Please pray for me and my brother priests!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

My Story

This blog was originally published on my other blog. I repost it here because I think it provides a good backgroung. I am asked constantly why I became a priest. People ask me in person, and people ask me via MySpace. I am always happy to answer, but my fingers can't take anymore typing, so I thought a blogged answer would satisfy the masses and save me some precious time, so here goes. I'll start at the beginning and work my way forward. (After typing this, I realized that it's around 1,800 words. A little long, but bear with me. I think you'll enjoy reading it.)



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As a little kid I thought about priesthood. My first inkling was as a small boy, no older then 7, while at Holy Mass with my Nana. She was a devout woman who served as her parish housekeeper. I recall kneeling, looking up at the altar, and thinking, "I think I should do that." I began talking about it, and recall telling two of my great-aunts one day on my Aunt Carolyn's back porch, to which one replied, "Don't be a Franciscan, they beg for their food. Be a Jesuit, they live like kings." Needless to say, I am not a Franciscan, for I am not called to poverty. Neither am I am Jesuit, for I was not called to the current charism of that order.


As I got a little older, it stuck with me. My family wasn't especially devout; we went to Mass on Christmas and Easter if we had time. I insisted on becoming an altar boy, though, and my parents let me. My brother joined me, and my folks would drop us off at Mass, and then pick us up afterwards. I really loved being on the altar. I think that this may have been because I always had a sense of Jesus' presence in the Eucharist. I couldn't have identified it, but it was there, and I recall being aware of it.


Also as a young boy, I discovered Mary. I found a prayer card to "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" and began saying the prayer every night before bed. I had a rosary in the "junk drawer" in my bedroom, and asked my father how to say it. He taught me, and I began saying it at night as I lay in bed. Mary was important to me then, and even more so now. She nurtures and guides vocations, is the Queen of the Clergy, but more importantly is the Mother of Priests.


When I reached middle school, priesthood was still in my mind. However, with the discovery of the fairer sex, all such thoughts were banished. I met my first girlfriend in the 7th grade, and began to fall in love with politics as well around the same time. These two interests would remain with me for a long time, and as good as both are, provided a distraction from what God was calling me to.


I also discovered EWTN, run by a nun who looked exactly like one of my dearest great -aunts. This is why I stopped on Mother Angelica one day, but not why I kept watching. I learned nothing in CCD, and thought the faith had nothing to teach me, nothing to offer me. Mother changed all that. She presented a faith that was simple to understand, yet rich with hope, love and truth. She shaped my faith, shaped me as a Catholic, and taught me that the faith was reasonable and the only thing that made life worth living. The one thing that was hammered home in me was the Eucharistic presence of the Lord. What I had known and believed as a child I now had a vocabulary for. The Real Presence. This changed my life. Also, Mother introduced me to sin. This wasn't a true introduction, as I had known sin most of my life, but now I knew what it was, that it stole away from me the happiness for which God made me, and how to avoid it: The Confessional! The Eucharist and Confession have been the two tethers, the two supports of my life, and the foundation upon which my life it built. (Pray for Mother Angelica, her order, and EWTN, if you would. It is an amazing tool and instrument of God's love in the world today.)
Also, though EWTN, I got to see and know Pope John Paul II. His example, his words, his joy, his person inspired me and made me want to be like him. As a matter of record, as an altar boy I marched into the sacristy and told my childhood pastor that I wanted to be Pope. His advice? "Be a priest first. It's how you get there."


In high school, my junior year, I spoke to my Latin teacher about becoming a priest. I knew he had studied with the Stigmatine Fathers for about 6 years and still regarded them very highly. He took me to see them, and they asked me a simple question, "Why do you want to become a priest?" I was at a loss to answer. The only thing I could say is that I thought God was calling me to such a life. They wanted more, though, (and rightly so) and told me to wait until after college and then come back to speak with them. To the ears of the 17 year old, this sounds like the brush off and I thought I had fulfilled my obligation to God in checking this out, and I was free to do what I wanted to.


I enlisted in the Army shortly after this meeting. I enlisted for two reasons, the first being a real desire to serve my country. The second reason was that as a career in politics awaited me, the best first step was military service. I was a part of the "split option program'. I completed basic training the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, was a reservist my senior year, and then went away after graduation to complete AIT and receive assignment. I was technically a reservist with plans to go active post-graduation.


