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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Rise to the Challenge
Fr Edward Bentley, LC (United States)

P. Edward Bentley, L.C.
P. Edward Bentley, L.C.

Fr Edward Bentley, LC

(United States)

“Rise to the Challenge” was the theme of my basic training at West Point. Every time I passed one of the cadets in charge, I had to salute them and say, “Rise to the Challenge.” They would salute and respond, “Never Quit.” Though greeting these cadets fifty times a day was quite annoying at the time, the phrase was engrained in me and became God’s motto in my life.

Challenging Beginnings

When I was six, I was diagnosed with a learning disability in reading and was obliged to leave my Catholic school and attend a special school that could help me overcome the problem. It was my first real challenge in life, and it was a turning point. After a lot of hard work and summer school, I was able to return to my Catholic school, but I began to see myself as different than my classmates. Though I was able to overcome my learning disability, without realizing it, I also put up a wall around myself to prevent my weakness from being known. It would take the rest of my childhood and adolescence to come out of this shell.

Best Birthday Gift Ever

Throughout elementary school, I had a hard time making friends. Though I tried to figure it out on my own, it did not work. Finally, things came to a head in sixth grade. Due to my social difficulties, I began to pick on others, and on one boy in particular. My teacher observed what I was doing and called my parents about the situation. Little did she know that the night she called happened to be the day before my birthday. I will never forget waking up in the morning and coming downstairs for breakfast. My mom came to the breakfast table where I was eating a bowl of cereal and said, “Before we begin your birthday, I have something to talk to you about.” I received an unexpected scolding that ended with my mom saying that she was going to cancel my birthday party planned for that afternoon. After a rather quiet breakfast, I got on the bus to go to school wondering if she
P. Edward Bentley, L.C.
would really do it. After all, she had threatened to do things like this in the past, but would recant. I figured it was too late to cancel the party.

When I got home from school, my mom had cancelled the party, and it got my attention. She sat me down and asked me about my behavior. This led to a very tearful conversation where I let out all of the frustration of my social problems at school. I did not know how to make friends and be a friend. At the end of the conversation, my mom invited me to pray. This was my first real experience of Christ. It is not that I had never prayed before, but it was always rote prayers or asking for something when I was in a bind. Now, I began to learn that prayer was a dialogue with Christ. From that moment on, I would try to take some time everyday to talk to Christ and ask for his help. I found that the days I prayed, things went better. Christ was there to help me. It was the greatest birthday gift I have ever received.

First Inklings

A year later, I was admitted to Marist School in Atlanta, Georgia. Along with football, I got involved with the retreat programs that were offered. I found that I really liked the retreats, and I began to lead them. It was the catalyst of my first thoughts about the priesthood, which came when I was in 10th grade. I came home one time from a school retreat that I had helped to lead, and I remember commenting to my mother about the great impact that a priest can have in a person’s life. I was not going to pursue the vocation, but I knew from that moment on, that if God called, I would respond.

My “College Experience”—West Point

When the time came to look at colleges, I was thinking of becoming a teacher, and I was accepted to a couple of good universities’ schools of education. However, God had other plans. I had applied to the United States Military Academy at West Point to see if I could actually be accepted to attend. There is no real military background in my immediate family, but I have always liked structure, as well as the idea of helping others and serving my country. I was admitted. After I visited, I saw that God was asking me to take on this challenge, and so I decided to attend. I wanted to be challenged in all areas of my life: intellectual, military, physical, and spiritual. I was greatly challenged in the first three areas, but nothing I could find at West Point could satisfy my growing spiritual hunger.

How God Got Me to the Seminary

It was also during my time at West Point that I met the Legionaries of Christ. My mother became a member of the Regnum Christi Movement while I was attending West Point. She invited some Legionaries over for dinner when I was home on Christmas break. My mom knew that I had thought about the priesthood before, and she looked for an opportunity for me to meet them. I was very impressed. They were young, enthusiastic, and joyful, while at the same time very much identified with their priesthood. After this experience, I knew that if I was going to become a priest, I was going to be a Legionary. Though I had no intention of leaving West Point, I was motivated to continue to seek greater depth in my spiritual life. Upon returning to school, I got in touch with a close friend and confirmation sponsor, Brian Ducote, and we began to get together for a weekly Bible study.

