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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Grace Shatters All Obstacles
Father Luis Rafael Santos Varela, LC (Mexico)

P. Luis Rafael Santos Varela , L.C.
Fr. Luis Rafael Santos Varela , LC

I would like to begin by confessing that it is not an easy task to tell one’s own vocational story. It is hard because you have to speak about yourself and some memories may slip from your hands, from your mind, from your memory, from your heart.  You have to leave out many details when there is little time and space to summarize God’s action in one’s own life. Nevertheless I think the story of God’s action should be told.

Catholic…but not a fervent one

From my confirmation until I was eighteen my faith began to fade away. I went from living an ardent faith to neglecting it and falling into mediocrity.

I can’t deny I was raised in a very good family with solid values. My family however, wasn’t too worried about living the faith too fervently. Until that point you could say my family, as many other families, was Catholic, but not a fervent one.

Still, we were always taught that we had to live the commandments of God’s law and of the Church. We were taught that going to Mass once a year was enough. But we wouldn’t ask more from ourselves.

It was in one of those breaks in high school when a friend of mine approached me and told me it would be great if I could attend a weakend activity along with him and some other friends.

My first reaction was to ask what that “activity” thing was all about. I found out that activity was an encounter for young people who wanted to know more about the faith.

This was a clue that explained why my friend was different from all others. It was definitely a sign that would set him apart from the rest of my friends. My answer an immediate yes.

This encounter was the first of many weak-end meetings with young people who were joyful, simple, and healthy. Young men and women who wanted to know, love, and above all, live their Catholic faith. It was then that I began to reflect on the parable of the man who built on solid rock, “who hears the word of God puts it into practice” (Cfr. Mt 7, 24-27).

From this gradual increase of knowledge of my faith, together with my engineering studies at Baja California University, I began to understand why that mysterious desire to do something for others, why all that I learned in those years and all those good things I saw in that environment had to go beyond.

Let’s start a group.

I knew that this burning passion inside me had to spread itself, that it had to reach others. And by participating in those meetings with Catholic younth in the parish, I understood those words of Saint Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (I Cor 9:16).

From then on I began to spend some of my time reading and meditating on the Bible. And I tried to live it, especially what the Gospel demanded from me every day
P. Luis Rafael Santos Varela , L.C.
in my dealings with other people, and in concrete situations in my life. I shared these ideas with a group of friends, and within just a couple of months we formed a prayer group.

I could say that God’s grace was working with those in the group. Fruits? We had a Franciscan, two nuns, two diocesan seminarians, a young man who joined Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s order, and the one who is telling you this story.

Other friends from this prayer group discovered that God’s will for them was to raise good Christian families. I have no doubt that they have made beautiful families, some of them with many children. I know one of them who has six kids right now.

A healthy environment helps a vocation to grow

If some one were to ask me what made me decide to become a priest, I’d say that I found the answer in that healthy environment of young men and women who are in the quest of a sincere ideal. In a quest you may find success and failure as well. There will troubles and difficulties in that path that will surely lead someone to become more mature.

I came across with troubled men who tried to satisfy their thirst with material things, or unfortunately with people, who were treated like mere objects.

I was wrestling with others’ “existential” problems, and with my own problems as well.  In the midst of those thoughts I pondered the question of how to help and bring solutions for those problems. I wondered how I could make the world and my friends find what they were searching for. And I asked myself how I could possibly find what I was looking for.

That’s how I found out with great clarity that my vocation was to become a priest, to look after the good of others and bring them close to God. I found that my vocation was steadfast service to my neighbor, who is Christ.

I decided to follow Christ at the end of my engineering studies. I really believe that God’s grace was what made me choose to leave everything behind. It was God’s grace that began to surprise me through concrete events, God’s voice that continually spoke with the words, “Come, and follow me!”

God’s grace was what gave me the strength to tell my parents that my vocation was to become a priest. God’s grace was even greater when he made my parents understand that my vocation is a gift.

