National Vocations Awareness Week Special: How did you find your vocation?
Providentially, as this week is National Vocations Awareness Week, I could think of no better time to answer this recently asked question about discovering my vocation.
My own story of “finding” my vocation goes back to my teenage years. Though some important moments of my growing in faith came earlier (such as my start as an altar server during elementary school years), it was especially during my high school years that I truly began to open up to the possibility of becoming a priest. In addition, there were several people who played a role in my becoming aware that God may be calling me to be a priest – including one priest and some of the people of my parish church. I will say a little bit about these key happenings and important people while sharing a funny story…or two.
As I was going through my teenage years, my life as a Catholic was becoming more and more important to me. One event which deeply affected me was the Marian Year that was declared by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1987-88 (when I was in 9th grade). I remember this year because of my parents’ regular participating in the Marian devotions that were offered by our priest each week – even though I did not go to them. I also remember seeing the pilgrimage statue of Our Lady of Fatima around this time when it came to our area – and how the speaker who presented the statue told us of the power of the Rosary.
This openness to the power of the Rosary would lead me later, when I was in 10th grade, to start praying the Rosary every day before going to school – though I confess that I did it hoping that it would help me excel in basketball unto making the state tournament. Well, in God’s plan, I never made the state tournament in basketball; but I did (quite unexpectedly to me) qualify for the state competition in speech in 12th grade. I took this moment as a sign to consider the priesthood, as I had gone out for speech in 11th and 12th grade thinking “if I am called to be a priest, I will need to be comfortable speaking in front of people.” I truly believe Mary’s intercession was a huge part of this happening, as well as other events that helped me discover my call. Therefore, when I reflect on these moments and their impact in my finding my
vocation, I know that the Rosary played a huge role.
Some key people included some holy women of my parish where I grew up: St. Theresa’s in Effie, MN. These ladies, most of whom prayed the Rosary together every Sunday before our 8:30am Mass, used to encourage me to think about the priesthood with their words of support. Another key person was my confirmation sponsor, who was a very visible member of our parish and a man I grew to deeply trust. Finally, my priest during those years, Fr. Larry Antus, O.M.I., had an enormous impact. He once asked me and two other boys whether any of us had thought about the priesthood. I was getting good grades at the time and so I told Fr. Larry something like “a future ‘valedictorian’ would go to waste.” Needless to say, he was not happy with that
answer! (Truth is that I did not finish at the top of my class – which, in a group of only 23 graduates in 1991 at Bigfork High would not have been saying much anyway). However, Fr. Larry always remembered this incident, as years later after I was ordained, when we would see each other he used to say to me: “It’s the brain surgeon!” Fun stories aside, Fr. Larry had a huge influence upon my saying “yes” – as his example of the love of Jesus and his generous giving of himself for the people was very evident to me. He helped me to see how beautiful it is to be able to offer the sacraments and to share the Catholic faith with others as a priest.
Thus, my finding my vocation were highly influenced by prayer, especially the Rosary, by the witness and encouragement of holy people, and by a real desire in my own heart to share the faith – so that others could also know the love of Jesus Christ in their lives.