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Destined for Something Important
INTERNATIONAL | WHO WE ARE | TESTIMONIES
Vocational testimony of Fr. Robert Havens LC

Vocational testimony of the Fr. Robert Havens LC
Fr. Robert Havens LC

“I want to do something more important with my life than becoming a priest.”

I was born the first child of three in a practising Catholic family, and this is what I thought whenever I was around priests. Which was often enough, since I eventually became an altar server at my parish. I quite liked priests, and I was blessed with some really wonderful ones; I can’t think of any of them giving bad examples. But it was as simple as that: priests are really nice, I used to think, and really quite useful. But I’m destined to do something with my life.

I thought the same when I met my first Legionaries of Christ. I couldn’t have been much older than eleven. Two brother religious visited my school and invited us to a fun weekend at their novitiate only twenty minutes away from my home in Connecticut. I went and had a wonderful time: their “lake,” which we went swimming in, was really little more than a mud hole in those days and thoroughly enjoyed playing with the frogs in it. I remember the neat chapel and the music and not too much else; and for ever after that visit I was unquestionably aware of something: they are great priests, and if ever I were to become a priest, I would be one of them. But I am going to do something important with my life.

In Pursuit of Importance
And so I went about doing important things with my life. I spent all of my high school years crisscrossing the globe - as much as I possibly could, alone - doing important things. I went to Africa to learn French, to Russia to be at the centre of all the goings-on there in the late eighties; I went to
Vocational testimony of the Fr. Robert Havens LC
Hong Kong, Delhi, and just about anywhere. I finished high school and decided to study what I thought was the most important subject at what I thought was the most important University: I went to Oxford and studied economics. The travels continued and I diversified my meaningful pastimes: sport, art, opera, etc., etc.

I was certainly not unhappy; in fact, life was very exciting. Granted, most of it was lived in the future: quite a lot of time spent imagining what the next voyage or country would bring, what I wonderful job I would get, what new friends I would discover, what a splash I would make... It’s only with hindsight that you realise how much of the present you miss by yearning for the future.

In all of this, God was by no means absent; but I had clearly made him take up second place. I continued going to Mass on Sunday, and I have a great debt of recognition to the priests at my parish in England for their example and holiness throughout the years. Where would I be without them!

I also made a point of visiting the local Catholic churches just about everywhere I went, lighting a candle and saying a prayer in front of the statue of Mary. And good catechism as a child - which I owe to the dedicated sisters and priests that the Lord sent along my way as a little boy - made sure of two things for which I will never be grateful enough: first, that I never started calling evil things good; and second, that I never stopped going to confession (despite some generous breaks). But I have to admit that I had little time for anything else as far as God was concerned: you see, I had more important things to do with my life.

Now if you are a little more believing than I was then, you may be a getting a bit annoyed by my saying so often that I had “more important things to do.” I apologise if that’s the case; but, you see, from the very moment I came into contact with the world outside my immediate family, just about everyone and everything in that world told me all about the important things that could be done in it: making lots of money, being good looking, spending as much time as possible having all sorts of fun, being popular or powerful, being considered cleverer or more stylish or just generally better than others. According to just about everyone you talk with when you’re a young person, that is the recipe for happiness. “Buy this, and you’ll be happy.” “Get this job, and you’ll be happy.” “Go to this island, and you’ll be happy.” “Marry this woman, and you’ll be happy.” And so on. Do you mean to say that you have never heard those voices?

I certainly heard them, and I was gullible enough to believe them for twenty-one years. Until one day...

Finding the Real Rose in New Orleans
Until one day just after I had finished university. I had decided to move somewhere nice and warm, with a nice cultural backdrop, to pass the winter after many cold and wet ones: I went to New Orleans. My “plan” - a very important one - was to have a pleasant winter before beginning the rest of my life in some London or New York bank (which, I assure you, was the pinnacle and the natural course of the aspirations of the enormous majority of people who graduated with me; I’m afraid it’s also the lot of a great many of them).

And then... I still don’t really know. Perhaps it was because I had a bit of time to think - I had gone to New Orleans with the idea of writing a book - but I think it was principally because God decided to act then, and that’s how it is. God doesn’t show his cards all at once, and I am still discovering why he played the ones he did twelve years ago. But the fact of the matter is that he played them.

