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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Something More
Fr. Steven Richard Costello

Fr.  Steven Richard Costello
Fr. Steven Richard Costello

Elizabeth and I were young—barely 17—and yet we had spoken about the possibility that we might be meant to get married some day. I can honestly say that she was my best friend, and I loved her. She had shared secrets with me that she had never told anyone else; and I had opened my heart to her. We shared the same values and promised each other to be true to each other and to our consciences. During our senior year of high school, our relationship grew stronger, and we were happy. The day came to choose a college. Thanks to my high GPA, SAT, and ACT scores, as well as my talent in playing trombone, I had been offered several scholarships. I really wanted to go Florida State University in Tallahassee, which had a highly acclaimed music program. I wanted to major in music and then go on to Indiana University at Bloomington to get a masters, following in the footsteps of my trombone professor and mentor, Roy Pickering. However, I prayed to God, asking him what he wanted. Seeing the facts square on, I noticed that all roads seemed to point to the last place I wanted to study: the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Although Orlando was only about 50 minutes away, and Elizabeth would be making the daily commute, I felt as if I was taking a huge step into the unknown. I kissed her goodbye, fearing somehow that all would change between us. She smiled at me, I got into the car with my parents, and off we drove to UCF.

Love’s First Call: Freshman Year, 1997-1998 The phone rang. It was John Poperick from Campus Crusade for Christ. I did not know him, but he reached out to me and invited me to a Bible study that he was leading in my dormitory building. I said, “No thanks,” mainly because of my tendency to shyness. A week later, he called again, and I politely turned him down again. He persisted still a third time, and I felt an interior motion nudging me to step outside my comfort zone. I attended the Bible study, and John and George, a friend of his, were studying the Book of Job, which I had barely known even existed. I sat silently listening to their reflections, and at the end, I promised to come again. One week turned into two, and the group grew to six or seven.

As I grew in my relationship with God, a thought lurked in the back of my mind: “Am I in the right place?” I loved music and had already grown thick skin to guard me from the typical comments, such as, “There’s no future in that,” “You won’t get rich doing that,” and the disinterestedly polite “Ah, music, that’s nice.” However, I felt I had received a talent and thought it my duty to develop it. At the same time, the idea of teaching and mentoring attracted me. I finished my freshman year with flying colors and spent the summer working, but my question remained unanswered.

Searching for Another Love: Sophomore Year, 1998-1999 We were sophomores, and Elizabeth had decided, much to my delight, to live on campus. Having her so close allowed us to spend more time together. Despite the fact that we truly had a strong friendship, our relationship quickly grew stagnant, and it soured. It still surprises me how fast self-centeredness can destroy what is a very strong relationship. Love means seeking the other’s true good. I, on the contrary, had been thinking about myself. The ball rolled downhill for two months, until one day in November of 1998 we decided that we should break it off and allow space and time in order to figure things out. If it was meant to be, then we would get back together. We said goodbye for a second time.

In January, I attended the annual Music Educators’ Convention in Tampa. Something, or rather, someone caught my attention: in an enormous convention center, amidst thousands of people, I kept seeing an attractive young lady here and there. On the last night, I saw her sitting on a ledge reading a book. She was alone. I gathered my courage and went to talk with her. “Eh hmm, Hello. I don’t normally do this, but I have been seeing you everywhere and I thought that I’d introduce myself.” Perhaps it was a bit awkward in the way it came out, but I was nervous. In fact, I was so nervous that I did not even hear her when she told me her name! Before leaving, I humiliated myself for a second time and asked her to repeat it: Lauren.

I could not stop thinking about her, and the worst
Fr.  Steven Richard Costello
of it was that I had not asked her for her email address. I played the private investigator, looked up her college on the internet, found the address of the girls’ dormitory, and took a chance for the third time. I wrote her a letter and included my email address. A few days later I received a message from her. She was quite flattered that I would have gone through so much trouble. During our correspondence, it came out rather quickly that I was Catholic. She admitted that she had never spoken seriously with a Catholic and had always had some questions. I did my research, and I could not type my responses fast enough. I think that I came on too hard, because she stopped writing after a couple of months. I had, however, taken the bait, and I began to discover the reasons behind many of the things I had always believed. I dusted off a book that my mom had given me at Christmas—Karl Keating’s apologetics book Catholicism and Fundamentalism—and read it every chance I could.

That spring break, I attended a week-long series of talks at our parish. The preacher, Catholic lay evangelist John Schweisthal, spoke with fire. He called the Bible “God’s love letters,” but the decisive moment came when he made an invitation. “Those who wish to make an act of self-offering to God, stand up and let’s pray together.” “Stand up, Steve!” I heard in my heart. I stood and offered God my life. The semester ended and summer passed, a second year with that question in the back of my mind, God, am I where you want me to be?

Love Found: Junior Year, 1999-2000 My search for God continued as I entered my junior year. Rachel, a friend from Campus Crusade for Christ, had spent the summer in Bosnia doing missionary work. Her joy radiated as she recalled sharing Christ with so many in dire straits. And then, in the silence of my heart, I promised God that I would do something for him the following summer.

A couple of weeks later, I struck up a conversation after Mass with an old high school friend, Paul Smith. We talked about life, the faith, the world, and, of course, the perfect girl. Our meetings grew in frequency, and our topics grew in depth. We began to reach life-changing conclusions: namely, that we had to work to win back the culture for Christ. I began to become even more involved in my faith: praying a group Rosary while walking around campus, participating in service projects, and finally taking a pilgrimage to Washington, DC, for the March for Life. The atmosphere of prayer, the conferences, and the March itself all helped to center my thoughts on the salvation of souls and the need for me to do something to end that horrible evil. Most of our hearts were set ablaze after the March, and I, in particular, made several promises at the start of that Great Jubilee Year 2000: to pray in front of a local abortion center, to pray the Rosary every day, to attend weekday Mass when I could, to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently, and to attend a retreat that another friend, Holly Boyd, had mentioned to Paul.

