Saturday, March 17, 2007

TU ES SACERDOS IN AETERNUM

PART II of My Vocation Story (Sorry it is so long.)

College over meant facing the real work-a-day world and I loved it. I had a great time working in a number of places as a light designer, set designer, stage carpenter, prop master, stage manager, director, and various and sundry other jobs that kept me employed and life interesting.

The thing that was attractive about the theater was the idea that if someone attended a performance, their life had to be effected. They would either have to reaffirm what they already believed or they would be challenged to explore new ideas. They would have to think.

The problem was there was not always any control over the message and if I wanted to eat, I would have to do a great job and putting across messages that I detested. One day I was stage-managing a show that was called something like “The Seven Princesses.” There are only two things that come to mind about the show: The set represented the legs of a woman spread – and – well – I really don’t want to describe the rest of the set, and the women with whom I was friends had to wear costumes that I felt were beneath their dignity. One night this notion came over me like a sickening cloud and I knew then that I could not do this for the rest of my life. The message must be one that I can believe in or I could not be a part of it.

There was a church that had perpetual adoration in town and so a visit was made late that night and a deal was struck with God. If He would allow me to accomplish 5 life goals, then I would look into the seminary again. These were long-term goals. At best I estimated they would take a decade to accomplish. Four of the five were done before the end of summer. God can be like that.

Working in another town and attending daily mass during Lent worried that I might finish the last of the five goals, a priest, Fr. Keller, tapped me on the shoulder and said that he wanted to speak to me after mass. In the sacristy with no hesitation he asked, “Did you ever think about the priesthood?” I laughed and said that it had been considered. Pressed as to what was holding me back I told him of my fifth goal: to have all of my student loans paid off. His response was basically that this last goal was (rubbish) and that he was personally going to take me to visit the seminary on Monday (a dark day for the theater.)

I thought we were going to check the place out and look around. It turns out there were meetings and an application form and just like that I was back home telling my Dad (anti-Church) and Mom (a saint) that I was applying to go back to school (again), and not only school but to the seminary.

As you probably have figured out, I was accepted. But I still did not go in. There were some jobs that I promised to do (and wanted to do) and so put it off for another year.

If you are considering a priestly or religious vocation, note that it is not at this point that the gates are locked and your life course is set. This is just the courtship phase so to speak. My third year the live-in experience was horrible to put it mildly. The good part about it was, that although I HATED the situation, I loved ministering. But my impression was that those in charge at this particular period wanted no part of me in the priesthood. Three quarters of the way through the year I had enough. I was willing to become a priest, it was choice number one, but there were other things that I could do and if they didn’t want me there, that would be just fine.

I packed my bags and started making the appropriate calls informing people that I was leaving. Here the Holy Spirit played a role in making everyone unavailable except for my spiritual director who imparted good, calm advice (which is why I recommend a spiritual director for everyone.) He said, “Don’t give them the satisfaction. Make ‘em kick you out.” So I attacked the rest of the year with that attitude and it ended on a good note followed by a couple of fabulous years of formation and then (thanks be to God) ordination.

This may seem lengthy, but it really is the bare bones version of a longer story. Pulling out these highlights may make is it seem like a clear path, but it was not. And I was extremely fortunate to have family, friends, parish, and pastor who were exceedingly supportive, not something that a lot of guys have, and I owe those supporters much.

Bishop Gries came to St. Clare this past Thursday for confirmation and in his homily told a story about his mother who died about a year ago. He was going through her prayer book and came across a letter she wrote to God. In it she asked God how she could be so blessed that her son, the fruit of her womb, could call on God and make Jesus present on the altar. It still amazes me too. I still get chills when the congregation says, “May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His Name, for our good and the good of all His Church.” What an honor!

If you are contemplating a religious vocation, know of my prayers and if I can answer any questions, please feel free to Email me. In the Diocese of Cleveland, my classmate Fr. Mike Gurnick is in charge of vocations. He is still getting his feet wet but will work with you in any way he can to help you in your discernment. God bless.

5 comments:

Rob said...

-those in charge at this particular period wanted no part of me in the priesthood.-

Thank you for pulling through, father. I have heard this story before, a certain clique controlling the seminaries and forcing good men out. I thank God he gave you the grace to get through it all.

Adoro te Devote said...

OH MY GOODNESS!

Fr. V., first of all, thank you for telling your story. I have actually heard other priests describing some of the same battles you faced in the seminary, and they're awesome priests, now, too! :-)

Secondly, I think that you might just have delivered a personal message. I don't want to go into it here, but your comment about the Spiritual Director kinda just hit a bullseye in relation to a prayer I said not even 5 minutes ago.

Hmm...must pray some more....

Rapaella said...

Beautiful picture of my parish, St Augustine. Did you take it yourself?

Love your website!

Fr. V said...

Rapaella, No, I didn't take this one - I stole it form their web site. I did take the one that was on the front of their bulletin - at least it was up to two years ago.

sparky said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for sticking it out at the seminary when you were hasseled. You proved that at least ONE orthodox priest can't be intimidated! What if every good seminarian had done that! I was reading a little Bishop Sheen prayer book that said nothing good comes without suffering and humiliation. I used to think that was a sign I was in over my head. Now I take hardship as a sort of anointing - it helps you build calluses for the future.