When I came home for spring break in 1999, I went to visit the Legionaries. I called up Byrnes Lambert, who was volunteering for a year with Regnum Christi Mission Corps and helping with the preparations of the Youth and Family Encounter, to be held in Atlanta that October. He told me his story of how he had left the Naval Academy to discern his vocation. Since he had left the Academy after making a military commitment, his situation was a bit complicated. It got me thinking about my own situation and that if God was calling me, I did not want to put my vocation off until after I finished my military commitment. It was then that the real possibility hit me of taking a year or two off and becoming a mission corps volunteer in order to discern my call. It was at this time that he invited me to the Test Your Call retreat in Cheshire, Connecticut, at Easter. Since I could not go home for Easter, I decided to give it a shot.

I always had the impression that guys who enter the seminary were a bit “off” and did not have a lot of other options in life. However, I saw they were beating me on the basketball court, and that I could talk about music, movies, and sports, as well as God and his Church. These guys were normal! I was also taken aback by their charity and their sense of the mission to save souls and help build the Church.

The retreat also left a lasting impression. I remember distinctly how the retreat director, Fr Anthony Bannon, came in, kneeled on the sanctuary step, and began to dialogue with our Lord at the beginning of the meditation. I found myself wanting that sort of a prayer life.

After confession, God’s grace went to work on me. Fr Bannon began to explain to me his own calling and what the summer discernment program, called the candidacy, was like. It was at this moment that I received the very special grace of knowing that God was calling me to make the candidacy experience. I knew that this was what I had been looking for over the last two years: a chance to grow in my spiritual life and be close to God. I began to cry because I knew that it meant leaving West Point behind. However, God gave me great clarity and peace.

I was doing well at West Point and had many opportunities opening up to me for summer military assignments and leadership positions, and a young lady came into my life. Though I never doubted what I had to do nor the fact that God was asking it of me, it was not easy. I was walking out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

However, what I found hardest was that I knew that God had called me to go to West Point, yet I was not going to finish. I had never quit anything that I had put my mind to before, and God was asking me to quit. In addition, things were about to get a lot better at West Point. I had worked really hard and now it was time to enjoy the fruits of my success. Looking back on this experience, I found that it became quite clear how God was going to work in my life. He wants me to keep pushing higher. He does not want me to fall into a “comfort zone” that does not help me to grow. I was called to rise to the challenge. I have found that my life in the Legion of Christ has been much the same.

Candidacy and the Call

Finally, on June 4, 1999, I showed up for the summer candidacy program. Candidacy was the best summer of my life. I always like to tell people that it was a lot like West Point, except that we ate better and slept a little more, and instead of military activities, we had spiritual activities.

Though I was receiving all the right signs of the vocation, the decisive moment came on a day in July when I cleaned up quickly after recreation and headed to the chapel. When I arrived, I found that I was first and began to read Fr Anthony Bannon’s book on discernment called Peter on the Shore. The chapter I was reading was talking about one’s plans in life. I realized that I was a long term planner and had always projected myself as doing something that left a lasting impact. I also realized that many of my friends could not think beyond next weekend. It was at the moment that I looked up at the tabernacle and heard an interior voice that said, “This is where you belong.” Being the only one in the chapel, I found that it left no doubt that God was calling me. I remember calling my best friend from high school that night and telling him that I thought that God was calling me. I will never forget what he told me. He said, “You don’t know how lucky you are to know at 20 years old what you are supposed to do with the rest of your life.” It was true. What a grace!

Never Quit

My eleven years of seminary life have been the greatest adventure of my life. Christ has been with me through it all and helped me to continue to push forward. May he give me the grace to “Never Quit!” and one day hear the words, “Welcome, good and faithful servant..”

FR EDWARD BENTLEYwas born on February 9, 1979, in Opelika, Alabama. He is the second of Earnest and Barbara Bentley’s four children, and he attended Our Lady of the Assumption Elementary School and Marist School for middle and high school in Atlanta, Georgia. During this time, he played a number of sports and became an Eagle Scout. After high school, Fr Bentley attended the United States Military Academy at West Point for two years as a history major before hearing the call to the priesthood. He joined the Legionaries of Christ in 1999 and two years later, he made his first profession in Germany. Fr Bentley earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 2004, and in theology in 2010 at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome. Between his philosophical and theological studies, Fr Bentley spent three years doing youth work in Denver, Colorado. He is currently working with high school and college students in Mexico City.

The vocation stories of the Legionaries of Christ who were ordained in 2010 have been published in the book "From the Heart of Christ."



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