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Turn to Jesus (Article)

“His gentle whisper prevailed”
Father David S. Koonce LC

P. David Scott Koonce, L.C.
Fr. David Scott Koonce, L.C.
The year was 1995, and I was attending the Easter “Test Your Call” retreat at the Legionary novitiate in Cheshire when I heard Christ´s call to drop everything and follow him as a Legionary. It certainly wasn´t what I was expecting, nor was it what I was looking for at that moment! I was only in my third year of college, and still had another full year remaining in order to finish. But Christ´s invitation was clear: Drop everything, leave your friends, your family, your plans, and follow me. Now.

With an invitation like that, I did the most natural thing possible – I panicked. The thought terrified me, and it was that very terror that convinced me it was real. Most people don´t feel terrified by figments of their imagination! In my panic, I started to look for someone to talk to, but found no one. From the depth of my anguish, I let out a cry from the heart: “Jesus, I trust in you! Thy will be done!” And that was it. At that moment, a sense of peace pervaded my soul, followed by a thrill of excitement. Christ was calling me to follow him! Just as he had called Simon and Andrew, James and John as he walked by the Sea of Galilee 2000 years before, now he set his eyes on me and repeated his invitation. It was like opening a page of the Gospels and stepping right into the scene!

Of course, it was a long process to bring me to those decisive days in the spring of 1995. God had been patient with me for many years. For my entire life, the priesthood had been in the back of my mind, but I never wanted to be a priest. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to become: perhaps a scientist, or a writer, or a professional trumpet player. I was open to anything – anything but the priesthood, that is.

Naturally, my own plans included marriage: a wife, kids and a dog, with a nice, middle income house in suburbia. I simply couldn’t see myself as a priest. I didn’t think I had the qualities. But God had other plans, and he gently cared for the seed of my vocation.

One weekend during the summer of ’94, while I was home from college, we happened to have a visiting priest celebrate Mass. In his homily, he spoke about the priesthood, and something he said struck a chord with me. In my mind, I was certain that God was calling me to be a priest, but my heart still wasn’t convinced. I was in love with the idea of being in love and of getting married. Deep down, I was looking for someone to love, and someone who would love me in return, someone I could spend my life with. Although I was certain that God was calling me to the priesthood, I resented it. I thought celibacy meant giving up love and the possibility for happiness. I would often ask God, “How could you ask this from me?”

Still, the idea of the priesthood kept hounding me. What’s more, it was starting to grow more and more attractive, though I wasn’t ready to do anything about it. Yet I knew that somewhere along the path of my life, I would come to a fork in the road, where I would either have to go one way or the other, towards marriage and my career plans, or towards the priesthood. The worst thing was that, although I knew the fork was up ahead, I didn’t know where, nor when I would come to it, nor what decision I would make when I got there!

The moment came when I least expected it. It was a Tuesday night, October 4, 1994. I was at a meeting of the university Newman Club with my fellow Catholic students. Normally we would have a guest speaker, but that particular night we just had a round table chat to get to know each other better. Whoever wanted to do so could share some problem they were having, so that the rest of the group could keep that intention in their prayers. Although I didn’t have anything in particular in mind, I nevertheless asked for the floor to request prayers for my sister, who was going through a rough period at the time. Just as I was about to open my mouth to speak, a voice inside said: “Talk about the priesthood!” Before I knew what I was doing, there I was talking about my struggles to discern a vocation to the priesthood!

When the meeting had ended, one of my friends came up to me, and said, “You know, David, ever since that one time two years ago when you mentioned that you were thinking about the priesthood, I’ve kept thinking that God was calling you to the priesthood, and I just wanted you to know that I’ve been keeping you in my prayers.”

Just then, another friend whom I had known for three years walked up and said practically the same thing, word for word. Immediately, a third friend approached. He was a freshman, and we had only known each other about six weeks. He said, “You know, ever since the first week I knew you, I thought to myself, ‘That guy should be a priest!’” I was stunned, but tried not to show it.

As I walked back to my apartment that crisp, dark autumn night, I kept turning these things over and over in my mind. How was it possible? In my own eyes, I wasn’t cut out for the priesthood, yet what others saw in me was quite different. Could it be that I was blind to the qualities and the vocation God had given me? It just didn’t add up.

I walked along further, down into a little valley, and as I crossed the railroad tracks and started up the hill that led to my apartment, I knew what my decision would be. I had come to the fork in the road, and I took the path God had marked out for me from all eternity. And do you know what? A huge grin crossed my face, and I was happy, incredibly happy.

How was it that I came to the decision then and there? What happened to dispel the obstacles that my heart kept putting in the way? Did this mean that I was giving up on love and happiness in this life?

I am not sure when or how it happened, but in the weeks leading up to that moment, and immediately following it, I had begun to realize that love and celibacy were not opposed, but went hand in hand. I had begun to understand that the call to the priesthood is a call to love Christ with a deep, personal, intimate love. I was looking for someone to love and someone who would love me in return. And Christ said. “I am that Someone.”

Looking back on the eve of my priestly ordination, I can only marvel at God’s providence and his patience. At specific times and places he put certain people on my path, people who could see God’s plan for me, even when I couldn’t. Moreover, he was patient, but insistent, and although I often tried to close my ears, his gentle whisper prevailed.

Father David S. Koonce, L.C. was born and raised in Mayfield, Kentucky. He is the youngest of three children born to David and Barbara Koonce. After completing high school in his home town, he attended Furman University in Greenville, South Caroline. for three years, where he pursued a degree in music. In 1995, he entered the Legionary novitiate, and made his first profession of vows two years later. From 1998 to 2000, he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Pontifical Atheneum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. From 2000 to 2003, he worked at the Legionaries’ North American headquarters, after which time he returned to Rome to study theology. He is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in dogmatic theology. Father David was ordained to the priesthood on December 23, 2006.



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