|Fr. Konstantin von Ballestrem LC|
*Translation of the Deutsch original text
was five or six years old and coming out of
the parish after Sunday Mass, I told my mom, who
held me by the hand: “Mom, one day I want
to be a saint.” Little did I know what that
meant or implied. But to me, the saints seemed to
be life models worth imitating; and holiness looked like something
worth spending my life for. This resolution was soon threatened
by tests, small ones at first, but increasingly strong ones
as I grew.
Other attractions presented themselves: spending time with friends
without worrying so much about being holy; travelling and getting
to know other countries, people, cultures; I played the cello
in an orchestra and the drums in a band… In
short, my former idea gradually moved to second place, and
although I sometimes took it up again from time to
time, I was increasingly ready to let it disappear.
the German Military
After finishing school and facing the need
to decide about my future path, I found myself with
no inclination toward any particular direction or course of study.
What would I do with my life? I was interested
in philosophy and theology even seemed attractive to me. But
I thought that in order to study those subjects I
would have to become a priest, and I knew that
wasn’t for me.
In my country, military service is obligatory,
so for a time I was saved from having to
make the decision. I joined the army and immediately committed
myself to the two year course of studies to become
an officer in the reserve. What can I say about
the time I spent “in arms”? There are many opinions,
and sometimes very severe ones, about armies and life in
them. Although military customs and morals are in part very
special, I have to say that for me, it was
not a waste of time.
At first, I was frightened;
up to that time, I had lived in the protective
greenhouse of my home and in the healthy world of
my school, which was run by Dominican nuns. There was
none of that in the soldiers’ barracks, obviously. I found
myself with a kind of “cross-section” of my generation with
boys from all kinds of backgrounds. As is natural in
groups like this, living together became fertile ground for many
initiatives, both good and bad. Little by little, I learned
that the good initiatives had to be raised up and
taken advantage of; as for the bad ones, I had
to make a decision: either let myself follow along, blaming
“the bad environment of the army” or remember my principles
and act upon them. It was a challenge for anyone
who was disposed to face it. Perhaps influenced by my
old childhood resolution, I almost instinctively decided that I had
to do what was worth doing. Thus, the army became
an effective school of maturation and consolidation of the principles
I had learned at home.
Lourdes and a Visit to the
Nevertheless, the end of those two years
came along and once again I had to decide what
to do. What did I want? What did I like?
What was I enthused about? I couldn’t say, at least,
not with enough clarity to sign up peacefully for a
particular degree. I decided to start a degree in law.
Many in a similar situation did the same: it was
a path of studies that opened up many options.
chose a school in the city where I had been
born, but where I had not lived long: Freiburg, at
the Black Forest (a really beautiful piece of God’s creation
in the southeast of Germany). But beforehand, I did something
that, as small as it may seem, turned out to
be very important for my future. In the summer after
finishing my military service, I participated as a chaperone in
a train of sick people who were travelling to Lourdes.
We were a team of men and women, boys and
girls, who had committed to take care of all the
logistics, medical care, and practical help that the sick people
might need on this special train that was travelling from
Trier, in Germany, to Lourdes. Now I think that God
used that little gesture of generosity to let a new
seed fall into my soul.
In fact, when I came
back from that trip, which was pretty exhausting, I knew
that the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Germany
was not far away. It was hardly an hour and
a half away. That same summer, a distant cousin of
mine had entered, and had written to me to invite
me to visit him if ever I was passing by
that way. Since I was now “passing by,” I decided
to do it.
To tell the truth, I enjoyed the
visit, but that was as far as it went. I
thought, “How good that these young men want to do
this and give their lives for God.” But it wasn’t
for me. I already had everything arranged to start my
studies in law, and I wasn’t going to change my
plans. Even so, this visit did allow an epistolary correspondence
to start, which would remain with me during the next
two years, and would help me in a difficult situation
which was on its way.
Why Not Ask God?
started my studies in Freiburg. I had some friends there,
got to know others, more or less studied, went out
with friends, and had a good time. Nevertheless, after a
while of living this more or less directionless life, I
started to get a strange pain in my stomach. The
doctors took a while to figure out what it was.
