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Turn to Jesus (Article)

It’s Time to Know What God Wants of You
Vocational Testimony of Fr. Juan Carlos Rentería, LC

Testimonio vocacional del P. Juan Carlos Rentería L.C.
Fr. Juan Carlos Rentería L.C.
I was born on December 23, 1974 in Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, in Mexico in the Hospital Guadalajara. I was baptized on December 25, the day of our Lord’s birth. My grandfather on my dad’s side was in a hurry for me to be baptized, and in fact, my mother was not able to go. Maybe that’s why my grandmother decided to name me Juan Carlos, not only because it was my grandfather’s name, but also because it was in honor of St John the Baptist, who was born shortly before Christ to be his precursor.

My grandmother, who was so Catholic, had always wanted to have a priest son. Some of her sons were in a minor seminary, but they saw that it was not their path. When my dad left after three years in the seminary, my grandmother was very disappointed. My dad, to console her, told her that first, it was better to have a good married son than a bad priest son, and second, that it was likely that after so many insistent prayers to God, she would not have a priest son, but she would have a priest grandson.

I am the second of four siblings (Georgina, me, Paulina, and José Antonio) and I am the first son, which sparked more than a few arguments with my older sister about who was the “firstborn” at home.

Family Influences
I owe my Catholic faith in the first place to my grandparents on both sides, who gave us an example of true piety and Christian charity. I remember that during Advent, we absolutely had to prepare gifts, food baskets and blankets for more than 800 needy people, which were then distributed by my great-uncle, Mons. Agustín Gutiérrez, a priest of the parish
Testimonio vocacional del P. Juan Carlos Rentería L.C.
of Colinas de San Javier. Being at my grandparents’ house meant going to daily Mass and praying the rosary in the afternoon. Their library consisted only of various kinds of bibles, spirituality books, and lives of saints. That was where I got my love of reading and a great admiration for the heroism of many saints.

My parents were always concerned about giving us the best possible Catholic education, and they made sure we went to Sunday Mass and received the sacraments.

My dad was a medical specialist in industrial medicine, and he worked for the government in IMSS (Mexican Institute of Social Security). From him, I learned constancy, dedication, and a sense of responsibility in taking on duties that often required big sacrifices so that he could keep being faithful to his vocation. My mother, in the same way, taught us dedication to the family, human dignity, order and cleanliness. Even though we had help at home, we still had to clean our own rooms and a specific area of the house that was entrusted to our care. If we wanted permission for something, it was an indispensable requisite for that area to be clean and orderly first.

Childhood Graces
By God’s grace, in the same year that I started primary school, I happened to be a founding student of the Bugambilias Cumbres Institute, to which—and I say it with pride—I partly owe what I am today. There I also had the grace of getting to know Father Carlos Mora, LC. He was the confessor at the school, and he has always been a model priest for me.

When I was little, I was an “introverted,” calm child, not because I didn’t make friends, but because I liked the tranquility proper to a good reader, and I loved to imitate the serenity and charity of spirit of the saints, which my grandparents were always bringing to mind. I should confess that from time to time I got tired and I blew off some steam in a fight or two, or in “after-school activities” like play-fighting with my best friends or breaking bottles by throwing stones at them. On one occasion, I almost lost my thumb on the right hand.

I remember a dream I had when I was preparing for my first communion. I dreamed that I was in a church and that there were two lines: on the right were those who could receive communion; and on the left, those who could not. Those who were on the right were able to go from receiving communion to a spot behind the altar, where they were able to participate a bit in the life of heaven. It was so impressive that I couldn’t resist going up to receive communion. However, the priest was very sorry to tell me that I could not yet receive, and that I had to wait and earn merits in order to participate in that happiness. I woke up crying and asking God to make me worthy as soon as possible.

After the grace of first communion, I was left with a true enthusiasm in my heart to make my confession and receive the Eucharist, and at the Cumbres school we always had the opportunity to do so. We could go to the communion service every day and there were always confessors available during the week. That’s how Father Carlos Mora and I got to know each other. With him, confession was not so much a mea culpa as it was an encounter with Christ, an embrace of mercy. The priest truly knew how to put us in front of Christ to humbly ask forgiveness for our faults and to really desire to be in friendship with him and never offend him again. That’s how I found what I wanted to be.

In sixth grade, we did a typical school assignment in which each kid says what he wants to be when he grows up and explains why. Without any hesitation, I wrote down that I wanted to be a priest. My friends asked ironically what motivated me to want that, since some of them preferred money, success, and fame. For me, those things seemed too mediocre to be desirable. Who could have more or be more important than a minister of God himself? It was difficult to explain it to them, but it was even harder for me that they didn’t understand it.

My Path Changes Direction
And so it happened that when I was 12 years old, I told Father Mora in confession. Of course, with his great enthusiasm and faith in God, he supported me in every way and invited me to a vocational get-together. He himself offered to speak to my parents. However, as I was there at the meeting, my father left it very clear that I was very young, and that my decision was based more on feelings than on maturity. He also said that he saw me a bit introverted and that I didn’t know the world enough to be able to choose freely. Those words stayed engraved on my mind. I didn’t understand very well what it meant to know the world and be more extroverted, but if that was what they wanted then I was going to do my best to please them.