Finding the signs

After a couple of months I was able to find a spiritual director, a very holy priest from the diocesan seminary who advised me in my vocational discernment.

I remember very well what he told me first time we met. Once we agreed on my vocation he suggested prayer life, the Rosary, and a Mass attendance of at least twice a week.

I faithfully lived these resolutions, and my meetings with this priest were few.

In my last meeting with him he encouraged me to ask God to help me fulfil his will and lead me to the place I could become holy in the happiest way possible. But what he left deeply imprinted in me, and something I still apply to my life, was this phrase: “Read the signs of times.”

I was able to perceive God’s signs not much after that. I got a phone call from the sacristan of the parish. He asked me to go to the parish and speak with him; he had something very important to tell me.

That very day, after going shopping with my mom, the topic of my life as a priest came up. I told her I didn’t know why but I felt God wanted me to be far from home.

That afternoon, the meeting with Mr Fidel Garcia, the sacristan of the parish, had an effect that changed my life. He showed me a couple of pictures of young men wearing cassocks walking in very nice gardens, playing music, working in the kitchen, etc.

I saw a small pamphlet. When I saw it I felt as if I had been driving at seventy-five miles per hour and suddenly run into a wall. In this pamphlet I saw the picture of a smiling young man, and on the picture was written: “Find what I found.”

I began to read and said to myself, “This is where God wants me.” I do not know how but the certainty was present. I understood that God wanted me to follow him there, as the son of the sacristan, Br Fidel Garcia LC, had done some years before and later died in a car accident.

The certainty was such that it surely came from God and that same night I called Salamanca, Spain. It was from there that the pamphlet had come. In Mexicali it was 12:15 am.

Out of this call came the meeting that has brought me to this point in my life. Father Gabriel González Zambrano introduced me to my first vocational experience with the Legion of Christ. As the Bible says, I went from clarity to clarity (2 Cor. 3:18) always marveling at the work of God in my life.

The moment of adjustment and strength

I spent the following summer discerning my call with the serenity and conviction that God was calling me to this type of priesthood.

I recognize that it was not easy and from a human point of view there were some obstacles. My family was not in favor and I felt my own weaknesses mostly because of comparing myself with other Legionaries who seemed perfect.

Time has shown me that God takes charge of everything and the power that pushes me forward is God’s grace. It is beautiful to see how God carries us on this mysterious road that human reasoning cannot understand or foretell.

Throughout my Legionary formation there have ups and downs in all areas of my life. I had to make a lot of adjustments, learn, listen, understand, but above all follow what God wants and see in this my greatest happiness. Not because somebody tells me but because you know God is behind it, and Christ is the one showing you what happiness is.

The secret of successful marriages is that you never forget the person for whom you live. Love is love for a person, not the qualities of that person. If I founded my love in the qualities I would end up losing a lot in comparison to the person I am called to love.

God calls and gives us the means to answer

God calls the ones he wants and he gives the one he calls the talents to correspond. Throughout my twelve years as a Legionary I am convinced that John Paul II was right when he said that we should not be afraid. One cannot live based solely on the difficulties or limitations one experiences nor on what could have been…

When God calls he also gives us the means to continue the fight and bring it to completion. This is true of any state in life because the call is to holiness of life. God wants all men to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.

If God is calling you and you believe this call is to the priesthood or to the consecrated life do not let your own limitations beat you. Do not give in to waiting periods that are only obstacles to the Holy Spirit. Do not doubt God’s grace. Do not be afraid to open the doors to Christ because as Benedict XVI says, “He does not take anything away and gives us everything.”

Father Luis Santos was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico on January 30, 1973. He studied electrical engineering with a specialization in semiconductors from the University of Baja California. On August 15, 1996 he entered the novitiate of the Legion of Christ in Salamanca, Spain where he also studied classical humanities. For three years he worked with young people in Santiago, Chile. Presently he is finishing his final year of a license in Theology from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome. He also collaborates in initiatives to give spiritual support to diocesan priests in Italy.

Translation of the vocation story published in the book "Vivir para Cristo"



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