"Victory for grace"
(continuation of yesterday's post...)
I entered MSM seminary in the Fall of ’94, basically to see if He was truly calling me to be a priest. I spent two excellent first years there, and really sensed the Call (mainly through experiences in prayer before the Eucharist). But, I didn’t want to be a priest. The whole thing – mainly celibacy – was so new! So, I left the seminary in the Spring of ’96.
I took a job in sales for my brother’s construction company. Great job, good money! I worked there for three years, dated, and bought a house in Wheaton. I kept going to daily Mass and praying the rosary. The Call never left. I kept thinking about the rich young man (cf. Mt 19) who walked away from Jesus’ call to “sell what you have… then come, follow me” (v. 21). I thought, ‘what happens to a man who doesn’t answer the call to be a priest?’ I realized that the call from Christ is a call to happiness. I knew I was called, and now I wanted to be a priest.
I re-entered the seminary in the Fall of ’99, picking up where I had left off (1st theology). I spent another three great years there…studying theology and philosophy, doing apostolic work, praying with the community each day, playing intramural sports with the college students (3 championships!), and getting to know some seriously holy men (who were studying to be priests for dioceses all around the country). I came up for ordination to be a transitional deacon (the year before priesthood) in March ’02; I was finally there!
Or, so I thought… the seminary helped me to see in the days leading up to Diaconate that I wasn’t truly ready to be ordained. The long and short of it was that I realized that I still wasn’t totally on board with the idea that priesthood – celibacy, mainly – would fulfill me. So much of the life of a priest was very attractive, but I wasn’t convinced that I could live the life in peace. So, I left the seminary again in May ‘02, and actually felt much peace and joy (two gifts of the Holy Spirit) in doing so.
I went back to my old sales job, and enjoyed it once again. I was open to dating, and it seemed that everybody and their brother wanted to set me up with a Catholic woman they knew. I have many interesting dating stories from that time. For example, one night at dinner on our second date, one woman asked me all kinds of questions about the Catholic faith (which she brought up). After about an hour of this, she then said, “Geez, I thought you wanted to be a priest because you were a nice guy…I didn’t know you were so religious.” I responded with, “(waiter…) check, please”!
I went to Rome in December ’03 for Mother Teresa’s beatification which was extremely powerful. I prayed hard that God would show me the way, once and for all, with regards to my vocation. The weeks after that trip were grace-filled. I remember driving one day when it just hit me: celibacy is a real gift, and it is for me! This was really the first time that I saw the calling to the priestly celibacy as a gift. It brought a tremendous amount of peace. I waited days and weeks to see if the peace would stay. It has not only stayed, but it has grown each day since then. With the peace and joy that this life is for me, and that I can freely live it, I came back to the Archdiocese to return to the seminary. After some deliberation on its part (and rightly so…I had left twice), the Archdiocese decided to accept me one last time in the summer of ‘04.
I finished up my last year in the seminary in 2005, and spent a pastoral year in a parish from the Fall of ’05 to May ’06. I was ordained a deacon in December of ’05, and a priest in May of ’06, thanks be to God. When the Catholic Standard interviewed me before priesthood ordination, I referred to my journey to the priesthood as a “victory for grace”. His Grace has guided, molded, and shaped me to where I am now: a priest of his Son. God has been calling me this whole time; it has been a calling to happiness and fulfillment. I’m convinced I had to go through all of this (Purgatory on Earth, as I call it…painful but purifying) to arrive at the point where I am now: at peace and loving life!