Author: Jason Howle

Lighting the Path

Finding Joy Through Serving Christ

Jason Howle

When individuals are compelled to heed God’s calling and fulfill His purpose for them, the Dominican House of Studies stands ready to receive, form, and prepare them to bring souls to Christ.

For some of our students and alumni, there was never any doubt they would join the priesthood. Others may have a less linear journey. In their cases, a life experience plants a seed that grows within. In God’s time, that lesson ultimately leads them down the path to serve Him with all their heart, mind, and soul.

For one of our alumni, Father Zachary Sexton, the seed was planted when he was only eight years old after the tragic loss of his father.

The lesson he learned was this: Even in our darkest moments, Christ is with us.

In the last few years of his life, Father Zachary’s dad experienced an intense reversion to the Catholic faith. In His divine providence, God was preparing Mr. Sexton for eternal life while giving him the tools to lay a foundation of faith for his son.

Father Zachary, a self-described “nervous kid,” often had trouble sleeping on Sunday nights, knowing he would have school on Monday. He vividly remembers his dad teaching him to pray the Rosary to calm his fears and find sleep as he toiled with worry and uncertainty about everything that could happen the next day at school.

When young Zachary asked his dad if that would make the Blessed Mary think he found her boring, he replied, “No, son. Think of it as if you are falling asleep in her arms.”

Drawing Closer to God In Tragedy

His dad’s death placed Father Zachary at a profound life crossroads, even while being far too young to know what that meant.

“That was one of these pivotal moments in my life where I could have gone the other way,” Father Zachary says. “I could have decided life is meaningless and done whatever I wanted, or recognized there is something beyond this life and done something about it.”

The lessons his dad taught him ran deep. The Blessed Mother’s calming embrace grew tighter. Through God’s grace, Father Zachary chose hope and faith over despair.

A Journey of Faith and Discovery

“I became the de facto Catholic in my family at age eight,” he recounts. “I was the person people came to for answers, and I learned how to work hard to find them.”

After being tested in the “crucible” that is Western Rhode Island, which he describes as “nominally Catholic in the same way Taco Bell is Mexican food, it has the trappings and much of the flavor profile, but not much authenticity,” Father Zachary informed his mom of his desires to become a priest at age 14.

As he matured, he went to a diocesan vocation weekend and found that he loved the devotion diocesan priests embody, but he was not as intrigued with the solitude that most diocesan priests lived. So, he attended Providence College and earned the credentials to become a high school biology teacher.

Fulfilling A Call

Father Zachary was exposed to the Dominicans while at Providence College, and his priestly desires continued to grow.

“I quote Revelation 9:13,” he said. “Who are these men in white, and whence have they come?”

“I was drawn to the Dominican order because I saw these men who formed, prayed, and taught together,” he continued. “Unlike the diocesans who had to work independently, the Dominicans are more like a Navy SEAL team where everyone has a particular role, and the job gets done precisely and very well.”

After three years as a teacher, Father Zachary looked within himself, prayed for guidance, and felt the call to revisit his youthful desire to become a priest. He entered the novitiate of the Province of St. Joseph.

“Working as a Dominican has taught me to be better,” he said. “It recognizes my strengths and doesn’t press as hard on my weaknesses.”

Father Zachary became keenly aware of recognizing God’s grace in the novitiate, not just in his life but in the lives of others. He came to understand that dependence on God is the key to happiness and freedom, even though it can be challenging for a person to see it that way.

Finding Freedom

“Freedom is not found in the person who can get whatever he wants,” Father Zachary shared, “because ultimately you become bound to those things. True freedom is found in grabbing the only thing that matters: the saving promise of the Lord Jesus Christ. Dependency on God is the ultimate freedom because you don’t need stuff. You can operate in any circumstance because the only thing you need is God.”

At the Dominican House of Studies, friars learn to overcome their natural, worldly desires and develop a close relationship with God. His truth loosens the world’s bonds and empowers men to obtain their eternal rewards.

Truth is light that guides us through the tempests of doubt and insecurity that rage around us and lead us astray.

Father Zachary said, “If people realized how beautiful Heaven was, they would be conformed to the good and chase after it. That’s what we want. It is easier to run towards happiness than run away from sin. We teach people to understand happiness first.”

Gaining an understanding of true happiness is fuel for the soul. Dominicans acquire and share knowledge to fulfill people’s desperate need for this understanding. By bestowing knowledge, Dominicans chart the path to salvation.

Sharing Christ’s Truths

Veritas, which means truth, is the motto of the Dominican Order. St. Dominic’s mission for his order, the mission that lives on today, is to use truth and knowledge to point souls to Jesus Christ. Truth is at the foundation of the curriculum at the Dominican House of Studies.
“That’s ultimately our project,” Father Zachary summarized, “the salvation of every human life we encounter. At the macro level, it can look like directing people and culture and pointing everybody towards the Lord Jesus Christ as the light and the way out of the storm. And it can also look, on the micro level, more individual. It can be more about showing someone how God is working in their own life and how He’s drawing them closer to Him.”

“So, some of our focus is this huge project where we teach the tempted to overcome the tempest of the world, and we magnify all the lights pointing towards the Lord,” he continued. “Or it could be a focus on the tempest of one person’s heart and soul to help them understand their purpose in the world and where they’re going.”

Guiding Souls to Happiness

Ultimately, finding happiness is about finding clarity. Father Zachary and our other alumni light the path so that others may grow to understand that money, power, and possessions pale in value to the bounty that comes with immersing yourself in Christ’s Word.

If you hunger for His grace and His Word, you will never experience physical hunger.

“This is what you actually want, not all those other things you are filling yourself with,” Father Zachary said. “All the good things you think you want are centered on Him. The rewarding thing about being a Dominican is that I can teach people how to get there, and when I light their lamp, they can show countless others how to get there, too.”

Overcoming Challenges of the World

Life provides trials and challenges. We cannot avoid them. We can, however, lessen the blows that come our way by arming ourselves with the Word of God and seeking His grace. All things that are good in our hearts are put there by God.

We must act on the good with more force than we allow lament and sorrow to act upon us. Father Zachary leaned on the tragic loss of his dad as an opportunity to grow closer to God, not move further away.

One path leads to darkness, and one path leads to light. One to sorrow and pain, one to happiness and joy.

Let us pray for the strength to follow Father Zachary’s example. It will lead to salvation and the salvation of countless souls you draw to the Light of Christ. Being a friend to Christ is to make more friends for Him and to increase the population of Heaven as they gain a fuller understanding of all the promises He has made and fulfilled.

The eternal happiness of doing His work is exponentially greater than any worldly happiness we can find in our mortal existence on earth. If you seek God in all your endeavors, you will find true joy in all you do.

If you feel compelled to support our mission in educating and training individuals like Father Zachary, you can do so here.

Jason Howle