Friday, July 18, 2008

My Vocation Story

I thought it might be about time to put some content on this page. So I'll start with my own vocation story. It's funny, I've told it a ton of times and at least for me, it never gets old. It is kinda like hearing your parents tell how they met. It's always a joy to hear it again. It's also the first question people ask when they find out you're a seminarian. So I've really gotten used to telling my story and I have the abridged and unabridged version. I think I'll try to fall somewhere in between. These things really can be long affairs.

I was born and raised in the Bay Area. I never wanted to be a priest growing up. It held no attraction to me. I was a Catholic because my family was. I went to Mass and filled up on the sacraments. But that was about it. And I never wanted to be a priest. I say that because I think a lot of times it's easy to think I'm not called to be a priest because I never thought about it until now or someone just planted this crazy idea in me. Well I must start there myself because I never wanted to be a priest.

In fact, it was during my high school years that I went through a test of faith and started drinking, smoking pot, getting into bad relationships with women, and turning from God altogether. It was not until college where I felt the emptiness of drinking and bad relationships. I realized there must be more to life than the miserable muck I had fallen into.

When I got to college at UC Davis, I was depressed and feeling hopeless. I got involved first with a Pentecostal Christian group and I was still floundering in my sorrows. But I finally got involved in the Newman Center because I realized the conflict between being both in a Pentecostal group and going to Catholic Mass. When people came to me who were Catholic, which direction did I turn them? I didn't know. So I started reading about my Catholic faith with the encouragement of some of my fraternity brothers.

I eventually found myself at Newman and passionate about growing in my own faith and encouraging others to discovering the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith. As I found joy in doing ministry, I considered the priesthood for the first time. But there was always something holding me back. I was scared off by the call to celibacy. I got into a good Catholic relationship my sophomore year and I was not about to let it go. I could not overcome my own desire to get married, have children, and on and on. I didn't think I was the man to live a celibate life. I supported celibate priests and understood why priests should be celibate but boy was it a barrier for me. I would not let God in. For the rest of my time in college, I stayed active in my faith but my prayer life wavered because each time I started to get excited in my faith and grow in my relationship with God, I could hear that calling from God again and I did not want it.

After I graduated in 2005 with a sociology degree, I started a volunteer year with a Catholic group living in East LA and working in Downtown LA skidrow. I wanted more experience in social services before applying to grad school for a Masters in Social Work (MSW).

It was not until starting my volunteer year where I was stripped of all my comforts, friends I knew, places to hang out, money to spend, and time to waste that I began to return to prayer once more, realizing my only happiness was drawn from a fruitful life of prayer and devotion to our Lord. I also started reading the lives of some of the greatest saints like St. Catherine of Siena, Padre Pio, St. Maximillian Kolbe, and more who gave their hearts completely and unreservedly. I read JP2’s biography and it simply broke my heart. I was overwhelmed with the pope who had truly given his life for the Church, losing his mother, sister, and then father. He was persecuted and yet still rose up to lead the Church into the 21st century – still bringing souls to Christ.

I started going to Mass somewhat daily with my other housemates and I found a place that did adoration all day so I could go after work. I started reading the Mass readings each day and praying the rosary every day. I started going to confession every two weeks or so. I had a priest who was hard on me and honestly, others were scared to go to him, but I realized I needed this priest to wake me up out of my life of sin and to call me back to Christ. I always like to say that Christ tricked me. He got me back into relationship with Him and then pulled the priesthood on me.

During my volunteer year, I had applied to UC Berkeley to get my MSW and I was accepted. It was my top choice, top 5 school in the country in the field. My girlfriend and I were going on three years at that point. We had talked about engagement and marriage. I was planning to propose to her when I finished my volunteer year. We had thought about getting married the summer after. You see, I had my plans.

But I was praying one day at Mass in this beautiful church in LA after receiving the Eucharist and asking different saints to pray for me. And the thought of priesthood came to mind but this time it wouldn’t leave. Times had come up when I thought about it and I could push it off. But I knew I had to take it seriously. I was at the crossroads of my life and I couldn’t do both. I had no intention of leaving all this, family and career, for the priesthood. I thought I had turned my life in the right direction and was doing God's will. But God wanted me to become a priest and consecrate my life to his service.

