A vocation to the priesthood.
There in the Campus Starbucks, after laying out the facts, I had convinced myself: “Father, I suppose the most coherent thing for me to do would be to follow, give God the first shot. I had my plans, but I suppose that if there is nothing for me to sacrifice, then where is the merit?” Father sat back in his chair reserving his elation and surprise at my conclusion. He simply nodded in agreement. I am even more astonished that such decisive words would come out of my often indecisive mouth. I thank God for enabling me to see his provident hand in the normal occurrences of my life and to hear his call, bidding me to seek that something more for which my heart longed.
Of all factors that protected and fostered my vocation, my family was the principle one. Despite the normal quarrels and spats, I experienced true love at home. Although I grew up Catholic, I was inconstant in my efforts to delve into the richness of the faith. Later in college, God put several people in my path to spark within me a desire to learn more about what I grew up believing. I began to see as well that, although I had loved God, I had not been seeking him alone.
The search for God continued as I entered my junior year at the University of Central Florida. A friend from Campus Crusade for Christ had spent the summer in Bosnia doing missionary work. Her joy radiated as she recalled sharing Christ with so many in dire straits. I promised God that the following summer I would do something for him. A couple of weeks later, I struck up a conversation after Mass with an old friend from high school. We talked about life, the faith, people, and the perfect girl. Our meetings grew in frequency, our topics in depth. We began to reach life-changing conclusions, namely that we had to work to win back the culture for Christ.
I began to become more involved in my faith—praying a group rosary while walking around campus, participating in service projects, and ultimately taking a pilgrimage to Washington, DC for the March-for-Life. The atmosphere of prayer, the conferences, and the March itself all helped to center my thoughts on souls and my need to do something to end that horrible evil. Most of our hearts were set ablaze after the March and I, in particular, made several promises at the start of that Great Jubilee Year 2000: to pray in front of a local abortion center, pray the rosary daily, attend weekday Mass, frequent Confession, and attend the retreat a friend had mentioned.
In February, I entered into my first set of Ignatian spiritual exercises. My heart had been blossoming in the wellspring of grace and I was reaching a sort of climax after years of searching for that something more. Then it happened: in a mysterious and silent way, the Holy Spirit whispered in my soul, “Priesthood!”
I had never thought of it before, and so naturally after hearing Christ’s invitation, I was a bit confused. I did not expect to hear what he had whispered to me and I had my own plans, which seemed to be his will.
Thankfully, God took the initiative and a Legionary priest called me. After telling him my story in the Starbucks Café, he mentioned a ‘Test Your Call’ retreat at the Legionary seminary in Connecticut and also a three month summer candidacy program for discernment. As soon as he had said “summer,” I recalled the promise that I had made in the fall. I boarded a plane for the first time in my life and I visited the seminary.
I attended the March retreat and I experienced Christ as never before. Jesus was absolutely real and alive! My idea of a God of love developed into a personal love for this God, who generously gave himself up for me. The atmosphere at the seminary was also incredible: healthy, young, joyful, and mature men all vested in black cassocks. I was thoroughly impressed. They exuded authentic Christian goodness. I had never experienced anything like it.
I returned to Florida thinking of little except going back to Connecticut. My hesitant nature, however, put up obstacles and there were times when I began to have second thoughts. I went to my pastor for advice. He said something that has stuck with me to this day, “God normally wants you where you are; if not, he will let you know. It seems that he is letting you know so you can only follow him by taking this next step.” God helped me to see that I was lacking generosity. He guided me as a true father during those months prior to summer. I would second-guess my interior inspirations again and I went to one of my professors who told me, “I have learned one thing in my life: when God asks you to do something, you do it, and then, there is peace.”
Jesus, the Faithful Friend, helped me to persevere in my decision and to attend the summer Candidacy program. Fifty other young men from around the country gave God that summer to see what he wanted from them. In the end, not all joined the Legion. Some returned to their respective diocesan seminaries or joined other orders, still others went on to be good and holy husbands and fathers. That summer gave these men the opportunity to give God their all and to have the time and atmosphere to hear his voice. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the many details of my life, how God planted a seed of desire in my heart and then watered it through a series of events and people I met along the way. I was amazed and humbled. I was amazed that despite my failures and time wasted he never gives up on me. I was humbled by his love for me and his choice for me to serve Him as his priest and as his Legionary. It was the best summer of my life.
Summer turned into fall and I joined the Novitiate. There, engraved in the doorpost of the main entrance, was the Legionary motto. At last, I found that “something more” for which my heart had been yearning: Christus, Vita Vestra, Christ, Your Life!