In the end, it turned out to be a chronic
inflammation of my intestine, but since at that time they
didn’t know what it was, I was given a bit
of a random therapy. The problem, they said, was that
I had to change my life: eat less, eat more
carefully chosen foods, exercise more, etc. In short, I was
to get a more “balanced” life. Around the same time,
I began to find that jurisprudence held no attractions for
me. The subjects seemed dry, theoretical, and boring to me.
I started to question this whole matter of my studies
and the future again. It was necessary to think about
my life more carefully again.
During this time, I had
kept up a sporadic correspondence with my cousin, the novice.
When something about my little crisis came out in my
letters, he suggested that I involve God in the process
of looking for the meaning of my life. The reasoning
was simple: “He made you—he made you as you are
and not in any other way – so he is
the one who will have some idea about what you’re
going to be able to do and be. So ask
him what his plan is.” The truth is that I
didn’t give much credence to his theory that I was
going to find some kind of an answer in prayer.
But I did have enough curiosity to give it a
try. I visited the neighborhood chapel more frequently, put myself
in front of the tabernacle, and listened… At the beginning,
there was nothing. I began to pray: “Lord, since you
made me, tell me what for…” Little by little, I
felt that someone was indeed speaking to me, very gently,
but enough to continue with the conversation. That cousin of
mine is now Father Sylvester Heereman, LC, the territorial director
of the Legion of Christ in Germany.
Finding My Purpose at
One day, my cousin invited me to accompany him
in a gathering of boys who were going to Rome.
I had already organized a week of vacation of skiing
in the mountains. I don’t know why, but I decided
to cancel it and go to Rome instead. It was
my second visit to a Legionary center, only this time
it was bigger, a lot bigger than the novitiate in
Germany. I found myself with more than 300 joyful, fervent,
disciplined, attentive, and charitable young men, which made a deep
impression on me. I talked to a lot of them,
asked them their stories, and learned a lot. And I
thought inside, “This could be a life worth living.”
returning to Germany, I had to take some exams in
the university and after about two weeks, on a Friday
afternoon, I suddenly saw it very clearly: “God wants me
to be a Legionary of Christ priest, so that’s what
I’m going to do.” When I said this “yes” to
God, he filled me soul in an instant with so
much happiness, joy, and strength that I couldn’t doubt that
this was the right path. Very grateful, peaceful, and deeply
joyful, I went to the novitiate to communicate my decision.
I was ready to enter at once, but since it
was January and the candidacy began in July, we saw
that it was better for me to give some months
as a co-worker. Thus, I was able to stay for
about three months in Mexico before entering the novitiate, a
period that enriched me a lot, strengthened my decision, and
renewed my old resolution to be a saint.
I want to express my gratitude. My first thanks go
to God, who with his infinite goodness and great wisdom
guided me along my path until here, and also to
the Blessed Virgin who always accompanied me. Then I would
like to thank all those who have given me their
guidance and support: my parents, especially, my family, so many
friends and acquaintances, and particularly the saints I have been
able to get to know. Finally, I thank all those
who perhaps I don’t know, but who with their prayer
and sacrifices are praying for vocations day by day, to
make a miracle like this possible. May God bless you
and may the Blessed Virgin protect you!
Father Konstantin Ballestrem was
born on August 8, 1973 in Freiburg, Germany, in a
Catholic family which soon moved to live in Bavaria in
the diocese of Augsburg. There, the young Konstantin went to
school and completed his military service. Afterwards, he returned to
Freiburg to study law. After a brief period as a
Regnum Christi co-worker, he entered the novitiate of the Legion
of Christ in the summer of 1996. He studied one
year of humanities in Salamanca, Spain, and later went to
Rome to study philosophy. He spent three years of apostolic
practices in the novitiate in Germany, in Bad Münstereifel, near
Cologne, and then returned to Rome to finish his studies.
He is currently studying a license in dogmatic theology and
is accompanying a group of religious students in their formation.