How Going on Mission Deepened My Priestly Identity

“You should come on my mission trip.”

That was how it started: a casual conversation with a friend at a wedding in Nebraska. It seemed random at the time, but this simple prompting would lead to one of the most formative experiences of my first year as a priest.

This March, I traveled to Mexico City as a chaplain for a FOCUS mission trip to serve on the streets of the sprawling city.  From the moment we landed, I knew the Lord had big plans for our group, and I knew I was there for a reason.

It was no small miracle that I was even able to go on the trip. Getting away as a priest during Lent is hard. Getting away as a first-year priest is even harder. Getting away when you teach high school on top of your many parish duties is near impossible.

After a lot of prayer, I told Jesus, “If you want me to go to Mexico, then you have to make it happen.” So when my feet hit the beautiful dusty streets and my lungs took their first breath of smoggy city air, I trusted that He was at work — but I had no idea what He had in mind.

It didn’t take long for Him to open my eyes.

Staying near the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we were blessed with the opportunity to pray in front of St. Juan Diego’s tilma every day. Once we set our eyes on Her, our hearts began to change.

Students had a deep, personal encounter with the love of God; others found renewed strength and openness to God’s will; and others simply felt the embrace of a Mother.

The graces we each received drove our mission: Our mission was to bring Jesus to others through our encounters on the streets, in soup kitchens, in the midst of abandoned women and children. But perhaps most importantly, our mission was to encounter Jesus Christ in those whom we were ordained to meet.

Witnessing the Spirit working in the hearts of students and missionaries caused a stirring in my own heart. At times, in the busyness of life, drowning in a whirlwind of papers on my desk, it’s easy to lose perspective. It’s easy to buy into the devil’s lie that the priesthood isn’t all that important.

But as I walked the streets of Mexico City — bringing the sacraments to students, missionaries, and those forgotten by the world, celebrating Mass in front of an image that brought about the conversion of millions and simply journeying with people as a spiritual father — there was no doubt: this matters. The priesthood matters. MY priesthood matters. And my heart proclaimed it without reserve: “I love being a priest.”

There are many things that I will always carry with me from this mission trip — but most of all I’m just grateful and amazed at God’s goodness.

One simple phrase spoken by a friend — “You should come on my mission trip” — led to another that will forever ring in my heart: “I am your Mother, and I rejoice in your priesthood.”

Fr. Ryan Kaup
Fr. Ryan Kaup
Fr. Ryan serves at St. Benedict in Nebraska City, NE in the Diocese of Lincoln, NE.

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