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Turn to Jesus (Article)

God’s Will: Nothing More, Nothing Less, Nothing Else
Fr Joseph Ramos, LC (United States)

P. Joseph Ramos, L.C.
P. Joseph Ramos, L.C.

Why the priesthood? It is hard at times to provide a satisfying answer to the question of why I wanted to become a priest. Probably there is no right answer, because this vocation is a mystery. Pope John Paul II wisely entitled his autobiography Gift and Mystery: this path in life is never simply our choosing, but a response to someone calling us. It is truly a divine gift from our Lord and remains a mystery to me why He would even think of calling me out of all people to follow Him so closely.

As far as I can recall, there has always been in my heart a deep respect for priests. As a kid I really liked a few of our parish priests that came over to bless our house every year. The priests were Franciscans serving St. Augustine Church in West Allis, a local suburb of Milwaukee. My appreciation went to the point of dressing up like one of them during s school Halloween party in second grade. Everyone else came as a vampire, witch, or other scary personage, and I came along in a home-made brown habit even wearing the large family rosary that hung on our wall. I think this was the first time that I felt a calling.

This desire grew much deeper within my heart, as I was permitted to serve Mass at the beginning of third grade. Normally boys would have to wait until fourth grade, but I enjoyed the privilege of having three older brothers as altar boys already at that time. My mother tried to attend daily Mass, and this gave me plenty of opportunities to be near the altar. I loved serving Mass and went often. Ringing the bells at the moment of consecration increased that inner desire to one day be able to lift up the host and chalice and transform it into the Body and Blood of Christ. However, sometimes my desires to serve were not as fervent as they might have appeared. During the school year, I was able to miss the first period of classes at times to serve the 8:00 A.M. Mass. Also, throughout the year, my pastor would regularly assign me
P. Joseph Ramos, L.C.
to serve in the many weddings and funerals, and these normally had a monetary reward at the end. God always has a way to attract us to Him despite our own intentions.

The Minor Seminary

The idea of the priesthood did not scare me, but I did feel a little awkward that none of my friends thought about it. My mother was probably the only one that I told of my thoughts on the priesthood. I felt that she would understand, considering that she had discerned as a young woman in a convent in Ireland but found that it was not her calling. She always had motivated me to be generous if God was calling me, and yet she never pushed me towards or away from the idea. I had always thought that if I were to enter the seminary, it would be after college, since growing up a lot of careers interested me even more than the priesthood. God, however, had other plans.

My parents were always concerned with providing our family the best Catholic education possible, despite the costs and sacrifices that this entailed. My education started off in the local parish school up to fourth grade, until my mother decided to home-school a few of us for the next three years. For seventh and eighth grade I attended a private Catholic school called Hillcrest Academy, which providentially introduced me to Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi. One spring day in my eighth grade year, a Regnum Christi member at the school approached me asking if I wanted to become a priest. This was something that I could not deny,

although at the time it was not exactly the only thing that I desired to possibly become. She gave my parents information about the Legionaries of Christ.

At that time, the Legion had one minor seminary in Center Harbor, New Hampshire, although I had never heard about it until the two months before I attended. The thought of going to the East Coast perked up the adventurer in me, while at the same time the skeptic in me kicked in by not wanting to “waste” a whole summer going to some boys’ camp. That summer of 1994 changed my life. Upon arriving, I immediately made friends with the other boys I met there, all of whom were also discerning priestly vocations. I knew in my heart that this was where God wanted me to be. It was more than a mere feeling. I knew this decision was not simply to join a school, but that it had a transcendent consequence for my life. I also realized that no one else in my family, except for my mother, would understand the step I was taking.

At the end of the summer program, my parents gave me permission to attend. I remember my mother’s words to me: “A priestly vocation is a gift from God. If this is what God wants from you, then follow it, because this is what will make you happy.”

Seminary Formation

Reaching the end of high-school, I was faced with the immediate question of my next step. There in the minor seminary, I was very happy learning about the mission of the priest. I felt so strongly the possibility that I could be called, that I decided to enter the novitiate. There was a quote on the wall of the office of one of my formators that motivated me, both in this moment especially and later on in other big moments of decision: it said, “God’s will: nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.” If becoming a priest was God’s will for me, I knew it would also be the most fulfilling thing in my life. What else could a young man like me desire if that is what God wanted of me?

