The Rover interviews theology professor to discuss his vocational journey and the process of discernment
There are many men and women in the Notre Dame community who have responded to God’s call to holiness in different ways. This week, the Rover interviewed Monsignor Michael Heintz, Professor of Theology and Director of the Master of Divinity program in the Department of Theology, to find out more about his vocational journey. Monsignor Heintz is a priest with the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend and rector of Saint Matthew Cathedral in South Bend. Ordained in 1993, he received his Ph.D. in 2008 in Latin and Greek Patristics from Notre Dame.
Irish Rover: How would you define vocation in a general sense?
Vocation, understood theologically, is the call of God, deeply personal, in which one cooperates most fully with God’s will in the establishment of His Kingdom. It is helpful, I think, to consider vocation(s) in concentric circles: the most basic is existence itself, which underlines the gratuity of all vocation; next is holiness of life, the call to sanctity which is part and parcel of the discipleship begun in baptism; then, the most commonly understood sense of vocation, the call to a particular state of life: marriage, consecrated life, priesthood, single life; and I would suggest even beyond that, the particular and immediate vocation of each day and every moment (“what is God asking of me today, right now”).
What is your personal vocation story? What intermediary steps led you to where you are now?
I have an entirely undramatic vocation story (no locutions, dreams, visions, no playboy-to-priest conversion story). I was raised in a Catholic family, attended Catholic grade school and high school, and in the course of my growing up, I was deeply impressed by the priests of my parish. I was intrigued by their life, and was drawn to it. Provided such inclinations are holy, God often uses our own desires to reveal His will in our life. I found the seminary a great experience in which to deepen my attentiveness to God’s will and discern more intentionally.
What led you to Notre Dame specifically?
Bishop D’Arcy asked me to pursue further studies at Notre Dame in 1998, which I was most happy to do. The Theology Department was wonderful to me, and the Ph.D. program enabled me to expand and deepen my theological formation. I had outstanding teachers and fellow graduate students. I am still a student of the Tradition, and I keep learning. While a graduate student, I began teaching and I have taught here ever since. About five years ago, I was asked to direct the MDiv Program. I have done so since and have loved it.
What does your vocation entail here at Notre Dame? How do you live out one aspect of your vocation as a theology professor and director of the MDiv program?
I am blessed to work with amazing colleagues and students in the MDiv program: my work here is to assist our lay students in discerning their call to serve the Church in various ministerial roles and to work at the same time for the Congregation of Holy Cross in forming their seminarians for ordained ministry. The students in our program are wonderful witnesses of a deep love for the Lord and for the Church.
Did you ever seriously consider another vocation or career?
While discerning the priesthood, I had always considered teaching as a possible vocation. By irony and Providence (often the former only because of the latter), I am now able to live both: I am a priest first, and professor second.
What is the most fulfilling part of your vocation? The most challenging?
I find the celebration of the sacraments to be the most important aspect of my vocation: celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, baptizing and witnessing marriages are a source of great joy and happiness. As for the most difficult or challenging aspect—and I suspect most folks would find this the case—mediating conflicts are the most demanding part of my life (which is necessary in fallen world where, when two or three are gathered, there will usually be a problem).
Do you have any advice for young people discerning their vocation?
The best advice I can offer is simple: keep your relationship with God strong, by daily prayer and sacraments, and you will not miss God’s will. Put another way, do not be afraid. Provided you want to do God’s will, and strive to live a life of sanctity, God will not leave you hanging, so to speak. That said, be aware that 90 percent of doing God’s will is to do what you’re supposed to be doing when you’re supposed to be doing it (for an ND student, writing papers, showing up for class, reading and lab work). That is, we tend to think of God’s will as hidden and remarkable, when for the vast majority of our life His will will be kind of obvious and mundane. But if one is prayerful and attentive, and desirous to do God’s will, you will be doing God’s will. Trust Him.
Tim Bradley is a junior residing in St. Edward’s Hall. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.