That February, Paul and I went to our first Ignatian spiritual exercises. Father Antonio Rodríguez, LC, who for many years was the dean of studies at the Legionaries’ novitiate and college of humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut, preached, and I enjoyed his fiery Spanish character. Two images from that retreat are engraved in my memory: a statue of St. Francis of Assisi embracing the crucified Christ, and portraits of the first Franciscan friars and St. Clare. I remember thinking to myself, “Now, that’s a life worth living.” The whole experience positively overwhelmed me. My heart had been blossoming in the wellspring of grace that the retreat offered, and I was reaching the culmination of many years of searching for that something more. Then, it happened: in a mysterious and silent way, the Holy Spirit whispered in my soul, “Priesthood.”

I did not expect to “hear” that whisper. After all, I had my own plans, which seemed to be his in line with his will: finish college and get married. Fr Antonio advised me to keep praying and to walk onward with Christ. I went back to Orlando, and after a few days I had a telephone message. “Hello, this is Br. Paul. Fr Patrick and I will be in Orlando next weekend and would like to know if you’d be open for a chat.” I thank God that the Legionaries took the initiative to follow up on me. I had no idea what the next step should be. They both came, and I was impressed: two joyful religious, exhibiting natural finesse and poise. We sat down at the campus Starbucks, and I began to tell my story. Fr Patrick then said the magic word: He told me about a three-month program for vocational discernment that was held every summer. I recalled the promise that I had made to God in the fall and knew at that moment that it was what he intended for me to do. Then I said something uncharacteristic of my indecisive nature, “Father, I suppose the most coherent thing for me to do would be to follow, give God the first shot. I had my plans, but I suppose that if there is nothing for me to sacrifice, then what’s the point?” Father sat back in his chair concealing the fact that he was pleasantly surprised that I would reach such a conclusion so quickly.

In March of 2000, I boarded an airplane for the first time in my life to attend the “Test Your Call” Retreat, and I experienced Christ as never before. Fr Anthony Bannon, LC, preached the retreat, and I particularly recall admiring how he prayed before each meditation. As he kneeled on the step of the sanctuary, he would talk with his Lord Jesus and with his Mother Mary, as a valiant soldier and a trustful child. Jesus became absolutely real and alive to me! My idea of a God of love developed into a personal love for this God, who generously gave himself up for me. The atmosphere at the seminary was also very attractive to me: healthy, young, joyful, disciplined, and mature men all donning a black cassock. I was thoroughly impressed. They exuded authentic Christian goodness. I had never experienced anything like it. I returned to Florida thinking of little else except going back to Connecticut. I am not one to be overly talkative, but as I jabbered on and on, my parents remarked that I sounded like someone who had just fallen in love.

God sent me little signs to encourage me; and yet, despite all of these proofs, I began to have second thoughts. I went to my pastor for advice. He said something that has stuck with me to this day: “God normally wants you where you are; if not, he will let you know. It seems that he is letting you know, so you can only follow him by taking this next step.” I then went to one of my professors, whom I did not even know that well, and he told me, “I have learned one thing in my life: when God asks you to do something, you do it, and then, there is peace.”

A small test came when my trombone professor called me to his office. The professors wanted to award me with the highest honor that the Music School offered, which included a $5,000 cash award, quite a sum for a college junior. The only catch was that I would have to stay on for my senior year. I thought it over for a couple of days and God helped me to see that “everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

Just weeks before leaving, I went to the campus computer lab, and I saw Elizabeth for the first time in over a year. I approached her and she looked up from her work. “Elizabeth, you’ll never guess what I’m going to do. I’m going to be a priest.” She looked down for a second and back up at me, smiled, and replied, “I can see that.” And there I said my third adieu to Elizabeth. I see it as God’s way of giving me a chance to tie all loose ends and perhaps she needed to hear what God had been doing in my life. Whatever the reason for the encounter, I consider it a gift and a reminder to pray for her and for all of those whom the Lord has asked me to leave behind.

Jesus, the Faithful Friend, helped me to stay firm in my decision and to attend the summer candidacy program with fifty other young men. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the many details of my life, and hear him say, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, and I have continued my fidelity to you” (Jer 31:3). I gave God my summer, and it was the best summer of my life. Summer turned into fall, and I joined the novitiate. There, engraved in the doorpost of the main entrance, was the Legionary motto. At last, I found that “something more” for which my heart had been yearning: Christus, Vita Vestra, Christ, Your Life!


FR STEVEN RICHARD COSTELLO was born in Titusville, Florida, on March 8, 1979. He studied music education for three years at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut, in September, 2000, but completed his novitiate in Cornwall, Ontario. After making his first religious profession on September, 2002, he studied one year of classical humanistic in Cheshire, Connecticut. He served for three years in Naples, Miami, and Jacksonville, Florida, assisting the chaplain to the Legion of Christ’s benefactors and Regnum Christi members. He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome. He was ordained a deacon on July 2, 2011, and is currently studying in Rome for his licentiate in moral theology, specializing in bioethics.

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Los testimonios vocacionales de los legionarios de Cristo que recibieron la ordenación sacerdotal en el año 2011 han sido publicados en el libro "Dios lo da todo".



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