My Vocation Story So Far
This all started with prayer. In January 2003 I found myself on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament praying the rosary. I was praying about a girl (a really beautiful girl). During the prayer I got the distinct impression I was being called to the priesthood. I wasn’t sure if this was from me or from God, but it started me on a path of discernment. My first instinct was to rebel. I did not want to be a priest. Despite my best efforts to ignore it, I could not let it go.
Fast forward to this summer, three and a half years and three relationships later, it was time to get serious about discerning my vocation. The fact that my contract with the Air Force was about to expire, making seminary a possibility, was a driving factor. Some good friends of mine lead me through a six-week “state in life” discernment program. It was my first introduction to The Spiritual Exercises, and it helped me focus on the spiritual, but it did not give me a decision. So I continued my journey on an eight day silent retreat at the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Couteau, LA.
The retreat was great. It was nice to get away from the world and focus on God. I’ve never prayed so much in my life. God gave me serious grace to shed some attachments which were keeping me from the priesthood. He also gave me a sense of peace about living a celibate life. Ironically enough, losing those attachments made me freer to choose marriage. God’s healing me of certain sins gave me a new sense of freedom, but I still had no answer.
My friends who lead me through my “state in life” decision suggested praying a St. Joseph novena. He has never failed them. So I prayed to the husband of Mary and asked for a decision. God answered our prayers, but not in the way I expected. On the tenth day my commander told me the Air Force was going to move me to Virginia Beach, VA. When the Air Force offers you an assignment, they give you seven days to accept or reject it. If you accept, you have to sign on for another two years of service. If you reject the assignment, you are forced to separate from the military within a few months. There would me no more status quo for me. Either I would move to Virginia Beach and put off seminary for two years, or I would be a civilian in a matter of months. My prayers were answered, a decision was before me.
It did not take long to decide. I had no desire to live in Virginia Beach, and I wanted to be available go to seminary if that is where God was leading me. So I told my commander I would turn down the assignment. At the same time, I updated my “dream sheet” to reflect D.C. or Seattle. It might be worth giving the military two more years to go to my favorite locations. I fully expected to get the assignment to Virginia Beach, and so I was making plans to get out of the Air Force.
I contacted the Diocese of Phoenix about going to seminary in the fall, asked my parents if I could move back in with them and posted my resume on VocationsPlacement.org. I was leaning toward the priesthood, but I really did not want that life. I prayed another St. Joseph’s novena for discernment. This time God threw me curve ball. The ridiculously improbable happened. The Air Force offered me a job at the Pentagon. This would be a huge boost to my career in a great location. Under any other circumstances I would be thrilled with such an assignment, but now I had seminary to think about. A couple of people I respect suggested Satan might be using this dream job to temp me away from the seminary. Others told me this job was a sign from God. What to do?
The answer came quickly. I expected at least seven days to make the decision, but my commander emailed me out of the blue asking for my final answer. He gave me a day. The moment of truth had arrived. I prayed and prayed and prayed. The next day I went to my parish’s adoration chapel and prayed.
I knew two things: I wanted to go to D.C. and I did not want to be a priest. If I chose D.C., I might be choosing it for selfish reasons. If I chose the priesthood, I would certainly be denying myself. My spiritual director suggested I take the more difficult path. I do not want to be the rich man who walked away from Jesus (Mark 10:21-22). I want to follow Him. So I prayed, “LORD, I am going to tell my commander that I am getting out of the Air Force and give up my assignment. If that is not your will, then do something to stop me.”
I hoped for an Abrahamic moment where God would intervene at the last minute, but I knew I could not count on that. I also knew I did not have the strength to give up my assignment. So I prayed. I prayed for strength. I prayed for grace. I kept repeating my favorite line of the Anima Christi, “Passion of Christ, strengthen me.”
I left the chapel and drove to my squadron. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. Upon arrival, I noticed my commander’s car was not in his spot. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. So I sat down at my desk and waited for him to return. Later that afternoon, I got another email from him. This time he told me he did not need an answer because I could not refuse the assignment.
I went to his office and told him that I was planning on getting out of the Air Force. His response, “The email says you cannot refuse the assignment, so I am not going to take any action on what you just told me.” He was technically right, but I did not have to accept the two-year active duty service commitment. At first, I was relieved that I did not need to make a decision right away, but then it hit me. God intervened. I expected something dramatic like a car accident. Instead God just stopped my commander from acting on my decision. While this sunk in, a wave of peace fell over me. God was telling me to go to D.C.
This was confirmed by my friends who lead me through the “state in life” discernment. They had thought all along that I needed to accept the assignment. I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. This burden of being a priest was finally lifted. God has given me the freedom to pursue marriage. Ironically enough, while perusing some vocations brochures, I started to really see the beauty of the religious vocation. I can finally see priesthood as a joy, not a burden.
I don’t know what God will do with these next two years. Maybe He will place a longing in my heart for a religious vocation. Maybe He will put a woman in my life who sets my heart on fire. I don’t know, but I am open to whatever God has in store me. I have a great sense of joy and peace in following His will.
Thank you, Jesus.