But He still had to get past this one thing I was still holding onto, my desire for a wife and family. I had given up some of the material possessions, the time, but He didn't want some of it, He wanted all of it. He wanted me to sacrifice that which I desired most. It was one of the most difficult moments in my life to breakup with my girlfriend of over three years who I was prepared to marry. I had even started thinking about how I would propose, the ring I would buy, and how I would ask permission from her parents. But in a moment, that disappeared.

Let me tell you, there are tears you hear when someone is crying, maybe from falling down or getting yelled at. But then there are tears from a heart that is breaking. I remember those tears so distinctly the day I broke up with my girlfriend. My heart broke too. I struggled for about two weeks after I told my girlfriend, praying and crying out, going back and forth, wanting to call her and tell her it was all a joke. Then one day this peace came over me. And I realized I had made the right decision. It was a lasting peace – a peace that still rests in my heart.

I've often reflect on why this had to happen. Why did I have to get into this wonderful relationship with a girl only to break her heart and break my own heart? Obviously there is no easy answer. But I've finally come to understand a bit of God's wisdom, I think.

First, He wanted me to make a choice for Him. He didn't want me to gamble as I sometimes thought would be nice. I would say, "God, if something happens to this relationship of mine or if my girlfriend breaks up with me, I'll become your priest." But He didn't want that. I was not supposed to "fall" into priesthood but choose it. In fact, later on I discovered from her that she had thought about breaking up with me when I first told her about an interest in the priesthood but she didn't because she felt as though God was telling her not to do it. I had to choose.

Second, He wanted me to be willing to give up every desire I treasured so that I could love Him first. I realized in that moment between choosing priesthood or marriage that God had long asked me to be willing to give up marriage if He was calling me to become a priest. Not because He wanted me to be unhappy or miserable, but because He wanted me to love Him first. He wanted me to see the greatest joy and love in life is not first marriage or any other thing but God Himself.

Third, He wanted to break me so that He could finally take over and my will could be united with His. It was only in my brokenness that I was reminded of my weakness and frailty and the reality that God alone sustains. Only in trusting Him could I find the happiness and the fulfillment I long for in life.

One other thing I have reflected on was my greatest worry leading up to this decision. How could I do this to her? What would happen? There, God provided some of the greatest graces and evidence of his love. Though she struggled through the breakup, she was open to God's will. She supported me through my discernment and even now during my formation in seminary. We still keep in touch regularly. It's been a true blessing. She's grown stronger in her faith and found so many ways to be active in living it. I've been amazed at how much we've both found God's grace pouring out into our lives.

What draws me the priesthood? I could say too much. But I'll leave it simple. The priest is always in touch with the deepest of realities, with the battle for souls, and seeks the greatest treasures of all, the salvation of souls.

And this quote really hits me too. This sense that the vocation to priesthood is a great love affair, a mystery of love between God and man, that draws him to give up his life for the Church, his spouse. good.

We call you 'Father' because you begot us in the mystery of a tremendous love affair between you and God. Because you participate in the one priesthood of Christ. You are wedded to the Church, his bride . . . We call you 'Father' and we are your 'family.' We need you desperately. . . to serve us, to feed us with the Eucharist, to heal us with anointing, to reconcile us to God and one another in penance, to witness our unions of love in marriage, to preach God's Word. . . Teach us how to love. Teach us how to pray. Inflame our hearts with the desire to wash the feet of our poor brethren, to feed them love, and to preach the gospel with our lives."

– Catherine de Hueck Doherty


Josh said...

I just broke up with my girlfriend on Monday to pursue the priesthood. All the reasons God made you break up with your girlfriend He used with me. Thanks for helping me to realize those reasons.

Colin said...

My prayers are with you. It's always amazing how God works. I've always come back to my own vocation story in times of questioning and trial to realize how much God is present in my life. The road ahead is not easy so take courage. AMDG.