And instead of looking for that quiet and serenity of spirit as I had before, I began to look for more parties, do more sports, and be part of a group of friends. We tried to have a certain influence in the school and put on the most interesting weekend activities possible. There was a sudden, almost abrupt change. I started to be very independent, but I also set up a code of conduct for myself so that my parents and my friends’ parents couldn’t say anything: respect the curfew, don’t cause any scandals, don’t get into drugs or immoral activities, and have a certain moderation with drinking. When I was 14, I went to live with my grandfather on my mom’s side, since my grandmother had died, and we were dead set against my grandfather ending up in an old folks’ home. It was a three-month experiment that turned into five years, which meant that I had a lot of freedom and independence in my adolescence and youth, but I also experienced the care that God and the Virgin Mary gave me.

As time went by, I got to know people from other schools. Boys with drug problems, premature parents, students who went to school I the morning and worked as mechanics in the afternoons, students who fought for their scholarships at their universities or who started up businesses in order to lift up their family. That was where I discovered goodness of heart and tenacity in the fight to be better, and on the other hand, what evil can do to a human heart and how it can infect more people. How much advice and help they asked me for! Being close to these people that I wanted to help gave me the reputation of being involved in similar problems. It was inevitable that when I was at a party or in a bar with my friends from school, I would happen to meet one of my other friends, and this sometimes gave rise to misunderstandings and rejections.

My little sister and one of my girl friends supported me and gave me advice. I also relied a lot on the priestly help that I received from some Legionaries, and the fact that Father Mora always sent me greetings and assurances of his prayers. That is where I found that God never abandons us.

A Providential Encounter
One day, as I was going to Mass with my grandfather, I met a young Legionary who was going to celebrate Mass. I had a homework assignment pending for school; it was on the priesthood and I needed various slides on the topic, so after Mass it occurred to me to go up and ask him if he had any. He told me that he only had photographs, and asked me where I was studying. I told him that I was at the Cumbres school, and asked him if he could please greet Father Mora for me. I explained that I knew him very well, that he had been my confessor, and that as a boy I had wanted to be a priest and that Father Mora had invited me to the seminary.

Little did I know that I was talking to Father Juan Pedro Oriol, a big expert in youth work. Two days later I met him by chance at school and he wanted to talk to me. Since I already had plenty of questions, it wasn’t hard for me to open them up to him. But it’s one thing to say one’s problems and it’s another to be docile to the advice. I certainly can’t deny that I really needed God’s grace. As I started regaining the confidence of one who knows he is loved by God, life wasn’t just problems and setbacks anymore. Going more frequently to the sacraments and the life of prayer made me remember the serenity and goodness of spirit of those who live united to Christ. It was like regaining the enthusiasm and joy that I’d had as a boy, and this longing motivated me to fight against my rebellion.

I thank God for the tenacity of his ministers, especially of Father Juan Pedro, who also put up with my defiance. It wasn’t easy at all, and sometimes things got pretty hard.

Yes, I had it clear in my mind that it was God who called me and was still calling me, but my will strongly rebelled. I wasn’t accepting that I had to bow my head. How was I going to be obedient when I couldn’t even accept a suggestion? But I think that Father Juan Pedro had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He didn’t stop writing me, calling me, or greeting me whenever he could.

The Time Has Come
One day he invited me to go on a retreat during Holy Week of 1994. When I got to Toluca, he told me without beating around the bush: “Juan Carlos, it’s time to know what God wants of you.” I was surprised and was about to act like I always did, rebelling, but I knew that I had to face the vocation question head on.

I don’t really remember if there were inspirations or special motions of the Holy Spirit. All I know is that I decided for God and against my passions. One could think that the decision was already made and that from then on it was going to be easy. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Then I had to tell my parents. Now, given my experience of the past few years, they couldn’t say that I didn’t know the world. We went to meet Father Juan Pedro at the Regnum Christi young men’s center to discuss it. When we arrived and had just sat down, my mother asked, “Father, what has happened? Is Juan taking drugs?” You can’t imagine Father Juan Pedro’s look of puzzlement at that question. But at that moment, my impatience left no room for reflection, so I was the one who jumped in and blurted out: “All I want is to know what my path is, what God wants of me.”

When my relatives and friends found out, they made a row about it. The most ironic ones made bets about how many weeks or days I would last in the seminary. My little sister, Paulina, admitted that she had prayed a lot for me, “but not that much.”

My entrance into the novitiate was the start of a new life. It has been a process of polishing a diamond in the rough (a bit too rough, in my opinion) in order to bring out its true value. Certainly, it is not we who give that value to ourselves, but God.

Father Juan Carlos Rentería was born on December 23, 1974 in Guadalajara, Mexico. He entered the Legion of Christ in September of 1994 in the novitiate of Monterrey, Mexico. He completed his humanities studies in Salamanca, Spain; afterwards, he went to the center of Thornwood, NY (United States) to start his studies in philosophy. He has worked in the formation of youth in Spain and Venezuela. He finished his philosophy studies and got a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome, where he is currently studying for his licentiate in theology.



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