It’s difficult to describe what happened. Really quite suddenly I realised that my life was at a level of happiness that was about as full as you could get with the things of this earth; and that God was offering me an enormous happiness that is incomparably greater and more meaningful than the kind I had been pursuing for most of my life. The two have nothing to do with each other: one is a cheap, vulgar oil-on-canvas of a rose, done by someone down on his luck who never wanted to be an artist, and sold to tourists who never wanted to love art. And the other is the real thing: the One Rose, the eternal rose, ever fresh and beautiful, the One by which the beauty of all the others is measured. And God was offering it to me.

So what would you say? I probably should have said, “I’m sorry, God, were you talking to me? You know, I haven’t been much of a friend all these years. In fact, I’ve been sort of a... well, you know...”

And yet, I didn’t say that. It didn’t even cross my mind. It was so clear that he was offering this happiness to me, and that all I had to do was say, “yes,” that I didn’t even look twice. I leapt.

Admittedly, I bought a little insurance. I immediately went to the cathedral - just around the corner from me - where there hangs the venerable image of Notre Dame de Bon Secours, patroness of New Orleans. She has saved the city countless times, so I reckoned she could manage a little case like me. I told her, “You know, I’m really not up to this being a friend of God business. But he’s the one who asked. So all those things about being a good Christian that I can’t imagine how I’m going to live: I’m afraid they’re your problem now.”

As simple as that. Not that life has been easy ever since, oh no! But I am very sure that she has taken care of the heavy things. When you look back at the road you’ve travelled and realise that the only way you could have made it here is by walking on water, it’s easy to realise that it wasn’t your own strength that got you to where you are now.

In New Orleans I spoke to a priest who taught at the seminary there, someone whom I had never seen and who had never seen me before. We had a lot of mutual friends, so I went to talk to him. He shocked me by telling me that I had a vocation, and had I ever heard of the Legion of Christ? I found it somewhat odd, since the Legion of Christ was really the only religious order I knew, if vaguely. I got a second opinion: I went to New York, and spoke to another priest. He was quite famous, and things like that were still important to me. I had never seen him before, or he me, and he shocked me by saying exactly what the priest in New Orleans had said: “You have a vocation. Have you ever heard of the Legion of Christ?”

Something More than Castles of Smoke
What can you do in a situation like that? I went to Connecticut, did a few retreats, but the decision was already taken. You see, I had seen something that I had no right to see, a sight I owe to the limitless mercy of God and to nothing else: I had seen that the only really important thing you can do with your life is give a free and grateful “yes” to the Person who wants more than anything that you love Him back. If you miss that, you have missed the boat entirely: your whole life is a pursuit of illusions, castles that go up in smoke every time you get close enough to grasp them. Nothing in the whole world can make you or me truly happy apart from the love of Christ. And, of course, our spreading that love. Nothing. Name anything in the whole world, search anywhere you like and as long as you like. You will not find it.

This is something I began to discover when the Lord let me glimpse what he was offering me, and how pale my little ”important” world was in comparison. It is something he calls me - and you - to discover better every day, and to help others to discover. What a beautiful way to spend one’s life: helping others to discover the great joy that Jesus offers to anyone who will open his heart to Him!

Father Robert Joseph Havens  was born on November 30, 1973 in New Haven, Connecticut (USA). He has a Bachelor’s Degree (Honours) and a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford, and a Bachelor’s Degree and Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He entered the Legion of Christ in 1996 and did his novitiate in Germany. He was Development Officer of the Legion of Christ in Germany, Switzerland and Austria from 2002 to 2005. He now works as the Prefect of Studies at the Legion of Christ’s minor seminary near Paris; he also accompanies the apostolic work of the men’s group of the Regnum Christ apostolic Movement.

More information: http://www.robert-havens.com/

This testimony is part of the book “Ven y sígueme” (Come and Follow me). In January 2008 you can buy it at www.misionmultimedia.org. It contains 48 testimonies in Spanish, 11 in English and 1 in German.


PUBLICATION DATE: 2007-12-21


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