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Turn to Jesus (Article)

One Year for Christ? No, a Lifetime!
Fr. Joshua West, LC

Fr. Joshua West, LC (United States)
Fr. Joshua West, LC (United States)

It was while I was at a youth conference, at the age of 18, that I first had the desire to be a priest. Before that I was, you might say, “anticlerical.” The priesthood was not for me. Priests are holy rollers and all they do is pray. I wanted to be free and do my own thing.

At the youth conference, I was standing around with some friends when another guy showed up.

One of my friends then went around the circle and introduced us all to John. “This is John and he is thinking of the priesthood.”

When he got to me he said, “This is Josh, and he too is thinking of the priesthood.”

Could I Really Be a Priest?

Many times over throughout my young life I had been told that I should consider the priesthood, but this was the moment when it all hit home. After that introduction I began to think, “Could I really be a priest?” I always enjoyed giving my time to service projects to help others. I had traveled to Romania to remodel a school for handicapped children, and in Italy I had organized a clothing drive for a shelter that provided help to immigrants. Even after graduating from high school, I was looking for a place where I could give a year of my life to help the less fortunate. All I could find were organizations who were looking for doctors, engineers, or other professionals.

The Last Judgment

My parents are very religious, and they passed it on to each of their children. Though it was not until later that my dad eventually entered the Catholic Church, we always grew up with a great love for the Pope and the Church. When we were little, our dad would read a picture Bible to us each night, and each morning our mom would read the daily scriptures to us before we went off to school.

One pivotal moment in my life, which I remember as if it were yesterday, took place on a Sunday afternoon on my living room couch. I must have been 12 or 13 years old. Probably bored, I found my Catechism next to me, and so I opened it up and started flipping through it. I came to one page that had a painting of the Last Judgment. I stared at that painting for a long time, enraptured by the action. Christ was at the center as judge, and next to him were all the blessed in heaven. What really caught my attention was the bottom half of the painting. It depicted hell. Monsters with huge claws tearing the damned to shreds, demons with massive teeth were gnawing the damned flesh, and souls
Fr. Joshua gives spiritual guidance as part of his youth work.
Fr. Joshua gives spiritual guidance as part of his youth work.
stuck in bottles, or harps, or whatever had been that led them to hell, were all depicted in this painting. After looking at this painting I came to the conclusion that I needed to be a good little boy. Although I have not been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I believe that this painting helped set me on the path to fulfilling God’s will in my life.

Christian Fellowship

Later on in high school I began to drift a little. I believe my parents noticed that I was losing touch with God. It must have been about the time when my mom asked if I wanted to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. I told her that I wanted to wait, because I did not know if I wanted to be Catholic all my life. She told me that the class was once a week and that it would last for two months. The next year it would last for the whole year. My arm was twisted. I attended Confirmation classes.

There came a moment when a Christian youth group was looking for a place to meet, and so my parents offered our house. I jumped in and told them that it was not a good idea, but they told me that I did not have to attend if I did not want to. I ended up attending. Later, my parents told me that they offered the house on purpose so that I would have some Christian fellowship since—and I did not realize it at the time—none of my other friends were Christian.

Feverish Introduction

In December of 1995, about six months after the unexpected introduction at the youth conference and the moment in which the idea of the priesthood entered my mind, I met a priest who was traveling through the city in which I lived. I was home from college for Christmas break, and my mom received a phone call from a friend of hers inviting my little brother, who was 8 or 9 at the time, to on one of the activities for altar boys at the parish. It turned out that for some reason my mom could not take my brother, and so she asked if I would do her the favor. (Later, I asked about this event as well and she promised it was not one of her ploys to get me to meet these priests.) That morning, I did not feel well, but despite a 102-degree fever, I went out to play basketball at the local gym all day with some friends. When I got back in the evening, I headed straight for my bed, having forgotten all about the commitment to take my brother. My mom reminded me, however, and I ended up going.

The activity included a talk for the adults present, given by a Legionary priest. I slept all the way through it, but I met the priest afterward. I bolted straight out the door to the car and went to bed, where I remained for three days. This was my introduction to the Legion of Christ.

I did not think much about this encounter until the same friend of my mom called me up about a month later to see if I was interested in meeting the priest again. I said I would. We met for breakfast, and he asked if I had ever thought of the priesthood. I told him I had but that I was really thinking more along the lines of the diocesan priesthood, because I could not handle the obedience of a religious order. The only thing I remember he told me was that we have to put our lives in the hand of God and allow him to lead us.

Encounters with Our Lord

Shortly after this—and completely unrelated—I began to go to weekly adoration at my parish. My sister had signed up for an hour,

but the person who came after her stopped showing up, and so she ended up staying two hours sometimes. She asked if I could take the hour after her, which, nice guy that I was, I did reluctantly. Every Tuesday from 10 to 11 P.M. it was just Jesus and me! Of course, looking back I really see the hand of God, because it gave me time to think about what God was really asking of me. Nonetheless, there were a few times when the man who followed me woke me up and told me my shift was over.

Within a few months of that second encounter, the Legionary priest invited me to Chicago for the first Youth and Family Encounter. “Chicago,” I thought. “I can go to Chicago.”

Off I went. While I was there, I really saw the scope of the work the Legion does and came away impressed. I began to ask the priest more about the Legion and the work that it does, and of course what interested me the most was the mission territory in southern Mexico. I was attracted to the Legionaries’ emphasis on teaching and spreading the faith apostolically. During one of the conferences, given by a Legionary, somebody raised his hand to ask a question (which I do not remember) and made a comment about the Eucharist being a symbol. The speaker’s answer caught my attention: he began by clearly stating that the Eucharist is not merely a symbol, but that Christ is really and truly present. “These guys know their stuff,” I thought.

One Year? How about a Lifetime?

It was during this Youth and Family Encounter that I first heard of the possibility of giving a year of my life to work for Christ. When I returned home, I had this in mind, since it was something I wanted to do after high school. As I prayed about it more and more, I began to think, “If I can give a year of my life, why not my whole life?” I also began to break down the walls around obedience that I had constructed and realized that my life is not about myself, but about Christ and doing what he wants for me. I made the resolution to pray the Rosary every day with the sole intention of seeking God’s will. Even if it was midnight and I had not prayed the Rosary that day, I got down on my knees and began to pray (really fast).

Finally, after about a month, I decided to give the Legion a try and called up the seminary in Cheshire, Connecticut, to see if I could come for a visit and live with the candidates. Walking in the front door, the adventure began.

Fr. Joshua West was born in Naples, Italy, on November 21, 1976. He studied at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. On September 15, 1996, he entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut. He served as assistant to the rector for three years in Cheshire, Connecticut. He obtained his licentiate in philosophy and his bachelors in theology at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College. He currently serves as youth minister in California.

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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