On the night of September 14, 1997, in our seminary in Cheshire, Connecticut, I received my Legionary uniform. Near the front entrance of the novitiate the following words are inscribed: Christus Vita Vestra, “Christ is your life,” paraphrasing Colossians 3:4. I knew that the path I was embarking on would be something I could never imagine. Who would have known that over the next thirteen years, this journey of formation would take me all around the United States and over to Italy?

Crisis amidst Happiness

In July, 2005, upon obtaining my bachelor’s degree in philosophy in New York, I was sent to Rome to pursue a licentiate degree in philosophy. The idea filled me with a lot of joy, since I would finally be leaving the U.S. to finish off my studies before my future ordination. I also received word that I had been accepted to make my perpetual profession the following October. Before departing for Italy, I had chance to visit my family back in Wisconsin. Saying goodbye to my parents and family however was not exactly the easiest of tasks, because my mother in particular had some serious health problems, and it was not clear whether she would recover during the following months. We placed these difficulties into the hands of our Lord, but I still tried to look forward to the future that Rome had in store for me.

From the beginning, I took full advantage of the many opportunities to attend the events of the Holy Father, especially during the Christmas season and New Year. Amidst the joy and new experiences came the inevitable but shocking news one Sunday morning: my father, in tears, communicated to me over the phone that my mother had just suffered a major stroke and was dying in the hospital. After speaking with my superiors, I was able to take the next available flight out of Rome heading towards Wisconsin. By the following evening, I was at my mother’s bedside with all my family.

God had heard my prayers that my mother would be still alive when I arrived. However, the next 24 hours were the hardest moments of my life. My mother could not speak, but she was able to recognize my presence, and so I was there accompanying her, speaking to her, praying with her. Yet not being able to hear her voice respond back was extremely frustrating. This was a great test of my faith. I had never experienced the tragedy of someone dying in my immediate family. My mother passed away that following night, surrounded by my whole family, reciting the prayer that she loved most: the family Rosary.

I thank God tremendously for the experience of accompanying my mother and my family in this trial, since I knew it would strengthen all of us, giving us the opportunity to live our lives closer to God, knowing that our own time would be arriving. Above all, it helped me to place my full confidence in God, knowing that my ordination was just a few more years ahead of me. I was becoming a priest because God was calling me, and I was not doing this just to please other people, not even my mother. Certainly, anyone would want his mother to be at his ordination. Things may turn out differently from the way we would like them, but always for the better. God has always been near me in good times and in bad. He wanted me to experience this situation at this moment in my life for a reason. If this was God’s will for me, then I wanted “nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.” I knew I could continue forward strengthened by His Grace alone. All this would inevitably help me in my future priesthood.

Final Countdown

I will never forget Mary’s presence in my journey especially in these final years of my formation. Since my first years in our minor seminary, Immaculate Conception Apostolic School, I have consecrated my life and my vocation to her daily, and I feel that she has always been there to protect me in this calling. My final and third year of theology was truly the most inspiring, since I knew that if God permitted it, I would be getting ordained a deacon at the end of June, which is the traditional date. I never imagined that it would take place back in the U.S. near the Cheshire novitiate where my vocational path started.

There was no better way to prepare for this transcendent moment than joining the Holy Father in living the Year of the Priesthood in Rome, especially the Mass on the final day with the Holy Father. There were over 14,000 priests gathered for the outdoor Mass in the blazing sun, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Witnessing the fervor and zeal of so many ministers of Christ helped me to understand more clearly the path of service in the Church that I have been called to as well. After receiving so many graces and blessings over these past thirteen years, I know that I am called to give something back to the Church for the enrichment of the whole Mystical Body of Christ.

FR JOSEPH RAMOS was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 1, 1980. He attended Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, New Hampshire, and entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut, making his first profession on September 4, 1999. He spent three years as member of the formation team in the Legionaries’ minor seminaries in New Hampshire and California, and doing youth work on the West Coast. After completing two years of philosophy studies in New York, he obtained a licentiate in philosophy at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in theology in 2010. Since the summer of 2010, he has been doing youth and retreat work for Regnum Christi members in Chicago.

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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