I loved high school, and graduation was bittersweet. I had a great bunch of friends, a great girlfriend whom I began dating sophomore year, and a happy existence. I was looking forward to, however, beginning my military service. I was sent to Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio Texas, and loved it there. San Antonio is a great city, Fort Sam is a great base, and I believe I was a good soldier. While there, I had been speaking to the Army chaplain about priesthood, and told him that my girlfriend and love of the service prevented me from really looking at priesthood as I thought I should. He told me that God would take care of it if He wanted me. Then, a week after this conversation, I received my "Dear John" letter in the mail. I was devastated, and thought, irrationally, that the priest had somehow orchestrated this. 3 or 4 weeks later, I passed out on a PT run, was taken to the hospital for testing, was told I had severe bronchial spasms, and was discharged from service. Both of my roadblocks had been removed.


I returned home late October depressed and not thinking about much of anything. My friends had, for the most part, all gone away to college (and a few to the military). I was, for the first time in a long time, single and alone, and felt like I had little to no control over my life. I still went to Mass on Sundays, but little else. Priesthood wasn't pushed out of my mind, but it wasn't even on the radar screen. I began working, first as a Security Guard at an Anheiser Busch plant (not as glamorous as one might think), then third shift at a hotel. I also worked part time at a restaurant. One of my oldest friends was still around, and I stayed with him for quite a while. My weeks were spent working, and my weekends were spent visiting friends at school or hanging out with the buddy who hadn't gone away. Not very exciting or edifying, I fear.


I knew I had to start college, so I applied to Hesser College, a small liberal arts/business school in Manchester, NH, and began there the fall of 1998. I enjoyed my time there greatly, but priesthood started to come to mind again. I searched for priests on America Online, and found a couple. I e-mailed them, told them I was a college student thinking about priesthood, and asked if they would correspond with me, so as to answer my questions.


One of them accepted the invitation. This Boston priest was a tremendous help to me. He advised me, guided me, and prayed for me. I visited him in his parish after a couple of weeks of constant correspondence, and I saw that the parish had a perpetual adoration chapel. I didn't know what that was. He explained it to me. Back at school, I noticed that the parish up the street from my college had one as well, and I began to go at night after my RA shift was over. At first I couldn't spend 20 minutes without getting bored and antsy. Soon enough, though, after a couple of hours I had to make myself go back to the dorm so that I could get some sleep. God was working overtime in me!


I decided to apply for the Seminary at the beginning of second semester, and I was borrowing cars to drive to Boston weekly to meet with and be interviewed by the vocation director of the Archdiocese of Boston, who happened to be the dean of the Seminary College as well, Father Bob Flagg. (He was a tremendous man, a great priest, and is sadly missed. He passed away shortly after I finished college. Pray for him, if you would.) I was nervous that my stuttering would keep me from priesthood, but Flaggy, as I would learn he was affectionately called, told me, "As long as you can say 'second collection' you'll be all set'. Well I could, and as Flaggy said, I was all set.

I was accepted on Holy Thursday of 1999, and began at the Seminary fall of 1999. I have never looked back. Were their difficult times, or times of doubt? Sure, but they were never doubts that I was called, only doubts that I could do what God asked of me. These are two distinct and different doubts. The longer I studied, the more I prayed, and the deeper I entered into formation, the more at ease and at peace I felt. I found happiness and joy, mixed with a healthy dose of the cross, and learned that what a priest 'is', is what I was called to become.

Why did I become a priest? Because nothing else would ever bring me more joy. Because I feel in my soul a zeal for the salvation of souls, and know that this happens though the sacraments of the Church, especially baptism, confession and Holy Mass. Because God called and offered me a gift, priceless and noble that I would be a fool to refuse. Because I love the Church, and wanted to serve Her with my whole being. Because I believe that the Truth is not an ideal, but a person: Jesus Christ. He is worth living for, He is worth dying for, and to serve Him makes my life complete.


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I was ordained May of 2006, and my priesthood is in its infancy. However, while my priesthood is only at its beginning, this blog is at its end. (I didn't think it would be this long!) As I read it and edit it, I realize there is a lot more I could write that I didn't. This isn't complete, and despite its length, it's truly a synopsis. I think it hits upon all the major 'stuff' though, and hopefully you find it, if not helpful, at least interesting.
Hopefully this answers the question, "Why did you become a priest, tell me your story" a little bit. Also, if you haven't subscribed, please do!




Questions, comments are always welcome and invited.


God love you!




2 comments:

friarpark said...

Thank you for writing this, it should be mailed to all school age Catholic boys across the country.

I would love to read the rest of the story. I thought about becoming a priest when I was in grade school, but the 60's were too big of a pull. While I love my family, I sometimes muse on what I passed up, or at least what I didn't investigate further.
God bless you always, Father!
Brian

janet_baker76 said...

I pray for you every day at mass.