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Turn to Jesus (Article)

I Will Give You the First Shot in My Life
Fr. Thomas Vendetti, LC (United States)

Fr. Thomas Vendetti, LC (United States)
Fr. Thomas Vendetti, LC (United States)

I was sitting on the floor in my living room, flipping through the pages of the Bible. I must have been about seven or eight years old. “Mom,” I said. “I heard that if you open the Bible and put your finger on a page, God will tell you what he wants you to do.”

“Oh no, you don’t have to believe that” she responded, as she half ignored me and continued ironing.

I had to try it anyway. I opened it up and put my finger down on a text which read, “You will serve me at my altar.” I protested, “Mom, I don’t want to be an altar boy!”

Was that the beginning of the call for me? I do not know. I did not feel anything special at that moment. I think the beginning or origin of the call is a mystery. It precedes our existence, as Jeremiah says (see Jer. 1:5). God uses different means throughout our lives to help us discover it, but the call has always been there whether we perceive it or not.

This Life is Nothing Compared to the Next

I am the seventh of eight kids: four boys and four girls. We were an ordinary Catholic family: we went to Mass on Sundays, took CCD, and prayed the Rosary. In this brief story I could not mention the positive influences of each of my brothers and sisters which have led me to where I am today, but I would like to mention one that affected us all as a family: Nancy, the fifth child.

She was born mentally handicapped and is basically like an infant. She cannot walk, talk, or see. She cannot understand what she hears, and she needs to be fed and taken care of every moment of every day. Most of this daily care has fallen over the years to my mom, who has never left Nancy’s side for more than a day. My mom’s generosity was a whole school of authentic love, of total self giving, through example, not words. We all learned from Nancy that a person’s worth does not depend on what he does, but on the fact that he is a person, a child of God. I was actually jealous of her when I was a kid, because I realized that when she dies, she will go straight to heaven. She also taught me that this life is really nothing compared to the next, that it is really worth sacrificing everything in this life to gain the next. It was a lesson that would later help me make the decision to leave everything and follow Christ.

The Legion of Christ

My encounter with the Legion of Christ, helped me to live out my faith, and little by little transformed my life.

After fourth grade, I went on a ten-day summer camp at Oaklawn Academy, our language academy in Wisconsin, along with my older brother, Vince. It
Fr. Thomas with his parents and his three brothers and four sisters in a family reunion.
Fr. Thomas with his parents and his three brothers and four sisters in a family reunion.
was my first experience of the Legion of Christ. We had a lot of fun playing soccer, basketball, floor hockey, baseball, swimming, obstacle courses, capture the flag, and foosball, and we enjoyed skits, movies, and outings to amusement parks. Amidst all that action, however, there was something deeper going on. When I look back on my life, I think it was the first time I had ever experienced Christ as a personal friend, and not just as an idea. There we could make visits to Christ present in the Eucharist from the balcony of the chapel, which was right next to the dormitory. It was the first time I ever went to the chapel without following the whole family for Sunday Mass. I could just stop and talk to Christ and experience him as a friend.

After that summer camp, I started going to weekly youth group meetings with the Legionaries. The brothers really impressed me. They had nothing, and they killed themselves for us, and yet they were always so happy. At that point, I still had not seriously considered the priesthood, but I remember saying once, “I don’t think I’ll ever be a priest, but if I do, I will definitely be a Legionary.”

When I was fifteen, a Legionary priest invited me to join the Regnum Christi Movement. Fr. David, the priest who presided at my formal entrance into the movement, prophetically said to me, “If you are faithful to the commitments of a Regnum Christi member, maybe you will not see an immediate change in your life, but within the next five years, your life will be very different.” I next saw Fr. David four and a half years later, the night before I took my vows, and my life had certainly changed a lot!


Around the same time that I got to know the Legion, I also began to play the drums. I always played in the school bands, and then in high school I started a jazz combo with some friends called The Hot Water Heaters (the name would take too long to explain here). We started to play at some camps during the summer, and then we went down to Fatty’s Restaurant and Bar where they had an “open mike” competition on Tuesday nights. We won the first competition and even went on to win the finals at the end of the month. The prize was a paid gig on a Saturday night! Throughout my junior and senior year of high school, we started playing at more and more places, and my dream of becoming a professional musician was beginning to come true.

