
thinking to myself, “Now the adventure begins!”
A few months
later, I was on a plane to New Hampshire. The
camp was fantastic – we climbed mountains, swam in beautiful
lakes, played soccer, and even cooked marshmallows around campfires. But
the most inspirational part was seeing so many other boys,
all just as serious about the priesthood as I was.
Their fervour before the Eucharist, unconditional love for the Church
and fidelity to the Pope, filial devotion to Mary and
spirit of authentic charity are some of the things that
most attracted me.
Are you willing to say “yes” to Christ?
that occasion, during an afternoon hike to Blackrock State Park,
I was asked, “Are you willing to say ‘yes’ to
Jesus Christ?” At first I was startled, and then I
blurted out, “Yes!” – a response that would take me
two years to truly fulfill.
Despite my positive experience at
the apostolic school, I returned home and entered the local
high school as planned. The change from grade school was
enormous. I got involved with sports, made many new friends,
and... I began to leave behind my prayer life and
lose my focus on Christ. Things weren´t as “exciting” as
I had thought they might be. But my “Yes” to
Christ stayed in the back of my mind.
my sophomore year, my father heard that the Legionaries were
organizing a Holy Week Pilgrimage to Rome, and he offered
me the chance to go. I had lost contact with
the Legion during the past two years, so I was
happy to spend some time with them again. During the
pilgrimage we toured several cities in Italy and spent many
hours at the Vatican. During the liturgical celebrations we saw
John Paul II up close, and during one of the
papal audiences I even got to shake his hand.
most important experience of the trip was a moment I
spent in silent adoration on Holy Thursday night. After completing
a Eucharistic Hour at midnight, the priest told us that
those who wished could stay up for a while and
spiritually accompany Our Lord in Gethsemane. It was close to
one o´clock in the morning when I felt Christ calling
me again, and suddenly I found the strength I needed
to fulfil the “Yes” I had initially given two years
God has a time for everyone. It was my
dream to enter the seminary and I had always known
that He was calling me… but only then did he
tell me “now”.
My dream is God’s dream
Upon returning, I told
my parents the news. I explained to them that I
knew in my heart that God was calling me to
be a priest, especially “now” at this point in time.
Despite the normal sacrifices involved in allowing a son to
enter a minor seminary, because of their great faith, my
parents allowed me to join.
I entered the Legion’s seminary
in 1994 and ever since it has been a constant
adventure. By far, one of the highlights has been the
tremendous grace to be able to study in the heart
of the Church, Rome, so close to the Holy Father
and in the presence of so many other seminarians from
around the world who are preparing themselves for the same
mission – the New Evangelization.
Now I am overwhelmed by
receiving this great gift. I recall the text of St.
Paul, which reads, “We have received this treasure in jars
of clay, so that it may be made clear that
this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come
from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). I will never consider myself
worthy, and yet I am confident that God is calling
me and has many things yet in store. I don’t
consider the priesthood an end, but rather a beginning point;
through the sacraments, I will be able to share Christ
with the whole world… and my childhood dream will finally
come true – a dream that is his dream, too!
Father Benjamin Joseph Cieply was born in Buffalo, New York,
November 8, 1977. Still young, he moved to Columbus, Ohio
with his family and attended St. Michael’s grade school in
Worthington. Later he entered St. Charles Preparatory High School in
Bexley. In August of 1994 he entered the Legion of
Christ’s minor seminary, in Cheshire, Connecticut. In September of 1995
he travelled to Dublin, Ireland for his novitiate and in
1997 he returned to Cheshire to continue his studies in
classical humanities. After two years of philosophy in Rome, he
returned once again to Cheshire for his apostolic internship where
he worked as an assistant of the novice instructor. He
now holds a bachelor’s and license degrees in philosophy from
Regina Apostolorum Pontifical College in Rome, Italy, and is currently
pursuing an advanced degree in dogmatic theology at the same