Father Rafal shares his journey, through moments of doubt and frustration, in finding the confidence to fulfill his vocation to be a parish priest.

By Father Rafal Wasilewski, C.R., Pastor

When I was young, I was afraid to open my mouth because I knew that I would stutter. Imagine, being afraid, really scared, of being called on to speak, having to answer a question, or even communicating a simple thought or request to another person.

All my life I’ve been struggling with stuttering. I had many moments of doubt about myself, my speech therapist, and his ability to do his job. I even had doubts about whether I could fulfill my vocation. My older sisters would remind me that the priesthood involves constant talking, both one-on-one with parishioners and from the pulpit. At one point, I thought about entering the Trappists because they don’t talk. But, I still felt strongly, within myself, that I’m really called to be a parish priest, so I told myself that I’ve got to deal with this.

I believe it was determination, speech therapy, and hard work that took me through stuttering. As a young seminarian, and later a Deacon, the stuttering was getting under control, but always lingering, still threatening my confidence.

I've noticed the stuttering usually comes when I am nervous, speaking in front of strangers, or authority figures. As a Deacon, my biggest challenge was and still is, saying “The Lord be with you” or “Hail Mary” during rosary. There was a time in my ministry when I would stutter on something that I love to do -- giving out communion. I would stutter on “Body of Christ.” More recently, I’ve noticed that I’m stuttering on “Jesus.” Of all words, “Jesus”!

I am very thankful to all the parishioners for accepting me for who I am. I would love to stop stuttering.

"That I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Throughout my journey, I have learned to accept the fact that I stutter. I still don't like my stuttering. I like myself, but not my stuttering. It's not that I am ashamed of my stuttering. I just don't like to have to focus on how I'm speaking so much of the time.

When I am speaking, I often think about what other people are thinking when I stutter and that affects my concentration, so my system breaks down. Because of this, it is difficult to meet new people, make friends, and talk to strangers. It has held me back socially, and taken me quite some time to overcome it. Many people who know me now, can't believe how different I was a few years ago.

I am very proud of the way I handle my stuttering. I am proud of how far I've come in life even with my stuttering, and proud of myself for breaking through my fear of silence. Yes! I'd love to be more fluent -- and perhaps someday will. Sometimes I wonder how my life would've been different if I didn't stutter, or if I would've been different. But then I realized that I would have to have been a totally different person to begin with.

If people once said to me that I would stand and preach in front of many people I would have told them that they were crazy and out of their mind! Although there are many times that I still struggle, I try not to be ashamed of my speech or myself. I remind myself to stay positive and to be proud of who I am. I always try to talk about stuttering. It helps people around me and especially it helps me!

I have other memories of course; but despite my stutter, I had a wonderful childhood. I am sometimes surprised to find that these memories are still so vivid. I can still feel how I felt at the time: angry; sad; ashamed; frustrated; disappointed; different; less than someone else; small; alone. And right alongside those feelings, were the ones of wanting to fight, to show 'them', to win, to be better, to learn, to improve, to succeed. And I did.

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