Time and Eternity

While God was leading me to deepen in the spiritual life, the world was pulling me in the opposite direction. Once I got into high school, parties and girls became much more attractive. I had a couple of girlfriends; none of the relationships really lasted very long, but one that lasted a little longer than the others actually helped me when it came time to make the option for the priesthood. We had an authentic Christian relationship, and I was totally happy with her. It was an experience of authentic love, and I realized that happiness is not sex. All the worldly propaganda was false. True love is more than just the physical realm. I realized that there is no reason why I cannot be totally fulfilled giving my life to God alone.

There was something else that God permitted that made me reflect more profoundly on life: every year, from eighth grade on, at least one of my classmates died: one from a car accident, another from cancer, another from suicide. In my junior year, on the first day of lacrosse practice, our goalie never showed up. Everyone was asking, “Where is Justin?” He was a good goalie and we needed him. At the end of the practice the coach got us together and told us that earlier that same day Justin had gone out for lunch, and there was some slush on the road. He slid across into the oncoming traffic and hit a Mack truck head on. He died instantly.

We were totally shocked. The whole team went together to the wake and funeral. All of these things made me reflect a lot on life and death, on time and eternity. Was I really ready to die?

The Value of a Soul

While I was worried about my own eternal salvation, I also began to look around at my friends, and I wondered if they were ready to die. In the public school setting, it was not infrequent to find kids doing drugs between classes, and you can only imagine how things were at the parties on the weekends. Before beginning my Rosary each night, I would offer it up for a friend that was into drugs, then for another that had got into stealing, and for another that was living in an immoral situation. Little by little I went through the whole class, and then the whole school. I ended up praying for the entire world. God gave me a great zeal for souls; I could not be complacent and just sit on the great treasure of my faith!

My Mission in Life

How could I help these souls? The answer was clear: the best thing I could do was become a priest! Then I said to myself, “Wait a minute! You have to get married; that is obvious.” I had a little dilemma; my solution was to become a deacon. That way I could have the best of both worlds.

During Easter of 1994, I went to the Novitiate of the Legion of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut, to attend a “Test Your Call” retreat. I remember sitting in a classroom with about 15 other young men, and the director, Fr. Edward, asked, “What are all the reasons why you would not want to become a priest?” So we all started shooting out answers: wife, family, job, kids, money, to do what I want with my time, prestige, cars, houses. Fr. Edward wrote each response on the board, and then he went back and showed us that although they are all good things, none of them are what give real meaning to life. He continued, “The most important thing in life is to find out what God wants of you and to do it.” Then he added, “And if any of you are thinking of just becoming a deacon, forget about it, you’ve got to go all the way! You’ve got to become a priest!” I had not told anyone of my compromise. In that moment my defenses fell and I thought, “Okay, let’s be open to what God wants.”

The next day was Holy Thursday. After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we processed with the Eucharist to the altar of repose in the basement, where we held adoration all night, accompanying Christ during his agony in the garden of Gethsemane. I knelt down on the hard tile floor, with my hands resting on a metal fold-up chair in front of me: not a very comfortable position. Still, I was caught up in prayer and the time flew by. As I knelt there, I watched the brothers coming in and out for their turns of adoration. I looked at them and thought to myself, “These are normal guys. I don’t see any reason why I could not be a priest.” Then I said to Christ, “Lord, if that is what you want of me, I will give you the first shot in my life!”

Accompanying Christ

I finished my junior and senior year of high school, and then two days after my graduation from high school I went back to the novitiate in Cheshire, but this time to stay. It was certainly hard to leave home. I think I cried the whole six hour drive from Maryland to Connecticut, but at the end of the first day during night prayers, I felt a great sense of peace, and I knew that I was exactly where God wanted me to be. I have never doubted my vocation since.

About ten years later I told that story to my rector, Fr. Carlos. He said, “Gethsemane is not only the beginning of your vocation, but that is your vocation: to accompany Christ.”

Fr. Thomas Vendetti was born in Rockville, Maryland, on October 26, 1977. After finishing high school he joined the Legion of Christ and began his novitiate on September 15, 1995, in Cheshire, Connecticut. He also did a year of humanities studies in Cheshire, followed by two years of philosophy in New York. He did four years of internship as an assistant to the rector of Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, New Hampshire. He received his licentiate in philosophy and bachelors in theology at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome. He is currently the vice rector of the Legionary formation center in New York.

The vocation stories of the Legionaries of Christ who were ordained on December 12, 2009 have been published in the book "I Call You Friends". During this Year for Priests, let us pray for all priests, so that their self-giving to God and to people will bear abundant fruits of grace and blessings.


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